Canada will go without a gold medal at the world junior championship for a fifth consecutive year.
Frustrated by a dogged defensive team and drawn into individualistic play and bad penalties, Canada was beaten 5-1 by Finland in the semfinals on Saturday.
“Everything from penalties to neutral zone play to turnovers, we just got beat fair and square,” team captain Scott Laughton said. “It’s not like we deserved to win.”
Canada will play for bronze on Sunday against Russia, which lost 2-1 to host Sweden in a game that ended in a brawl. Canada lost the bronze-medal game to the Russians last year in Ufa to end a run of 14 years of finishing in the top three.
“It’s a game less than 24 hours later and you’ve got to do your country proud,” added Laughton. “It’s tough we’re not playing for the gold, but we’re still looking to get a medal and get back on track.”
Sweden will play Finland in an all-Nordic gold medal game.
Joni Nikko, Artturi Lehkonen and Rasmus Ristolainen scored in the second period for Finland.
Jonathan Drouin replied for Canada, but Finland captain Teuvo Teralainen scored on a penalty shot at 16:49 of the third and then scored into an empty net to seal the victory.
The Finns frustrated Canada by playing for counterattacks, with tight checking in the neutral zone and by collapsing around goalie Juuse Saros to keep shooters to the outside.
Unable to penetrate the defence, players tried to get through on their own, which only made Finland’s trap more effective.
It helped the underdog Finns that they got the first goal, even if it came on a lucky bounce.
Julius Honka of the Swift Current Broncos dumped the puck in and saw it take a strange bounce off a gap in the Zamboni entrance door. Nikko pounced on the puck to beat an otherwise sharp Zachary Fucale.
Then Frederik Gauthier took a penalty and Lehkonen scored.
Then centre Nic Petan took an abuse of official misconduct penalty for saying something to a referee after he was stopped on a good chance by goalie Juuse Saros.
Drouin got a goal back as he scooped up a loose puck and shot into an open side with Anthony Mantha clogging up the front of the net, but then he got hit with his second checking to the head penalty of the tournament, which carries a 10-minute misconduct.
With two of Canada’s four centres in the penalty box for an extended period, Ristolainen roofed a shot from close range for a 3-1 lead.
The large contingent of red-and-white clad Canadian fans in the crowd of 11,544 at Malmo Arena kept the noise level high through a desperate third period, but Saros shut the door.
It marked the first regulation time loss for coach Brent Sutter in three world junior tournaments, having won gold without dropping a game in 2005 and 2006. This year’s squad had lost a game in a shootout to the Czech Republic in the preliminary round.
He was at a loss to explain why his team fell short.
“It seemed we froze in the moment,” he said. “We never executed our game plan.
“We knew how they were going to play and what they were going to do in the neutral zone and we refused to get pucks into the areas we needed to. We played too much one-on-one hockey and when that happens, your game gets off track.”
Sutter is aware of the criticism that awaits from disappointed fans, but said the world juniors has become a tougher tournament to win since he last coached Canada’s team.
The fact that Canada sent its second youngest team ever to the tournament, older only than the 1987 team that was disqualified for a bench-clearing brawl with the Soviet Union, didn’t help.
This year’s team wasn’t expected to dominate, although it has 11 players eligible to return for next year’s event in Montreal and Toronto who gained valuable experience.
“Russia’s got a heck of a team and they got beat too,”said Sutter. “They’ve got a pile of 19-year-olds and they lost. You’ve got two good teams playing for bronze and two teams moving on.
“It’s redemption. It’s a chance to get back at them for last year in the bronze medal game, so let’s see what happens. We’ve got to make sure we treat this professionally and handle it the right way.”
Defenceman Griffin Reinhart is among three Canadians, along with Drouin and backup goalie Jake Paterson, who played on last year’s team and don’t want to go home without a medal again.
Reinhart admits that losing a semifinal and then having to play for bronze is a mental challenge.
“It always sucks,” he said. “I don’t know if it can suck any more than it did last year.
“Everyone, in their league playoffs, once they’re out and they can’t win, they’re done. It’s tough to get up the next morning once you’re out, but I think we’ll be able to do it.”
Neither Petan nor Drouin felt their misconducts were deserved.
“Personally I thought it was a terrible call,” said Petan. “I didn’t say anything out of line. That’s just the way it goes here, I guess. We need to move past it.”
Drouin felt the player he hit took a dive, but added the officiating was not to blame for the loss.
“We didn’t play our game,” he said. “They deserved to win. We got beat.”
The loss assured that Canada will go five years in a row without gold after winning the tournament five times in a row from 2005 to 2009.
In the third period, Pouliot hauled down Henrik Haapala on a breakaway. Despite Canadian protests, Teravainen took the penalty shot because Haapala claimed he had injured his right hand.
Against Switzerland this week, Canada wanted Drouin to take a penalty shot but the officials said Mantha had to take it because he was the player that was fouled.
The Finns, who finished seventh last year, are assured of ending a seven-year medal drought. They have not won this tournament since 1998.
“We had everybody together — we were team with a big T,” said Honka. “It will be nice to play in the final.”
Notes: Canada is 22-8-6 all-time against Finland at the world juniors, but 1-2 in semifinals. ... Defenceman Mathew Dumba and forward Charles Hudon were both fit to play after missing practice Friday with minor injuries.