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2021 Worlds: Team Finland recap

A bronze finish for Naisleijonat

Finland v Switzerland: Bronze Medal Game - 2021 IIHF Women’s World Championship Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images

How they finished

  • Record: 4-3-0 | GF: 17, GA: 12
  • Finish: 3rd (Bronze)

Expectations were sky-high for the Finns heading into Calgary. Would this be the tournament where they taste gold? Could they repeat their performance from Espoo and claim silver? The hype surrounding Naisleijonat was quickly derailed after they lost a two-goal lead to Canada in the first game of the group stage, ultimately going on to lose 5-3.

In their second game of group play, the Finns were dismantled by Team USA 3-0, starting their tournament with two losses where they managed 11 and 10 shots on goal, respectively. It was a wake-up call for the Finns. They roared back in the final games of the group stage with classic wins against ROC, 4-0, and a statement 6-0 win against a shorthanded Swiss squad.

That 2-2-0 record was good enough to secure the Finns third place in Group A, which lined them up with the Czech Republic for the quarterfinal. If you missed this one, you missed one of the best games of the tournament.

Team Finland was outplayed for much of the game but came away with a 1-0 victory thanks to a 29-save shutout from Anni Keisala. Sixteen-year-old Sanni Vanhanen scored the game-winning goal in the second period.

That close call against the Czechs advanced the Finns to the semifinal where they met Team USA for the second time in Calgary. Keisala made 30 saves against Team USA and the Finns had a much better showing against the Americans than they did in the group stage but they were unable to get on the board and lost 3-0.

Finland bounced back to defeat Switzerland 3-1 in the bronze medal game in what was likely their most impressive performance in Calgary. They out-shot the Swiss 32-19, took a single minor penalty, and spoiled a great performance from Swiss goaltender Saskia Maurer.

In the end, the Finns earned every bit of their bronze medal even though the path they took to it was rockier than anyone had expected.

What went right

Finland’s goaltending, led by Anni Keisala was the best in the tournament. Keisala finished the 2021 Worlds with a .949 Sv%, 1.003 GSAA/60, two shutouts, and three wins against a workload of 27.74 SA60. Meeri Räisänen was also spectacular, although she saw fewer minutes after Keisala stole the show. Räisänen finished with a .938 Sv% in 120 minutes of action, which included a start against Team USA.

Something else that went right for the Finns was their special teams.

Finland never allowed a power-play goal. Even in a short tournament, that is quite a feat. It speaks to the quality of their goaltending and defense and the coaching of Pasi Mustonen. The Finns also finished the tournament with the third-most efficient power play (15.38%), which accounted for four of the team’s 17 goals. Unsurprisingly, it was Finland’s veterans that struck on the power play. Center Susanna Tapani led the squad with three points on the advantage — two goals and a secondary assist.

What went wrong

Finland’s inability to possess the puck against Canada and the United States in the group stage seemed to set the stage for their struggles in the tournament. Their even-strength offense was not as dangerous as it needed to be and failed to draw penalties and generate quality scoring chances — measuring by the eye test.

They just didn’t look as competitive against Canada and the U.S. as did two years ago in Espoo. Their zone exits at evens just weren’t good enough to establish sustained pressure against the top teams in the tournament.

It seemed like the Finns were over-dependent on errors — forced and unforced — made by the opposition in transition to find their best chances at evens. This isn’t a bad way to win hockey games, but the Finns appeared to have the requisite depth and talent they needed to be more of a force at evens. Perhaps the infusion of youth in the lineup affected this. Or perhaps this was a small sample of games and the Finns were unable to get into the gear they needed to find to be the force we saw in Espoo.

What comes next

There is a lot to look forward to with the Finns based on what we saw in Calgary.

Elisa Holopainen, Viivi Vainikka, Julia Liikala, Nelli Laitinen, and the rest of the kids showed a ton of potential. The next wave of talent got a lot of critical experience in this tournament. They endured some frustrating losses and some big wins. They also got a taste of what level you need to play at to come away with a medal. That is huge for their development and for the future of the Finnish program.

The big question facing Finland now is how many more tournaments does the veteran core have left in them? Hiirikoski is 34. Rosa Lindstedt is 33. Räty, if she returns to the national team, is 32. Karvinen and Räisänen are both 31. There is a ton of young talent coming up through the ranks for Finland but there is no replacing Hiirikoski and Karvinen, just like there is no way to replace Riikka Sallinen. This transition period will be critical for the Finns.

MVP(s)

Petra Nieminen, Susanna Tapani, and Jenni Hiirikoski were all great but Anni Keisala absolutely stole the show in Calgary.

Keisala took over starting duties from Räisänen and carried the Finns to a bronze medal finish. To be clear, Räisänen was exceptional in her two starts — she just didn’t shine as brightly as her understudy. The 5-foot-9 goalie who has been honing her skills in the Naisten Liiga with Ilves led the tournament in GSAA (4.917) and GSAA/60 (1.003). Keisala’s losses of the tournament were against Canada in the group stage and Team USA in the semifinal. Needless to say, she also played a huge part in the Finns finishing the tournament with a perfect 100% penalty kill.

Among Finland’s forwards, it was Petra Nieminen, Susanna Tapani, and Michelle Karvinen who led the way — no surprises here. Nieminen led the Finns in scoring with seven points, six of which were goals. That was good enough to get a nod as one of the top forward in the tournament.

On defense, Hiirikoski averaged 26:21 TOI/GP to lead all skaters in Calgary. She also had primary assists on two of Finland’s power-play goals and was undoubtedly one of the team’s MVPs.

All data courtesy of the IIHF, EliteProspects.com, or tracked by the author.