OTTAWA – Sweden won the bragging rights in the latest installment in its long rivalry with Finland in hockey.
The Nordic rivals met Dec. 26 in the first round of the World Junior Hockey Championships in Ottawa and thanks to a pair of first-period goals, Sweden skated out with a 2-1 win.
“It's always a battle against Finland,” said Swedish forward Andre Petersson. “I think we did a pretty good job in the game.”
Marcus Johansson, David Rundblad and Mikael Backlund scored for Sweden, while David Ullström had two assists. Jacob Markström was solid in goal stopping 21 shots.
Toni Rajala scored the lone goal for Finland and Harri Sateri faced 20 shots.
Sweden won the silver medal in the juniors last year and has six players back from that team. For 20 minutes, the experience and talent showed as the “Baby Kronor” skated rings around Finland. After the first period, however, it was Finland that grabbed the upper hand and if not for Markström’s goaltending, the result could have been much different.
The opening period was all Sweden as Finland showed nervousness, especially in its own end. After several minutes of end-to-end action, Finland made a pair of mistakes to allow Sweden to take control.
At 9:15 of the first period, Johansson broke in behind the Finnish defense and circled behind the goal with the puck. The Färjestad winger skated toward the faceoff circle and fired a low shot on goal, beating Sateri to the short side. Just over four minutes later another breakdown resulted in a goal as Rundblad skated into the slot and scored on a wrist shot.
The 2-0 lead held up until the opening minutes of the second period when Rajala cut the lead in half for Finland with a breakaway goal. Despite skating well, Sweden found itself unable to match its energy level of the first period. The “Baby Kronor” also could not find a way past Finnish net minder Sateri.
The Finns gave Sweden a perfect chance to ice the game with less than a minute left to play in the second period when they took a pair of penalties to give the Swedes a two-man advantage. Sateri took the second penalty when the referee ruled he through his stick at the puck during a mad scramble in the crease with 59.7 left in the period.
The referee also awarded Sweden a penalty shot which Moller, the Kings winger, took but Sateri stood up the shot and steered it aside.
Backlund, a Calgary Flames draft pick, finally put the game away when he scored an empty-net goal for Sweden with 40.9 seconds remaining.
“We lost the game in the first period,” said Sateri. “We played stupid in our zone and that was it. We played better hockey later on, but it was not our best.”
For Victor Hedman, the top prospect on the Swedish team, getting a win in the opening game was an important way to start, although he admitted he wasn’t happy with how he played.
“We had a good first period and then Finland really came out,” the MoDo defenseman said. “We didn't play the full 60 minutes."
With Hedman touted as a potential first overall pick in the upcoming NHL entry draft he knows his every move will be scrutinized.
“It’s pressure, but the biggest pressure comes from myself,” he said. “I can't focus (on the scouts). It's important for us to be a team and stay focused on the game.”
An offensive-minded defenseman, Hedman said he would have liked to jump into the play a bit more.
“It was a tight game and I'm a defenseman,” said Hedman. “I have my responsibilities.”
Hedman’s and Sweden’s next test comes Dec. 28 when the “Baby Kronor” take on Slovakia.
André Petersson fires a shot on goal during Sweden's 3-1 win over Finland Dec. 26 in the World Junior Hockey Championships.
Bildbyrån photo/Joel Marklund