WCoH Postgame: The Kids Are Alright, Thump Finland 4-1 in Opener

Updated: January 11, 2018 at 1:43 am by Ryan Pike

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(Kevin Sousa / USA Today Sports)

When the World Cup of Hockey was announced immediately there were snickers and guffaws about Team North America, and doubts about their ability to hang with international hockey’s big boys. When they had a few strong outings in the pre-tournament games against Europe, the doubters loudly expressed that their success was a mirage: caused by beating an inferior opponent in games that didn’t matter.

When the “real” games begin, North America’s in trouble, they said.

Whoops.

The Under-24 squad opened the round robin with an emphatic 4-1 victory over Finland, currently ranked 3rd in the hockey world by the International Ice Hockey Federation.

With their speed and intensity, North America was all over Finland early. It does not help that perhaps Pekka Rinne’s equipment had big holes or gaps, because the puck kept squeaking through him all game along and created a lot of dramatics. After they managed to kill off an early penalty to Shayne Gostisbehere, North America got a man advantage by way of a Jori Lehtera high-sticking penalty and they took advantage.

Leafs uber-prospect Auston Matthews drove into the zone, slipped a check from Rasmus Ristolainen and drove the net. The initial chance didn’t go in, but Jack Eichel knocked in the rebound to make it 1-0 for the kids.

That was the only goal of the period, and shots were “just” 13-12 for the North American side, but there were a litany of near-misses for the young guns including a Johnny Gaudreau post and a couple instances where the puck squirted through Rinne and nearly slid over the line. One of those involved the puck going in after a pile-up in the crease. It was disallowed.

The onslaught continued in the second. The near-misses from North America from the first? Well, despite their “inexperience,” the kids managed to adjust and hit the net more consistently. Shots were 18-6. Johnny Gaudreau made it 2-0 with a really nifty tip-in of a Colton Parayko slap shot from the point.

Jonathan Drouin made it 3-0 a couple minutes later, as he drove the net and knocked in a rebound after Ryan Nugent-Hopkins’ initial net-front chance. The deluge continued, and finally Nathan MacKinnon made it 4-0 with a nifty goal of his own.

By the time the third came around, Finland looked a bit shell-shocked and the North Americans collectively seemed to go “Whoa, we’re beating a good team!” Neither team stepped on the gas in the third, though Finland managed to break through with a goal off a defensive miscue by North America. Leo Komarov chased down a dump-in, nailing the defender with a big hit. The puck squeaked out to the slot, where Valtteri Filppula bonked it past Matt Murray. That was all she wrote in the final frame, though. Shots were 12-7 North America in the third and 43-25 overall.

After Europe’s win over the United States on Saturday and Sunday’s North American triumph, I think it’s safe to say that aside from Canada’s dominance the hockey will may be turned on its ear in this tournament. North America is back in action on Monday night against Russia, and can stamp their ticket to the semi-finals with a victory over another historic hockey powerhouse.