Finland 3 USA 2
By David Kurs
Today was a game for the ages. In its valiant quest for gold, the USA team skated into today's game undefeated, with 56 goals scored and 6 goals allowed. Finland had already been humbled by Canada earlier in the week, 6-1. Of course, the USA had already beat Canada the night before, in an exciting game- 5 to 3.
Finland played smart defense in the first period, as no goals were allowed by either side. Robert Boope (USA) continued his superb play but he showed signs of strain, from the night before. The entire team seemed to have the same fate, as they had played an excruiating game the night before.
In the second period, it showed. The USA team showed signs of latency, as Finland's versatile forward Pekka Laakari slammed one past Boope fifteen seconds into the second period, on the very first drive- in part due to a defensive error by Rick Poppe (USA). Minutes later, the second half of the Finnish Fusillade, Ari Torvinen (FIN) whooped and scored a goal, making the score 2-0. Within a few drives later, Laakari continued his streak and shot one into the goal, past the hapless Poppe. The Finns had scored 3 goals in 4 minutes, making the score 3-0, and making the previously undefeated Americans look like they were just rolled over by a Zamboni.
These four minutes in the second period were the few minutes the Americans came to regret. In these vulnerable moments, Finland had scored all of its goals in the entire game. Ten scoreless minutes later, Jim McGaughey (USA) came from behind and hooked one past Goalie Pauli Kitula (FIN). The score was at 3-1 for the rest of the second period and much of the third period.
As the third period approached its halfway mark, the Americans looked hopeless, marred by indecisive playmaking and an emphasis on the physical game. The puck was almost always at their sticks, but the Finnish defense managed to pulverize the strong American offense. 12:24 into the last period, Curt Selander (USA) popped one into the goal on an excellent drive and assits by Poppe. The remaining minutes were tension-filled as the entire attendance realized the Mighty Americans would fall. A silence fell when the Americans kept missing the goal on numerous failed attempts. After powerful offensive drives at the end, Goalie Kitula had conquered the Americans—much to the joy of the Finnish team and its members in the audience.
The players hurled sticks into the crowd, as they realized that America's best chance for a medal would be silver, not the gold everyone had anticipated. Because the top three have played each other, and because Canada beat Finland by the score of 6-1, Canada must defeat Switzerland for a shot at the gold on March 14th.
The game brought memories of the painful loss to the Russians in Banff, Canada at the 1991 Games. This time, it was a victory to remember for the young Finland team, a contingent which is sure to return at the 2003 games in Sweden.
Posted on 13 Mar 1999