Andy Potts Andy Potts
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Russia finished its World Championship campaign with victory over the Czech Republic in the bronze medal game, making it three third-place finishes in the last four years. In the final, Finland defeated Canada 3-1 with Jokerit forward Marko Anttila scoring twice to turn the game around.

Russia 3 Czech Republic 2 SO (2-1, 0-1, 0-0, 0-0, 1-0)

Goalie Andrei Vasilevsky was the key man as Russia edged the Czech Republic in a nervy third-placed playoff in Bratislava. The former Salavat Yulaev man made 48 saves in the game and then blanked the Czechs in the shoot-out to give Ilya Vorobyov his first medal as head coach of Team Russia. Successful shoot-out attempts from Ilya Kovalchuk and Nikita Gusev got the Red Machine over the line.

Photo: 26.05.19. 2019 IIHF World Championship. Bronze Medal Game. Russia - Czech Republic

However, the post-game talk was all about Vasilevsky’s heroics between the piping as Russia recovered from 1-2 down at the first intermission to take the game to overtime. Team captain Ilya Kovalchuk said: “Vasilevski was the best. He gave us the win. It felt like the Czechs were better than us today. We only really played well in the second period. For the rest, we relied on our goalie.”

Mikhail Sergachyov added: “Vasilevski played out of his skin today. He stopped everything he could and a few that he couldn’t, in regulation and in overtime and then in the shoot-out. Big thanks to him, he was great.”

Sergachyov was instrumental in Russia taking the lead midway through the first period. His point shot was redirected by Mikhail Grigorenko and with Evgeny Dadonov providing a screen in front of Czech goalie Simon Hrubec, the puck squeezed through the five-hole and into the net.

However, the advantage was short lived. David Sklenicka sent a fine pass for Michal Repik to power into Russia’s zone and, with the defense spread-eagled, the Vityaz man won his duel with Vasilevsky. Late in the opening frame the Czechs went ahead when Dominik Kubalik fired home a one-timer off a Jan Kovar feed.

Russia responded at the start of the second period, with Artyom Anisimov converting a Nikita Gusev pass and Gusev then dinged one off Hrubec’s bar. Kovalchuk felt that the second period was Russia’s best, and it was hard to disagree. The final stanza saw the Czechs dominate. Milos Riha’s team was looking to end a seven-year medal drought but Vasilevsky stood in the way.

“The game went this way and that, Vasilevsky was great for us and we got it done in the shoot-out,” summarized head coach Vorobyov. “Bronze is definitely better than nothing, there’s no question about that. It was hard for both coaches to pick up their teams over losing in the semis, we’re grateful to our guys.”

Vorobyov also spoke about his future plans following his first full season in charge of SKA and the national team.

“Of course, the kind of faith [that Vladislav Tretiak showed me] is an inspiration, it gives me room to breathe,” he said. “Let’s keep going. Now we’ve got a month to rest and I’ll be thinking about where I got things wrong as head coach. Bringing [CSKA head coach] Igor Nikitin back onto the coaching staff isn’t a question for me to answer.”

Canada 1 Finland 3 (1-0, 0-1, 0-2)

Marko Anttila was Finland’s hero once again as his two goals saw the Leijonat battle from a goal down to beat Canada in the final. The 3-1 scoreline was a repeat of the result when the teams met on the opening day of the championship in the group stage in Kosice, while Finland’s triumph is a repeat of its 2011 success the last time the tournament was played in Slovakia.

Photo: 26.05.19. 2019 IIHF World Championship. Final. Canada - Finland

Anttila struck early in the second period to cancel out Shea Theodore’s first-period opener. Sakari Manninen, his Jokerit team-mate, supplied the assist. Then, at the start of the third period, Anttila’s second of the game put Finland in front. This time a new Jokerit signing, Veli-Matti Savinainen had the helper.

The Finns have demonstrated more than once in this tournament that once they get a lead they are tough to dislodge and Canada’s best attacking efforts were unable to find a way through in the third period. Harri Pesonen added a third goal late on as Finland closed out the game to secure the country’s third World Championship title.

Finland’s success was a major surprise. Jalonen’s roster was not studded with NHL talent but blended bright young prospects with experience from the Liiga. Among the latter group was former Amur forward Kristian Kuusela, who had 21 points in 52 games in the 2016/17 season.

“To be honest, I’d kind of given up hope of getting to the national team,” he admitted. “After the season, when Jukka called me to come to the camp and try out and was ready to go right away. When they called me up for the team I was so happy.”

The secret of the Finnish success lay in teamwork: “It’s about how the coaches built the team, how we gelled together and grew through the tournament. At the beginning were underdogs and it’s kind of easy to prepare for games like that.”

Defenseman Oliwer Kaski was among many to pay tribute to captain Anttila. “Marko’s had a long trip to get here,” Kaski said of the 33-year-old. “What an amazing story for an unreal guy. He’s a great player but he’s even better off the ice.”

Andy Potts Andy Potts
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