It took longer than expected, but Finland finally got their first win of the tournament, defeating Latvia 4-0, with Group A matches beginning in Sweden on Friday.
Latvia have yet to score a goal through three games, and only have to play tomorrow’s final game against Germany to decide the match.
The Finns will hope to continue their momentum against Sweden on Sunday, which could move them into second place in the group after a tough first two games against Canada and Germany. If Latvia wins against Germany and Finland loses to Sweden in regulation, it will be a three-way draw due to goal difference.
Finland’s power play had been struggling until today, but they bounced back with three goals. Jere Lasila, Kasper Haltunen and Oiva Keskinen all took advantage of the man advantage, and Jesse Pulkinen scored the only even goal of the first period.
Finland outscored Latvia 20-3 in the first period and never looked back, finishing with a 43-23 advantage. Noah Bali stopped everything in his first world junior match for Finland. This should lead to confidence.
Sweden’s top performers on Friday night are:
#15 Jesse Pulkinen, D (undrafted): It took over in 2023, but I don’t think it will happen again in 2024. The top-pair defender impressed scouts all week with his confidence pushing the puck up the ice and was rewarded with a 2-0 goal. . He’s a good enough skater to get back into position after rushing up the ice, but that was amplified today against a slow Latvian team.
#22 Kasper Haltunen, RW (San Jose Sharks): Haltunen had a great night for the Finns, scoring a power-play goal at 28:59 and assisting on his team’s first goal. I still worry about him becoming a PP specialist in the NHL with the way he produces, but he’s as good as anyone in the NHL, so that’s not such a bad thing.
#28 Jere Lasila, C (undrafted): Lasila has been one of Finland’s most consistent players through three games, with a goal and an assist just a minute apart in the first period. He then set up Haltunen’s power-play goal, and the two moved very well together in the overtime period. Lasila recorded his fourth assist on a power play early in the third game. He is a game-changer for Finland and will need to feature against Sweden as well.
#20 Oiva Keskinen, C (Columbus Blue Jackets): This felt like Keskinen’s most complete work. He scored the fourth goal on the power play and penalty kill. He’s very versatile and also skates pretty well. As a seventh-rounder, the Blue Jackets could get the gold here and expect him to play a big role as the Finn continues to move forward.
#31 Noah Valli, G (undrafted): Valli wasn’t busy early, making just three saves in the first period. However, the Latvian team looked particularly good in the final stages, making 23 saves in their shutout. He is a small goaltender, but he moves well to compensate for his lack of size. We’ll see if he starts again, but he looked good when the Finns needed him.
#1 Deeves Rolofs, G (Undrafted): Rolofs seemed uncomfortable falling and getting up multiple times tonight, but that may have been due to the overexertion he had to deal with early on. He was hit with 18 shots in the first period as the Finns continued to push, but Rolofs did everything he could to keep the game close. The match against Finland was expected to be a difficult match, but it will be interesting to see whether HM will be used again in tomorrow’s final round-robin match against Germany.
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