Canada White and Finland played easily one of the most hard-fought games of the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge during their quarter-final match-up on Thursday, with Canada White coming back to win 4-2 after a great third period effort.
It took almost no time for Canada to grab the very first lead of the game. After just four minutes of play, Owen Tippett stole the puck and used his terrific wrist shot to beat Finnish netminder Lassi Lehtinen up high, giving the Canadians the surprising 1-0 lead early in the battle. It was surprising in the sense that throughout the tournament, the Finns did a great job of scoring early and often, but Canada White, more of a wildcard heading into the quarter-finals, was able to score the first and only goal of the opening period.
The story through much of the tournament had been the strong goaltending performances throughout the teams. For Finland, Lassi Lehtinen had to make eight saves in the first 20 minutes, but maybe four or five were actually good scoring chances. Lehtinen did a great job of tracking loose pucks around the crease, and his ability to close up the angles forced Canada to try and change their tactics.
If anyone was going to score for Finland, it wouldn’t be that bold to predict Eeli Tolvanen to get an important one. Kristian Vesalainen did a very good job of forcing Canadian goaltender Ian Scott to use his entire crease on a 2-on-1, but it would be Tolvanen who would turn the pass into the first goal for Finland, tying things up at one apiece.
The Vesalainen-Tolvanen-Joni Ikonen line was dominant for Finland, easily proving themselves to be one of the best in the entire tournament. The line would once again find another goal in the second, with Ikonen setting up Vesalainen on the power play with nine minutes to go in the second to take their first lead of the game. Getting two goals on Ian Scott proved to be a challenge, with the Canadian netminder having to make 12 saves in a period that was a bit tougher of a task than the first 20 minutes, but they would still leave the period with the lead.
Tippett was consistently the best forward for Canada all night long, buzzing around the net every opportunity he had. It would lead to Canada’s second goal of the game, as his shot from far out would get tipped by James Hamblin in front for the 2-2 goal. It was Hamblin’s fourth goal in four games, with his two-game performance against Canada Black in game one proving to be one of the better performances for any Canadian team during the event.
Canada Red was put in a very similar situation as Team White, trailing for a good portion of the game before forcing a very strong third period effort. If anyone was going to score for White, it was going to be Gabe Valiardi, a top 2017 NHL Draft option that was having himself one heck of a tournament. Not only was he dangerous around the net all game long, but he made some nice moves to bat in his own rebound with eight minutes to go in the game, giving Canada the very important 3-2 lead. It was exactly what Canada needed, as the lead, plus an extra goal by Hamblin on the empty net, would hold on despite a tough Finnish challenge at the end to give Canada the 4-2 victory to advance to the semi-finals on Friday.
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