VANCOUVER — Finland is taking home gold from this year’s world junior hockey championship after beating the United States 3-2 in a dramatic final on Saturday.
Seventeen-year-old Kaapo Kakko scored the game winner with just 1:26 to go in the third period.
“We showed at the end of the tournament why we are one of the best teams,” said Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, who was named the top goaltender at the tournament after making 25 saves in the final.
“We have grown up as players and a group.”
The Americans had clawed their way back from a two-goal deficit in the third period with goals from Josh Norris and Alexander Chmelevski.
Jesse Ylonen and Otto Latvala also scored for Finland.
Cayden Primeau stopped 28-of-31 for the U.S.
“At the end of the day it’s about who stops the puck more. We didn’t get that on our side so that’s why we came up short,” said Primeau.
Finland started the scoring, putting away a power-play goal 11:31 into the second period after U.S. forward Evan Barratt was called for goalie interference.
The Finns won a faceoff and got the puck to Ylonen, who wound up and blew a rocket past Primeau.
The Montreal Canadiens prospect had three goals and three assists in the tournament.
Latvala padded his team’s lead six minutes into the third period, using a series of screens to block Primeau’s view of his high shot.
The Americans responded 61 seconds later when Chmelevski took a shot from down near the Finnish goal line that found its way through traffic into the net.
The San Jose Sharks prospect also helped tie the game up 8:47 into the frame, dishing a pass across the ice to Norris, who put the puck past Luukkonen to make it 2-2.
The Americans also had a flurry of power-play chances throughout the game, and thought they had scored on one only to have it overturned by video review.
Oliver Wahlstrom put back a rebound, but officials determined it was a no goal because Chmelevski was in the crease.
The U.S. finished 0 for 5 with the man advantage.
Earlier in the day, Russia beat Switzerland 5-2 to capture bronze.
Canada finished sixth after losing to Finland in the quarterfinals on Wednesday.
Finland posted a convincing 6-1 win over Switzerland in the semifinals. But the team’s performance was lacklustre through the group phase of this year’s tournament, with victories over Slovakia and Russia and losses to Sweden and the U.S.
“We have shown it from the Canada game on we have grown up as a group,” said Luukkonen. ”We kept playing better in every game. That was the biggest thing for us.
“Every team that comes here comes to win the gold medal. We had our ups and downs in the tournament. In the end we got the gold medal so there is nothing more we can ask.”
The Americans lost a single game in the round-robin, dropping a 5-4 overtime decision to Sweden on Dec. 29.
They punched their ticket to the finals by beating the Czechs 3-1 on Wednesday, then downing the Russians 2-1 on Friday.
Next year’s tournament will be held in the Czech Republic.
Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press