Finland won its first-ever Olympic gold medal in hockey on Sunday, beating the Russian Olympic Committee favorite 2-1. Photo by Mark Cristino/EPA-EFE
February 20 (UPI) — The third time was the charm of Finland, as their men’s hockey team beat defending Russian Olympic Committee champions 2-1 on Sunday for the country’s first Olympic gold medal in the sport after two appearances preceding in the final.
Finland’s Hannes Bjorninen broke the tie 1-1 with the winning goal, his first of the tournament, just 29 seconds from the start of the third period.
As time ticked away in the game, the Finnish players jumped over the boards and joined in a joyous scrum around goalkeeper Harri Sateri, while the ROC players on the ice looked stunned at the outcome . The Finns finished the tournament with an excellent 6-0 record.
“Great team, hard work,” forward Marko Anttila told NBC after the win. “It wasn’t the easiest for us, but we found a way to win every game and that shows the character of the team.”
Finland can finally add gold to their collection of two silver medals in men’s hockey – from 1988 and 2006 – and four bronze.
The Finns smothered the Russian favorites with a miserly defensive effort and a decisive advantage on the offensive attack, with a 31-17 advantage in shots.
Russia opened the scoring eight minutes into the first period when Mikhail Grigorenko scored a power-play goal on a wrist shot into traffic.
Finland equalized at 3:28 in the second when defender Ville Pokka’s wrist shot near the blue line smashed its way through the legs of a Russian defender and into the net.
Bjorninen then capped the score in the third period by deflecting a spinning shot from Anttila, a result that came after a powerful forechecking effort from the Finnish team kept the puck in the Russian zone.
Despite a goal less, Russia only managed to collect three shots in the final period, while the Finns kept up the pressure with 10 shots alone.
This defeat prevented the Russians from repeating themselves as Olympic champions, although they won their gold medal at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games under a different name. While the athletes competed as ROC in Beijing, they were known as OAR – Olympic Athletes from Russia – four years ago.
Russia remains banned from any world championship sporting event until the end of 2022 due to a systematic state-sponsored doping program that was exposed at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. However, able athletes to prove they are “clean” were allowed to compete under a neutral banner.
The country’s doping record remained in the spotlight throughout the Beijing Games, as the saga surrounding figure skater Kamila Valieva’s positive doping test and the referees’ decision to allow her to compete in the women’s event in simple have drawn intense scrutiny and criticism.
With NHL players out for a second consecutive Games, the deep Russian team, made up of players from its professional Continental Hockey League, looked set to climb the top step of the podium again.
However, the Finnish team brought their own firepower with a roster made up of former NHL players including captain Valtteri Filppula, forwards Leo Komarov and Markus Granlund and defensemen Sami Vatanen and Mikko Lehtonen.
The team showed courage and unity throughout their Olympic run, highlighted by a stunning 4-3 overtime win over Sweden in the group after starting the third period 3-0.
“The last three or four years, it’s [been] a lot of the same players, the same coaches,” Anttila said. “And we found a way to win those tough games.”