The USA might have looked like a favorite to win the gold medal heading into the semi-finals of the 2016 IIHF U18 World Championship, but their opponent in the semi-finals, Team Finland, came out on top in a tightly-contested, 4-2 showdown at the Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks, ND.
A late penalty to USA forward Clayton Keller set the stage for the game-winning goal off the stick of Finland forward Aapeli Rasanen. Forward Kristian Vesalainen fired a shot on the USA net that was stopped by U.S. goaltender Joseph Woll, but Rasanen pounced on the rebound directly in front of the U.S. net to bury the shot past a sprawled Woll, giving Finland the 3-2 lead with 37.9 seconds remaining in the third period.
The goal was Rasanen’s second goal of the period, with his first coming 4:12 earlier during a shorthanded situation. With Woll down on the ice during a scramble around the U.S. net, Rasanen gained control of the puck to the left of the net and fired the puck into the open net to give Finland a short-lived 2-1 lead.
The USA opened the scoring on a nice passing play that started with Clayton Keller and ended with Kieffer Bellows putting the puck past Finland goaltender Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen. Adam Fox picked up the primary assist on the goal, which came with 8:18 remaining in the first period.
Finland tied the score at 1-1 just over four minutes later on a blast from the slot by Urho Vaakanainen. The final goal of the game for the Finns was a buzzer-beating, empty net goal by Jesse Puljujarvi.
One of the better performers from Finland’s forward ranks at this U18 has been Kristian Vesalainen, a 2017 prospect who competed for Frolunda’s SuperElit and SHL squads in the 2015-16 season. Vesalainen picked up an assist in the win over Team USA, and has produced two goals and four assists to this point of the tournament.
Vesalainen spoke with Hockey’s Future after the win over the USA, with his comments being captured in this HF video.
Game highlights from the Finland-USA semi-final match can be viewed below.
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