Berra shuts down Finns at U-18 Four Nations

By Tran Longmoore

A last second Finland goal in Tuesday’s 3-1 victory may have spoiled Swiss goalie Reto Berra‘s shutout. But it did little to harm the Berra’s performance in the eyes of the scouts watching the big goalie at the 2004 Under 18 Compuware Four Nations Cup in Ann Arbor, MI.

Berra steered aside all but one of the 44 shots the Finns shot at him as the opportunistic Swiss won their first game of the tourney.

“He did a great job,” said Goran Stubb, a Europe-based scout for the NHL’s Central Scouting Bureau. “He’s very big, very poised and he reads the game well. He’s caught the attention of a lot of (the scouts).”

The 6’4, 17-year-old Berra plays for EHC Dubendorf in the Swiss league. He stopped several first period breakaways and kept the Swiss in the game early on.

Tuesday’s tilt was the second straight game in which the Swiss were handily outplayed and outshot. Monday night, they were unable to complete an improbable comeback against a dominating USA team. But the opportunistic team found a way to beat the Finns last night.

After surviving early pressure from from the Finns, the Swiss opened scoring 15 minutes into the first period when Aurelio Lemm scored from point blank range after the Finland defense was unable to clear a rebound. Samuel Friedli and Dario Burglar picked up assists on the goal.

A slew of minor penalties to open the second period threw both teams off their rhythm. Led by the line of Robert Nyholm, Joonas Riekkinen and Teemu Mustaniemi, which caused problems for the Swiss all night long, the Finns looked like they might tie the game midway through the period. But Berra stood his ground and upheld the one goal lead.

Penalty problems cost the Finns in the second period after goaltender Juha Toivonen was whistled for tripping. The Swiss made the Finns pay for their carelessness in a matter of seconds.

At the 14:51 mark, winger Dario Burglar took a pass in the slot from defenseman Roger Summermater. Burglar ripped a wristshot over Toivonen’s glove for a 2-0 lead.

With two minutes remaining in the period, the Swiss struck again. In a frantic scramble in front of the net, center Fadri Lemm found himself alone with the puck behind the Finland goal. Lemm skated out front of the net unmolested and lifted a wristshot over Toivonen’s glove.
Burglar’s assist on the goal gave him three points for the night (1 goal, 2 assists).

The goal took the steam out of the Finns and boosted the confidence of the Swiss, who took away the neutral zone and easily swatted down long bomb passes from the Finnish defense.

An early power play in the third gave Finland one last shot to get back into the game. But the Swiss defense, led by Simon Schnyder, blocked several shots and took away dangerous cross ice passes, leaving Berra to make relatively easy saves.

Finland finally scored at the 19:59 mark when defenseman Mikael Kurki snuck in from the point and ripped a onetimer past Berra. It was Kurki’s second goal of the tournament.

It was the second consecutive inspired performance by the Swiss team. Stubb said the Swiss team looked more excited to be playing.

“It’s a credit to hockey in Switzerland,” said Stubb. “Over the past five or six years, the Swiss have worked hard to play to the standards set by the Czechs, Slovakians, Swedish and Finnish. It’s a good thing for Swiss hockey. And it’s a good thing for hockey overall. We need more countries with good hockey programs.”

Switzerland (1-1) plays Sweden Thursday afternoon at 3:30 pm. A win, or perhaps even a tie, would give Switzerland a chance to play in the final against the United States on Friday evening. Finland (0-1-1) next plays Thursday evening against the Americans. Finland must win the game to have any chance at playing in the gold medal game.

Game Notes

• The official players of the game were Swiss goaltender Reto Berra and Finnish defenseman Tommi Leinonen.

• Shot totals can be deceiving. Despite outshooting the Swiss 44-21, Finland really didn’t fire that many dangerous shots at Berra after the first 10 minutes of the game.

• Few Finnish players had strong games. Two of the better performances were turned in by defenseman Juho Mielonen and Robert Nyholm. Mielonen (6’2, 179) was physical and solid in his own end. He was especially good on the penalty kill, where he had plenty of work. Nyholm (6’1,
185) built on a strong performance in game one and was easily the most effective forward for Finland. He has good speed, some nice moves, he works in the corners and he’s not afraid to throw the big check. Coach Juha Pajuoja rewarded Nyholm with more ice time as the game went on.

• The Finns held right wing Pascal Zbinden off the scoreboard, but the speedy 5’9 found other ways to contribute. Zbinden used his speed effectively to thwart the Finnish breakout. He also caught a few Finns off guard by
delivering a few big hits. Zbinden had a goal and an assist Monday versus the USA.

• The Finns’ tenacious forechecking scheme didn’t appear to phase the Swiss defense too much. The Swiss defense looked much more poised then it was the previous night against the hard-charging Americans. The defense was led by Simon Schnyder (5’11, 182). Schnyder stood up at the blueline, blocked many shots, and outmuscled the opposition along the boards.

• Finland’s most dangerous player against Sweden was Mikka Lehtonen. The 6’4 left winger was all over the ice again versus the Swiss, but he was much less effective. Lehtonen held the puck too long, elected to shoot on at least three two-on-ones, and often ruined offensive rushes trying to be a little too fancy.

“You know, these kids know there are more than 100 scouts up here watching,” said one scout. “Sometimes they’re
playing for the scouts and not the team.”

Copyright 2004 Hockey’s Future. Do not duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.