Canada edges Finland to reach men's hockey semifinals

Canadian defenceman Maxim Noreau scores lone goal to book meeting with Germany

By Neil Davidson, Canadian Press

Team Canada's Olympic journey just got a little longer, and a little stranger.

It took a while but the Canadian men — with backup goalie Kevin Poulin called on to replace the injured Ben Scrivens — finally figured out Finland's neutral zone trap and rode Maxim Noreau's third-period goal for a 1-0 victory Wednesday. That moves Canada one win away from the gold medal game, with only unheralded Germany standing in its way.

The Germans, seeded 10th in the draw, upset Group C winner Sweden 4-3 in overtime in the other late quarterfinal. The win snapped Germany's 12-game losing streak to Sweden in Olympic and world championship play, improving its record to 2-14-0.

The Czechs will meet the Russian entry in Friday's other semifinal. The Russians downed Norway 6-1 and the Czechs edged the U.S. 3-2 in a shootout in the other quarterfinals.

Wednesday's developments means Canada will play for a medal whatever happens, with either gold or bronze on the line.

While parity was expected in Pyeongchang with NHL stars on the other side of the world, not many would have foreseen a Canada-Germany semifinal. Told that Germany awaited Canada, centre Eric O'Dell started to say perfect, but then caught himself.

Ready for any team

"It doesn't matter," he said, drawing laughs as he stopped mid-word and returned to the party line. "Nice. We're ready for any team and every team from here going forward is going to be tough."

Canada coach Willie Desjardins was also surprised to see the Swedes to go down.

"But saying that Germany must be playing well," he said. "You don't get luck in this tournament. And Germany's got some confidence and they're going to be a tough team to play against."

Canada is 27-1-1 against Germany in Olympic and world championship play, winning the last 11 meetings. Last time out, the Canadians won 2-1 in the quarterfinals of last year's worlds.

Germany, whose NHLers number less than 10, are 3-2 in the tournament with the wins coming at the right time. They lost 5-2 to Finland and 1-0 to Sweden before beating Norway 2-1 in the preliminary round. Then they upset Switzerland 2-1 in overtime.

After a lacklustre scoreless first period, the Canadian men turned it up a notch in the second and outshot the Finns 18-10.

The breakthrough goal came 55 seconds into the third period with Noreau blasting a point shot stickside past Mikko Koskinen on a set play after a clean O'Dell faceoff win.

'I saw it from the bench'

"I saw it from the bench. It had eyes," captain Chris Kelly said of the shot. "A fantastic [faceoff] win by [O'Dell]. That's kind of what it takes. Just one play and that's the difference."

"That was a bomb," added defenceman Chris Lee.

Noreau, a 30-year-old defenceman from Montreal whose resume includes six games with the Minnesota Wild, did not speak in the mixed zone after the game in a bid to catch up with his family.

Canada, which outshot Finland 30-21, gritted it out in the third after going ahead.

"I thought we played hard. We played disciplined. We played our identity in terms of not giving up too much and making them work for everything," said Kelly.

Scrivens returned to the Canadian goal after being rested in the final preliminary-round game. But he gave way to Poulin at 4:17 of the second period after flattened by flying Finn Veli-Matti Savinainen, propelled into the crease like a guided missile thanks to a crushing O'Dell check. The Finn's leg caught Scrivens in the head cleanly along the way.

Desjardins said Scrivens would be further evaluated Thursday.

Poulin was rock-steady in relief, stopping all 15 shots he faced including some tough ones off the bat. Justin Peters took over as backup on the bench with Scrivens dealing with what the team called an upper body injury.

"Unbelievable" was Lee's review of Poulin's play.

Despite the high stakes, there were plenty of empty seats at the 10,000-capacity Gangneung Hockey Centre. Coupled with a less than riveting start to the game, it made for a subdued atmosphere more like a bingo evening than an Olympic playoff game.

Tough opening

The mood improved in the second as Canadian fans, spurred on by their team's higher-octane play, regularly chanted "Go Canada Go."

It was a tight opening with the physical Canadians needing five minute to get a shot on target. The Finns seemed in a higher gear, frustrating Canada with five men in the neutral zone.

Finland had a 5-4 edge in shots in a first period lacking panache. The opening period did claim a victim, however, with a Finnish trainer cut on the head when an errant puck flew into the bench at high speed.

The Canadians came out with far more purpose in the second period and Koskinen had to make an early pad save to deny an Andrew Ebbett shot. It took less than four minutes for Canada to rack up more shots than it had in the entire first period.

Desjardins said the team made some adjustment against the trap and stepped up its performance.

While Finland was on the back foot for much of the period, it had its chances. Poulin, who started the previous game against South Korea, was sharp despite his sudden entry.

Disappointment for Finland

Canada is now 43-14-2 against the Finns in Olympic and world championship play (7-5 in the Olympics).

"We knew before the tournament that anything is possible in this tournament but I think we played a social league game and [did not] stick to our plan," said Finnish coach Lauri Marjamaki.

"We created so many scoring chances but we didn't score and this was a huge disappointment for us."

Canada, which advanced directly to the quarterfinals by virtue of being the best second-place team, finished runner-up to the Czech Republic in Group A. The Canadian men sandwiched wins of 5-1 over Switzerland and 4-0 over South Korea 4-0 around a 3-2 shootout loss to the Czechs.

The Finns, ranked fifth among the 12 teams after the opening round, were second to Sweden in Group C. They advanced to the quarterfinals by beating South Korea 5-2 in a qualification game.