Finland pumped for third meeting with Canucks

Finland's Jani Hakanpaa and Joel Armia console goalie Sami Aittokallio as Swedish players...

Finland's Jani Hakanpaa and Joel Armia console goalie Sami Aittokallio as Swedish players (background) celebrate their win in overtime during the semi-final of the 2012 IIHF U20 World Junior Hockey Championships in Calgary, Alberta, Jan., 3, 2012. (REUTERS/Todd Korol)

STEVE MACFARLANE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:29 PM ET

Disappointment is the predominant feeling in Canada with the world junior hockey championship hosts having to settle for a shot at the bronze.

Across the Atlantic Ocean, there's a sense of pride.

"It's a big thing. We worked really hard," said Finnish goaltender Chris Gibson, whose team takes on Canada for third place Thursday at the Saddledome (1:30 p.m., TSN). "Everyone in Finland are really proud of us.

"The team, we knew we could go far but we never really thought we could go THIS far. Now it's up to us to put everything we have (into it)."

The underdog Finns nearly found themselves in the gold-medal contest but gave up a two-goal lead in the third period and lost to Sweden in a shootout.

But unlike their Canadian counterparts, who fell 6-5 to Russia in the other semifinal after trailing 6-1 in the final frame, there's no sense of failure.

"It's not a disappointment at all. We'll take any medal we can take," Gibson said. "It's a great thing to have your country in the top four, but if you leave with a medal, it's even better."

If they do beat the hosts, it will be Finland's first world junior hardware since they claimed the bronze in 2006.

Meanwhile, it's the first time in 10 years the Canadians have missed out on at least a shot at the gold.

Thursday's battle will be the third between the Finns and Canadians since exhibition games began in December.

Canada claimed both previous contests, beating Finland 3-1 in a pre-tournament warmup Dec. 19 in Calgary and then kicking off the roundrobin on Boxing Day with an 8-1 thrashing in Edmonton.

But that embarrassing loss seemed to somehow inspire the Finns, who went on to beat the U.S., Denmark and Czech Republic in the preliminary round before falling just short against the Swedes.

"They're not a team to be overlooked," Team Canada's Ryan Strome said Wednesday after practice at WinSport Canada Athletic Ice Complex. "They've got arguably one of the best players in the world outside the NHL, some people say, in (Mikael) Granlund. They're a good team."

Canada's captain, Jaden Schwartz, is also cautious.

"They've obviously improved a lot," Schwartz said. "Ever since the Boxing Day game, they've played really solid games -- they beat good teams.

"We've got to make sure we're ready and prepared."

For their part, the Finns are excited about Round 3 against Canada in hostile territory.

"We get another chance to beat Canada," said Gibson, one of just a handful of Finns who practised during an optional skate Wednesday. "We've done a lot of good things during this tournament. That first game of the tournament was a wakeup call for what we really have to do. Now I think everyone's ready for the game tomorrow."

Don't expect them to quit this time.

Gibson, who took a beating in that 8-1 loss and was replaced as the starter, admitted that Boxing Day contest was mentally tough for his team to stay engaged in after they got down 2-0 in the first five minutes and faced a 5-1 deficit after two periods.

"It was a hard game to play in -- Canada's home-opener -- and they score a couple of fast goals," said Gibson. "It was a hard game to finish, but we finished it. After that, we moved on. We watched some videos the next day and we moved on.

"After that, everything started going up. We responded very well after that and we've been playing some good hockey during this tournament.

"We really want to work hard (Thursday) and get the medal and go out of the tournament with a smile on our face."

steve.macfarlane@sunmedia.ca

On Twitter: @SUNMacfarlane


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