Wednesday, 7 November 2018

Crippled by illness, Finland holds on to miracle victory

Finland celebrates their victory on Wednesday at the SaskTel Centre.
     Finland head coach Pasi Mustonen was still processing all that has happened to his team at the 4 Nations Cup women’s hockey tournament on the health front.
     Playing with 15 skaters - three short of the full complement of 20 - Finland jumped out to a 3-0 first period lead against Sweden and withstood a furious late third period comeback attempt to pull out a 3-2 victory on Wednesday afternoon at the SaskTel Centre. The win at the 4 Nations Cup allowed Finland to even its record at 1-1, while Sweden fell to 0-2.
    Finland pulled out victory despite the fact a flu bug has been dogging the team since falling 6-0 in a pre-tournament game against Canada on Sunday at the Art Hauser Centre in Prince Albert.
    The Finns had 15 skaters and two goaltenders dressed, and if they were at full health, they could dress 20 skaters and three goalies under International Ice Hockey Federation rules.
    “We got a virus in Prince Albert together with the Canadian team,” said Mustonen. “We had 14 players that could play today. Eight of them were healthy.
Sweden goalie Maria Omberg stops Finnish winger Emma Nuutinen.
    “The rest of them have been vomiting yesterday or the night before.”
    Mustonen said four players in the team’s management group are ill, six players ill to an average degree and two are ill to an extreme degree. The bench boss bluntly spelled out how grave the situation is for his squad.
    “It was a surprise we could win,” said Mustonen. “We should have not won.
Netminder Jenna Silvonen makes a stop in goal for Finland.
    “Sweden should have beaten us easily. They didn’t. I’m satisfied with that.”
    None of the players from Finland came out for post-game interviews due to the illness situation on the team.
    Finland struck first at the 6:30 mark of the third period on a goal from star left-winger Venla Hovi. The Finns closed the opening frame scoring twice in the final 3:50 with goals coming from the sticks of Riikka Valila and Emma Nuutinen.
     After being outshot 19-8 in the opening frame by Finland, Sweden made a push back in the third period holding a 12-5 edge in shots on goal for that stanza. Finnish netminder Jenna Silvonen held the fort to ensure her side still had a three-goal edge heading into the second intermission.
Emma Nuutinen had the eventual winning goal for Finland.
    That set the stage for a frantic final three minutes of the third period. With 2:44 remaining in the frame, Swedish left-winger Lisa Johansson roofed home a shot to cut Finland’s lead to 3-1. Just 15 seconds after that tally, left-winger Hanna Olsson scored for Sweden to cut Finland’s lead to 3-2.
    Finland appeared to gain some breathing room, when centre Viivi Vainikka scored with 72 seconds to play in the third. Her goal was call off as the officials assessed a too many players on the ice penalty to Finland.
    Frantically, the Finns protected their one-goal edge until the clock expired.
Silvonen made 28 saves to pick up the win in goal for Finland. Maria Omberg turned away 28 shots to take the setback in Sweden’s net.
Sweden celebrates their second goal in their comeback attempt.
    “We do our very best,” said Mustonen. “Their spirit is there. I am glad.
    “Their spirit is there. The ladies showed great spirit. They keep on fighting, but there is no energy in their body.”
    Mustonen said he hadn’t seen anything like the flu bug his team is battling over the past 25 years he has been involved in the game of hockey. He said Finland assistant coach Kari Eloranta, who played in the 1980s for the NHL’s Calgary Flames, mentioned he hadn’t see anything like the illness epidemic plaguing Finland’s women’s team in the last 40 years he has been involved in the game.
    Mustonen said he team can play better than they have, if they were healthy, and noted this week might be a write off for his team.
Finland battles to keep the puck in the corner to preserve victory.
    “It is a pity to fly over here full of expectations to play good hockey against the North Americans,” said Mustonen. “All the time, somebody is falling out.”
    Sweden returns to action on Friday taking on the United States at 3 p.m. Finland faces Canada later on that same day at 7:30 p.m. Both games are at the SaskTel Centre.

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