Finland beats Switzerland 2-0 in first game after WJC coaching change

Finland beats Switzerland 2-0 in first game after WJC coaching change

Switzerland’s Nico Hischier (18) tries a wraparound on Finland goaltender Veini Vehvilainen (31) as Finland’s Miro Heiskanen (2) defends during second period IIHF World Junior Championships hockey action Saturday, December 31, 2016 in Montreal.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

MONTREAL — Finland got its first win under a new coach, and that put Switzerland into a tough quarter-final against the United States at the world junior hockey championship.

Playing its first game with Jussi Ahokas behind the bench after the shock firing of Jukka Ruatakorpi, Finland turned on the jets against the flat looking Swiss for a 2-0 victory on Saturday night in the final group stage game for both teams.

It was too little, too late for Finland (1-3-0), which had already been eliminated from medal contention and will have to endure the indignity of a best-of-three series against Latvia beginning Monday at the Bell Centre to avoid relegation from next year’s world juniors.

Finland has never ranked lower than seventh since the world juniors debuted in 1977, but can finish no higher than ninth in the 10-team tournament this time.

“It’s bad what happened, but now we have (at least) two games left and we have to continue to play fast and good,” said Ahokas, who had been primed to take over the national junior squad after this year’s tournament. “I’m really proud of the boys today.

“Of course we’re not happy with how it’s been, but now we have to play for big things and show Finnish hockey that we can play better.”

The Finns outshot the Swiss 51-17, and Eeli Tolvanen and Aapeli Rasanen each had a goal and an assist in the win.

“It felt better to win a game,” said Tolvanen, a top prospect for next year’s NHL draft. “No one likes losing.

“We don’t want to play relegation, but we have to, so we have to get ready for Latvia.”

“We wanted to have fun; there was no pressure on us,” said Finland captain Olli Juolevi.

The Finns opted for a coaching change after they were officially eliminated with Switzerland’s comeback win over Denmark on Friday night. Ahokas was already in Montreal as an analyst for Finnish television. He had worked with most of the players when he coached the country’s youth teams.

They faced a Swiss team that looked satisfied just to have made the quarter-finals, which was a disappointment for highly ranked draft prospect Nico Hischier of the Halifax Mooseheads.

“We could have reached second place in our group, everyone in the locker-room knew that,” said Hischier, whose team finished fourth in the group. “We should have been motivated, but we didn’t play our game.

“We didn’t fight enough. We were always a step too slow. We have to step up.”

It will take a major upset to beat the U.S. (4-0-0), which beat Canada in Toronto on Saturday. The Americans topped Switzerland 4-3 in a pre-tournament game in Oshawa, Ont., on Dec. 23 and Hischier believes that beating them is not out of the question.

“I’m still positive,” he said. “We have a nice bunch of guys in the locker-room and we showed a couple of times in this tournament we can play good.

“I’m positive that when we play as good as we can we can beat the USA, but we have to play our best game. Not like tonight.”

Veini Vehvilainen got the shutout for Finland.

After outshooting Switzerland 17-8 in a scoreless first period, the Finns got on the board 4:35 into the second when Rasanen followed in to jam Tolvanen’s rebound past Joren van Pottelberghe.

The Finns scored again on their fourth power play of the game as Tolvanen one-timed a feed from Vili Saarijarvi inside the near post at 13:53 of the second.

The Swiss barely touched the puck in the third as Finland closed out the win.

Bill Beacon, The Canadian Press

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