Against Latvia, it was all Finland. With a 4-0 victory, they clinched their first victory at the 2024 World Junior Championship (WJC). Finland were favorites to beat Latvia and did just that. They dominated all three zones and controlled possession of the puck for much of the game. Finland ran into Latvian goalkeeper Daves Rolofs, who stopped 40 of 44 shots. If it wasn’t for the Latvian goaltender, Finland would have gotten away with a double-digit lead.
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Noa Bali had a perfect finish, stopping all 23 shots for the shutout victory. Finland’s Niklas Kokko, who started playing in the WJC, likely found the back of Vali’s net after the game against Latvia. Finland’s captain Jere Lasila had an equally dominant performance, scoring one goal and four points. His goal came on a power-play goal 14:15 into the first period after Latvian forward Toms Motts received a double minor for a high stick.
The battle between both teams made for an interesting third period, especially near the end of the period when both Jesse Pulkinen and Aleksanteri Kaskimäki were given penalties. It is very unlikely that two players will be called for different penalties and sent off at the same time. Latvia ran a 5-on-3 power play for the entire two minutes and scored with eight seconds left, but the goal was tipped over by a high stick. Latvia has lost three games in a row in this tournament. They will aim to change that against Germany on Saturday, December 30th.
Rolofs kept Latvia’s goals low
Rolofs made some big saves at key points in the game. He played a big role in keeping the scoring to a minimum against Finland. Latvia ended the first period trailing 20-3 as they were only down 2-0 at that point. While the team played badly in front of him, he was the story of the Latvian game.
Finland continued to attack, giving Rolofs 19 dangerous scoring chances throughout the game, but they were ultimately stopped by their hot-blooded goaltender. His .900 save percentage (SV%) was much higher than expected at the start of the game. Finland had suffered two disappointing losses to Canada and Germany, and although they were certain to bounce back against Latvia, the score was expected to be closer to double digits.
Related: 2024 World Junior Championship Guide
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The play that cemented Rolofs’ confidence and strong play at the net was Nyman’s breakaway early in the second period. Nyman lost his glove side to Rolofs, but his calmness immediately after the expected goal gave the Latvian team the confidence they needed. Despite the loss, Latvia kept the number of goals conceded to a minimum.
Lasila dominates the scoresheet
The Finnish captain led the way and achieved his first victory of the tournament. It was a much-needed four-point performance for a team that lacked confidence and leadership in their last two games. Lasila’s first big play came 58 seconds after Pulkinen scored his next goal. Leni Hamenaho received a pass from Lasila and fired a shot at the net, where Pulkinen found the rebound and scored.
On Finland’s second power play of the game, Lasila was deployed along the wall and proved to be very effective. He found Kasper Haltunen at the point and scored on a one-timer. A scrum ensued after the goal, and both teams ended up with an offset minor due to roughing being called on the play.
Lasila’s final play came 47 seconds into the third period. He lined up high on target and fired a shot, allowing Oiva Keskinen to open the scoring. The Finnish unit was successful on the power play and finished 3/5 against Latvia. Similarly, their penalty kill unit was equally effective, killing all five penalties called against them.
The Finnish captain played in the penalty kill and power play units throughout the match. Lasila was a big factor in Finland’s strong come-from-behind victory over Latvia. Finland probably has hopes of playing against countries such as Canada, the United States and Sweden, but they are not putting the onus on their top players in these games. For that reason, there will be high expectations for the success of coaches and star players such as Nyman and Harutunen.
Fate of relegation?
Latvia have lost three games in a row and are almost certain to go into the relegation game on Thursday, January 4th. This year marks the second year in a row that Latvia is destined to reach the relegation round. Latvia defeated Austria in the 2023 relegation round and it looks like it’s their turn to be relegated to Division 1A this year.
Latvia are two years away from seventh place, their highest finish at the WJC. If Latvia can beat Germany on Saturday, December 30th, they will be better placed to take part in the relegation game. The change from the 2023 tournament is that instead of a best-of-three series, he will only have one relegation game.
The relegation match will be held between the teams competing for 9th and 10th place in the tournament. The game is scheduled to take place on Thursday, January 4th at 5:00 a.m. ET.