International Ice Hockey Federation

Canada beats gritty Finns

Spooner pots three, hosts reach final vs. U.S.

Published 03.04.2016 23:02 GMT-7 | Author Lucas Aykroyd
Canada beats gritty Finns
KAMLOOPS, BC - APRIL 3: Canada's Natalie Spooner #24, Marie-Philip Poulin #29, Meghan Agosta #2 and Brigette Lacquette #4 celebrate after a first period goal against Finland's Meeri Raisanen #18 while Rosa Lindstedt #4 and Tanja Niskanen #19 look on during semifinal round action at the 2016 IIHF Ice Hockey Women's World Championship. (Photo by Andre Ringuette/HHOF-IIHF Images)
In a hard-fought late semi-final, host Canada beat Finland 5-3 to move on to the gold medal game versus the Americans. Natalie Spooner scored a hat trick.

Canada, the reigning four-time Olympic champion, is bidding for its 11th Women’s Worlds gold medal of all time and first since 2012. It will battle the defending champion U.S. on Monday night at the Sandman Centre.

It'll be another classic showdown between the North American archrivals.

"I expect a close battle between the two countries," said Canadian coach Laura Schuler. "It’s always been close. It’s usually a one-goal game."

Meanwhile, the Finns, the “Queens of Bronze,” will attempt to win that medal, versus Russia, for the 12th time in tournament history.

"It’s totally mental if we win the game or not," said Finnish coach Pasi Mustonen. "We know that we can win. We can beat the Russians. But we have to be able to put this game behind us."

Last year, Canada settled for silver after losing 7-5 to the U.S. in the final. The Finns won bronze with a 4-1 victory over Russia.

Although Canada clearly carried the play here, it was an interesting and tense semi-final in front of more than 4,000 spectators. The gritty Finns were in it until the dying moments, thanks largely to the strong netminding of Meeri Raisanen.

"They gave us one hell of a game," said Spooner. "I think we stuck with our game plan and were able to get a few."

Canada outshot the Finns 39-19. The final score was a bit more lopsided than the play reflected, as there were two empty-net goals. Finnish coach Pasi Mustonen pulled his goalie repeatedly during late-stage power plays for an extra attacker.

"We succeeded the first time," Mustonen said. "We scored the second goal. Why wouldn’t it be possible to do it one more time in the same game? I don’t see it as a gamble. I see it as a sign of good coaching. To win something great, you put it all in. I did it. We were close to succeeding."

Agosta's second-period goal was her first of the tournament. Captain Marie-Philip Poulin had three assists and Brigette Lacquette had two assists.

Mustonen said before the game it would take “one beautiful night” for his team to topple the red-and-white hosts. This was close, but no cigar.

Saana Valkama, Michelle Karvinen and Saila Saari scored for Finland.

The Finns came out hard and drew first blood seven minutes in. Valkama burst through the neutral zone on an unexpected 2-on-1, glanced to her left, and then zipped a shot over Canadian goalie Charline Labonte’s glove.

Karvinen went off for crunching Hayley Wickenheiser into the boards, and Canada struck right back on the power play at 12:40. Lacquette’s shot from the left point was tipped home by Spooner, standing in front of the net.

Wickenheiser drew the penalty that gave Canada its second man advantage, getting tangled up with Venla Hovi inside the Finnish blue line. The Canadians bottled up Finland with intense pressure, but Rebecca Johnston’s high shot off the post was as good as it got.

"They were physical," Spooner said of the Finns. "They’re a great team. We’re going into tomorrow with the same mindset and the same intensity."

Agosta had a glorious chance on a clear-cut breakaway to start the second period. But Raisanen, who played nine games this season in the Finnish men’s third league, stoned her. The Finns just continued to hang on.

Finland got its first power play at 10:59 after Poulin laid out Suvi Ollikainen in the corner to Labonte’s right with an illegal bodycheck. Ollikainen remained down for a minute, but skated off under her own power.

The best chance went to Canada shorthanded. Brianne Jenner stripped Minttu Tuominen of the puck at the Canadian blue line on a shorthanded breakaway, but again Raisanen was equal to the challenge.

With a delayed penalty coming up to Finnish captain Jenni Hiirikoski late in the middle frame, Canadian blueliner Meaghan Mikkelson missed a wide-open net net by Raisanen’s left post.

The Canadians stormed Raisanen’s net during the ensuing man advantage. Just after it expired, Agosta banged in a rebound from the spot where Mikkelson had missed at 17:29, sending the crowd into a wild celebration.

"I think we just had to try to get in lanes and get to the net and I think we did that well today," said Spooner.

In the third period, Spooner made it 3-1 when she sped away on a shorthanded breakaway and beat Raisanen with a backhand over the right pad at 5:38.

With under nine minutes to go, Finland got another power play chance when Jennifer Wakefield was sent off for nailing Karvinen. Rolling the dice in a bid for the equalizer, Mustonen pulled his goalie for a sixth skater for more than two minutes, but it didn't pay off.

The Finnish coach, taking a page out of Colorado Avalanche coach Patrick Roy's book, tried it again when Sarah Davis went off for hooking at 14:49, and this time it worked.

Valila skimmed a pass cross-crease to Karvinen who put her fourth of the tournament in the open side at 15:42.

And for a third time, Raisanen came out after Jenner skated through her crease and made contact, resulting in a goalie interference penalty. Trailing by one goal, the Finns gambled with a 6-on-4. This time it backfired, as Turnbull got the puck and scored an empty-netter at 16:56.

"We have to try," said Hiirikoski. "That was the right call."

Spooner put her third goal into the gaping cage at 17:43.

"I feel like I’ve had so many chances throughout the tournament and just couldn’t bury them," said Spooner. "So it was nice to get a few today heading into tomorrow, for sure."

Saari cut the deficit to 5-3 with 33 seconds left, but that was as close as Finland would get. The partisan red-and-white fans went home happy.

It was the 20th meeting between these nations in Women’s Worlds history, dating back to 1990, and the 20th consecutive loss for Finland. In the round-robin, Canada defeated the Finns 6-1.