Canada backing off its blue-collar brand of hockey opened the door for Finland’s women to make history Saturday.
Finland will play in a gold-medal game and Canada won’t for the first time at a women’s world hockey championship because of the host country’s inspired 4-2 semifinal win in Espoo’s Metro Areena.
The United States — an 8-0 winner over Russia in the other semifinal — will chase a fifth straight world title against a team working for a storybook ending to its tournament.
The U.S. and Canada had met in the final of all 18 previous championships dating back to the first in 1990.
The Finns upending the established world order atop the women’s hockey heap will be seen by some as good for the female game.
The Canadian players struggled to find positives in the loss, however.
“It’s hard to have that perspective as a player in the game,” captain Brianne Jenner said. “Right now it just feels like a loss for Team Canada, which we never like to have at the world championships.
“We’re pretty disappointed with that outcome.”
Finland rode superior special teams and the 43 saves of hometown goaltender Noora Raty to victory.
It was the biggest upset among the top countries in women’s hockey since Sweden beat the U.S. in the 2006 Olympic semifinal en route to a silver medal.
“It’s unreal and on top of that, to do it here on home ice, we’ve been working so hard for so many years now,” assistant captain Michelle Karvinen said. “It’s not just one good game. It’s something we actually have earned.
“This is what needed to happen. I think it will open up a lot of the mindsets of women’s hockey that there’s more than two teams.”
Finland’s power play produced its first two goals. Canada’s went 0 for 4, including almost two minutes of five-on-three early in the second period.
Accustomed to spending a lot of time in their own zone in games against Canada over the years, the Finns knew how to defend a 3-2 lead after two periods.
Chasing a team they’d beaten 6-1 in the group stage, the Canadians didn’t block shots on the penalty kill. Shooters didn’t find lanes when teammates battled for position in front of Raty.
“I would say there was a little bit of panic when they got ahead of us,” Canadian defender Jocelyne Larocque said. “We weren’t expecting it. We didn’t respond in the way that we should have.
“Could you say we underestimated them? For sure.”
Finland’s Ronja Savolainen scored twice, including an empty-net goal, and had an assist in front of an announced 4,311.
Defender Jenni Hiirikoski had a goal and an assist and Susanna Tapani also scored.
Jamie Lee Rattray and Loren Gabel countered for Canada in the unfamiliar position of playing Russia for bronze Sunday.
“You look at what you’re going to take from losing in a semifinal at the world championships, it’s finding out about your character,” said Canadian head coach Perry Pearn. “The character in the room will really be revealed.
“We’ll find out who has it and who doesn’t. I’m learning about different players and learning who I can count on and who I can’t. Some of that got revealed to me today.”
Shannon Szabados stopped 15 shots in her first loss against the Finns in 18 starts.
After losing to the Finns for the first time in a preliminary-round game at the 2017 world championship, Canada then went 7-0 against them winning by at least three goals in every game until Saturday.
Savolainen eluded a penalty in the first period when she pushed Canadian forward Blayre Turnbull head first into the corner boards in the first period.
Turnbull, who Pearn calls “the conscience of the team,” left the ice with assistance and did not return to the game.
“To me, what happened there is I think embarrassing for women’s hockey because checking from behind at every level is not acceptable,” Pearn said. “If that was one of our players on a Finn, I would want it called.
“There’s a potential for someone to break a neck and for a veteran official like the group like we had, for them not to make that call is really wrong.”
Canadian players twice threw their arms in the air during third-period scrambles in front of Finland’s net celebrating what they thought was an equalizing goal.
The second instance was quickly waived off and the first no-goal call was upheld after a lengthy review.
Canada was minus captain Marie-Philip Poulin for all but part of one period at the world championship.
The highest-scoring player on the Canadian roster reinjured her knee Monday attempting a return. The loss of Turnbull further weakened Canada’s attack Saturday.
“It definitely hurts. They’re two amazing players.” Larocque said.
“We definitely missed both of them immensely, but at the end of the day, we still needed to be able to come together as a team and find a way to win and we just didn’t do that.”