It wasn’t pretty, but a dominant effort by future NHL stars Ryan Merkley and Benoît-Olivier Groulx late in the game put Canada in the Youth Olympic finals on Sunday thanks to a 4-3 win over Finland.
It would take until the final seconds of the opening period for the first goal to find the back of the net. With two Canadians sitting in the box, Toni Utunen converted a one-timer from Jesperi Kotkaniemi into the first goal of the game, beating Alexis Gravel with the blast to make it 1-0 Finland.
Then, just 30 seconds into the second period and still on the two-man advantage, Finland scored once again. This time, Jesse Moilanen beat Gravel with a shot, doubling Finland’s lead with 30 minutes remaining in the game.
Penalty issues were easily killing Canada and when Jared McIssac went off for a head check with three minutes off the board in the second, it looked like bad news. Fortunately, Carson Focht found a way to beat Finnish netminder Jimi Uusitalo with four minutes complete, bringing Canada within a goal.
2:32 seconds later, Canada tied everything up at two. QMJHL Draft prospect Anderson MacDonald sniped the puck past Uusitalo near the net, scoring the first even strength goal of the game to tie it up at two after 30 minutes of play in the contest.
Both teams played very solid in the third period, but it would be a late goal by Finland that would put a major scare on Canada’s stars. With less than six minutes to go, Kotkaniemi got his second of the game to give his team the advantage late, scoring their first even strength goal of the contest.
Fortunately for the strong team in red and white, Canada would tie it on the power play with four minutes left. Benoît-Olivier Groulx, a very likely option for the top pick in the QMJHL Draft, took a pass from Ryan Merkley, who should hear his name called first in the OHL Draft, before beating the Finnish netminder to make it 3-3 late.
Groulx and Merkley both were responsible in tying up the game, so it made sense that they would find a way to win the game too. With no overtime, the game went straight to a shootout, something Canada wasn’t going to struggle with. Both Groulx and Merkley scored in the skills competition, while Gravel stopped both shots he had to face to give Canada the 4-3 victory in a come-from-behind contest.
With the win, Canada will either play against Russia, who beat Canada earlier in the tournament, or USA, who they beat, in the Youth Olympic finals on Sunday. Finland will play the loser of that game in the bronze medal game on Saturday.
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