By @MichaelCaples –
They say defense wins championships.
On Sunday, it was special teams.
On two power-play goals and a shorthanded game-winner, Finland has won the 2018 IIHF Men’s Under-18 World Championship.
With a 3-2 victory over the U.S., Finland reclaims the U18 crown in a championship game rematch from last spring.
The Finns finish with a perfect 7-0 record at the prestigious international tournament; Team USA overcame losses to Canada and Sweden in the preliminary round by marching through the elimination rounds. The Americans finish with a 4-3 record.
Team USA’s roster was comprised of the NTDP Under-18 Team with five call-ups from the Under-17 Team. Michigan was represented on the roster by Jonathan Gruden (Rochester), Bode Wilde (Birmingham) and Drew DeRidder (Fenton).
Patrick Giles and Trevor Janicke scored for the U.S., which medals for the 15th straight time at the Under-18 Men’s World Championship.
Niklas Nordgren scored the game-winner at the 10:41 mark of the third period, captalizing on a blocked shot that turned into a two-on-one rush for the Finns.
In heartbreaking fashion, Team USA star Oliver Wahlstrom somehow missed an empty net on a feed from Jack Hughes as time expired. From just outside the goal crease, Wahlstrom’s shot somehow went up and over the net.
Somehow, Oliver Wahlstrom, one of the best players in this tournament, a goal-scoring machine, missed this empty net opportunity from a foot away in the final second.
— Steven Ellis (@StevenEllisNHL) April 29, 2018
Hughes was named top forward and MVP of the tournament; the 16-year-old is the first underage player to lead the tournament in scoring since Connor McDavid accomplished the feat in 2013.
Finland jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first period, capitalizing on their first two power-play opportunities.
With Hughes in the box for an interference infraction, Rasmus Kupari sent a blast from the point through traffic and past Knight for the game’s first goal at the 9:13 mark of the opening frame.
Three minutes later, the Finns made Team USA pay for a Alex Turcotte hooking penalty. Kaapo Kakko beat Knight with a snipe to the top left corner to increase the lead to 2-0.
Team USA started chipping away at the deficit with just under four minutes remaining in the first period, when Gavin Hain chipped the puck in Patrick Giles’ direction, setting up the big Under-18 Team forward for a one-timer rocket from the slot. That goal would be the first and only for the Americans in the first period.
In the second, Trevor Janicke was the lone skater to find the back of the net – giving Team USA a 2-2 tie in the process. Tyler Weiss created a turnover in the Finland zone and set up Jake Pivonka for a one-timer from the slot; Janicke buried the rebound to even things up at the 8:24 mark of Period 2.
The third period started with a flurry of chances, first for the Finns and followed up by Cole Caufield and Alex Turcotte.
In a horrible turn of events, an impressive Team USA power play turned into the go-ahead goal for the Finns. Cam York’s point shot was blocked, and it turned into a two-on-one for Team Finland. Top prospect Jesperi Kotkaniemi blocked the shot, raced down the ice, froze Knight and sent a pass to Niklas Nordgren for the goal.
The U.S. had one power-play opportunity after the go-ahead goal, but couldn’t find a way to get a puck past goaltender Justus Annunen.