Finland beats ROC to win nation's first Olympic men's ice hockey gold medal

Finland won its first ever Olympic men's ice hockey gold medal with a 2-1 victory over the Russian Olympic Committee on Sunday in Beijing.

Finland forward Hannes Bjorninen scored the game-winning goal just 31 seconds into the third period. He added an assist on Ville Pokka's goal in the second period that tied the score after the ROC opened the scoring in the first period.

This was the 18th Olympic men's ice hockey tournament appearance for Finland, which was undefeated in six games in Beijing. The nation won silver in 1988 and 2006 and captured bronze four times (1994, 1998, 2010, 2014) before capturing gold.

"It is hard to put in words what it means. What a tough tournament. I felt like we played well the whole time, and this is the reward," said Finland forward Valtteri Filppula, who won a Stanley Cup with the Detroit Red Wings in 2008. "Hockey's a big thing in Finland. This is for all of us, for sure."

Harri Sateri made 16 saves, but it was the Finnish offensive attack and forecheck that won the day. Finland had a 21-14 shot edge after two periods and ended with a 31-17 shot advantage for the game. Russia was seeking its second straight Olympic men's hockey gold medal -- although not necessarily by name.

Russia competed as the Russian Olympic Committee due to a ban from the World Anti-Doping Agency, which prohibited Russian athletes from wearing their flag or any Russian symbol on their uniforms. This follows IOC sanctions in 2018, when Olympic athletes from Russia captured the gold at the Pyeongchang Olympics.

The ROC opened the scoring on its second shot. With Bjorninen in the box for a high-sticking penalty, forward Mikhail Grigorenko used a perfectly set screen from teammate Pavel Karnaukhov to beat Sateri for a 1-0 lead just 7:17 into the game. Nikita Gusev picked up an assist for his team-leading sixth point.

The Finns tied the score just 3:28 into the second period. Defenseman Ville Pokka sent a shot from just inside the blue line that went through the legs of defenseman Nikita Nesterov and past goalie Ivan Fedotov to knot the score at 1-1.

The Finns took a 2-1 lead 31 seconds into the third period. The sequence began with Fedotov giving the puck away to Bjorninen. That sparked a forechecking clinic by Finland that had the ROC running around in its own zone. Forward Marko Anttila collected the puck and sent a wrist shot from high in the zone. It was deflected by Bjorninen for the first Finland lead.

Among the former NHL players winning gold for Finland: forwards Markus Granlund, Valtteri Filppula and Leo Komarov, as well as defensemen Sami Vatanen and Mikko Lehtonen.

"Great team. Great effort. It wasn't easy for us, but we found a way to win every game," Anttila said. "We found a way to win these tough games."

The Beijing Olympics marked the second straight Winter Games without the participation of NHL players. Despite an agreement between the NHL and the NHLPA to send players to Beijing, the league decided to opt out due to a material change to its 2021-22 regular-season schedule because of COVID-19 postponements.

Finland wasn't the only Olympic team to make history in Beijing. Slovakia, which eliminated the U.S. in the quarterfinals, defeated Sweden 4-0 to capture the bronze, its first Olympic men's hockey medal.