Finns finish off Russia
Finns finish off Russia
Karvinen's three points lead Finland to bronze
"Elated" was the best word to describe the Finns, who have appeared in all 16 bronze medal games since this tournament began in 1990. They hadn’t come away with any hardware since 2011.
The Finns stayed on the ice after the game to dance in a circle with their trophy.
"I think we knew that we were better skaters, a better team," said Finland's Karoliina Rantamaki. "If we kept going on the way we did against Canada and the U.S., we would beat Russia easily. And I think we played like we planned. That’s why we won."
It was a bitter pill to swallow for the Russians, who won bronze in Ottawa in 2013 with then-GM Alexei Yashin at the helm. Their only previous third-place finish came back in 2001.
"Last time in Ottawa, we lost against the Russians," said Finnish captain Jenni Hiirikoski. "This was a big day."
Last year in Sochi, both Finland and Russia were frustrated after failing to play for an Olympic medal. The Finns had captured bronze in Vancouver four years earlier, and expectations were heavy for Russia as the host country.
So – even though the Finns harboured faint hopes of upsetting Canada in the semi-finals – this was incontestably the biggest game of 2015 for these Group A opponents.
2014 Olympic scoring leader Michelle Karvinen led the way with a goal and two assists for Finland. Rantamaki had a goal and an assist, and Rosa Lindstedt and Linda Valimaki added singles.
"I’m just super-happy that I could step up for the team in the important games, since we’ve been struggling in the past couple of years," said Karvinen. "I think our system was amazing again today. We were really calm and waiting for our opportunities, and that’s why we’re bringing this home today."
Tatyana Burina replied for Russia.
Remarkably, Riikka Valila, who made a comeback for Finland at the 2014 Olympics, won her first medal since the 1998 Olympics in Nagano. The 41-year-old three-time all-star shone in this tournament with six assists. Valila now owns five World Women's medals, all of them bronze.
Goalie Meeri Raisanen continued her strong play, proving a fine substitute for missing star Noora Raty. At the other end, Maria Sorokina took the loss as Finland outshot the Russians 26-22.
"I played last season with Meeri, and I think she’s an awesome goalie," said Rantamaki. "I was sure we could beat everybody with her also."
Russia ran into early penalty trouble, and the Finns got on the scoreboard at 4:35 with their first power play. Karvinen centered the puck from the corner and Lindstedt, battling for position in front, got a piece of it before it deflected off Russian assistant captain Alexandra Kapustina into the net.
The blue-and-white team kept pressing for more. Karvinen and Susanna Tapani came knocking on the door on a dangerous rush, and Rantamaki deflected a point drive off Sorokina’s left post.
Rantamaki, 37, is the all-time World Women's Championship leader with 13 tournaments and 69 games played. "I still love playing hockey and I hope I can still play for the national team," she said.
With 3:14 left in the first, Finland went up 2-0 on a great power play sequence. Hiirikoski kept the puck alive inside the Russian blue line, and Valila grabbed it, glided into the middle, and then sent a beautiful cross-ice pass to a wide-open Karvinen, who tipped it in.
It wasn’t Russian star Iya Gavrilova’s best 20 minutes, as she was sent off twice for tripping up Hiirikoski.
With 4:21 remaining in a penalty-filled second period, the Finns stretched their lead to 3-0 with playmaking worthy of the famous Soviet KLM Line. Karvinen skated into the Russian zone, pivoted mid-ice, and dished it to Rantamaki, who found Valimaki unhindered at the side of the net.
The Russians didn't give up in the third period, outshooting Finland 9-3. With 8:12 left, Burina spoiled Raisanen's shutout bid, stepping over the blue line and surprising her with a shot along the ice inside the goalie's left post. But that was as close as they'd get, despite pulling their goalie in the dying moments.
Rantamaki added an empty-netter wtih 13 seconds left to round out the scoring at 4-1.
"The third period was just about taking it home," Hiirikoski said.
In the big picture, this was a just result. The Finns were competitive in every game they played, whereas Russia got trounced twice by the United States.
Russia's three best players of the tournament were honoured: Olga Sosina, Iya Gavrilova, and Anna Shukhina.
For Finland, it was Jenni Hiirikoski, Minttu Tuominen, and Susanna Tapani.
There are always disappointments at a tournament like this. For instance, Leif Boork, head coach of host Sweden, found himself sitting in the press tribune instead of behind the bench during the bronze medal game. The Damkronorna at least played for Olympic bronze in Sochi, although they dropped a 4-3 heartbreaker to Switzerland.
But the Finns will carry happy memories of Malmo in their hearts as they prepare for the 2016 IIHF World Women’s Championship in Kamloops, Canada.
"We have really good young players here, and they did a great tournament," said Hiirikoski. "They came really strongly in the World Women’s Championship. I think we have a bright future."
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