Saturday, 10 November 2018

Finland beats flu, guts out fourth consecutive 4 Nations Cup bronze

Jenni Hiirikoski, left, and Noora Raty enjoy their bronze medals.
    With all Finland has gone through this week on the flu bug front, and a bronze medal win feels like gold.
    On Saturday afternoon at the SaskTel Centre, A third period goal gusher allowed Finland to claim the bronze medal at the 4 Nations Cup women’s hockey tournament for a fourth straight year. Trailing Sweden 2-1, the Finns exploded for three straight goals in the third to post a 4-2 victory.
    After falling to Canada 6-0 in a pre-tournament game last Sunday at the Art Hauser Centre in Prince Albert, Sask., Finland’s team was dogged by persistent flu bug throughout the 4 Nations Cup. From game to game, the Finns never knew how many players would be in their lineup or who would be able to suit up.
    In Saturday’s bronze medal win, they had their biggest turnout of the week dressing 18 skaters and two goalies, which would mark a full game day roster in North America. International Ice Hockey Federation rules allow teams to dress 20 skaters and three goalies.
Noora Raty makes one of her 31 stops in goal for Finland.
    “It has been different for sure with the illness and not being able to practice and people having low energy and pretty much eating junk food before games to be able to get through the games,” said Finnish goalie Noora Raty. “I thought we played really good (Friday) night against Canada.
    “We didn’t really know what to expect today. We were able to fight there and comeback.”
    Sweden struck first at the 10:31 mark of the opening frame when right-winger Pernilla Winberg tipped home a point shot from defender Maja Nylen-Persson for her first goal of the game.
    Finland evened the score at 1-1, when captain Jenni Hiirikoski’s midrange off-speed shot found its way past Swedish netminder Maria Omberg at the 10:08 mark of the second.
Swede LW Lina Ljungblom is checked by Finnish D Rosa Lindstedt.
    Just 36 seconds later, Sweden restored its one-goal edge, when Winberg knocked home a gritty goal from the front of the Finnish net for her second tally of the contest to make the score 2-1.
    Finland evened the score up at 2-2 tallying on the power-play at the 5:01 mark of the third. During a net scramble, the puck came out to Finnish left-winger Sanni Hakala at the right side of the Sweden goal, and she knocked home the equalizer.
    Finland went ahead at the 8:36 mark of the third on a tally that was scored to the dislike of the Swedish supporters. Finnish centre Tanja Niskanen drove hard to the Sweden’s net and was hacked down by a Swedish defender and slid into Omberg.
Pernilla Winberg scored twice for Sweden on Saturday.
    Omberg managed to keep the puck out of the goal with her glove hand, but it sat loose in the crease of the net. Finnish left-winger Annina Rajahuhta pounced on the loose puck knocking it into the goal to put Finland in front.
    There was a short protest by Sweden due to the fact Omberg couldn’t react to the rebound, because she had Niskanen sitting on top of her. The winning tally stood up.
    Rajahuhta was pleased to score the winner for her side.
    “I’m not the typical goal scorer, so it is always nice to succeed in that area,” said Rajahuhta. “I was just pushing all my powers to get it in.
Finland celebrates Annina Rajahuhta’s game winner.
    “I saw it went there, but I wasn’t sure if the refs saw that. That is why I was like confused for a while. Then they said it was a goal, so it is nice.”
    With Sweden still stunned by that turn of events, Finland scored again 29 seconds later on a shot from Petra Nieminen.
    Raty stopped 31 shots in goal for Finland, who were 2-2 at the 4 Nations Cup. Maria Omberg turned away 30 shots in goal for Sweden, who finished the tournament at 0-4.
    “We knew the first two periods were not very good,” said Raty. “The speed is our key, and we were not moving our feet.
    “I thought we started skating more there in the third and just putting more pucks to the net too, more screens and more tips. That is how you score goals on big goalies.”
Petra Nieminen scored a key insurance goal for Finland.
    Going into the third trailing 2-1, Rajahuhta said her side decided they weren’t going to fold.
    “I think we just decided as a group that we have to give everything we still have and leave it out there,” said Rajahuhta. “It was only a mental decision to be better, and we succeeded in that.”
    The Finnish national team veteran, who has played at the last three Winter Olympics, said the bronze medal win was a great cap to a challenging week for her squad.
    “It was a crazy week,” said Rajahuhta. “I don’t think I have ever seen anything like this during my national career.
    “It was nice. We survive it, and now you know that we are mentally really strong that we get past this week.”

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