Special teams hurt Canada in world junior tuneup loss to Finland

Team Canada's Cody Glass fights for control of the puck with Team Finland's Otto Latvala. (Jonathan Hayward/CP)

VANCOUVER – You always remember the kids’ Christmas shows. Sure, they’d forget their lines, bump into one another, fiddle with their costumes and knock over the manger.

But you appreciated it because you knew those shows wouldn’t last forever.

The teenagers on Team Canada had their final dress rehearsal Sunday for the world junior hockey championship that starts Boxing Day in Vancouver and Victoria. Most things that could go wrong did, but it was less charming than when the kids were little.

Still, it was just a rehearsal and the real show doesn’t start until Wednesday.

But Finland’s well-earned 5-2 victory at Rogers Arena was proof Sunday that the Canadians have much work to do before opening night of a tournament in which Canada is the defending champion and is always going to be favoured to win on our home and native land.

"The learning curve in a world junior tournament is very steep and you’ve got to learn in a hurry," Canadian head coach Tim Hunter, on Canada’s world junior staff the last two years, told reporters. "We’ll have to learn from that experience in a hurry.

"The Finns had a sense of urgency to start the game, to compete and play physical and we didn’t. And we were chasing the game from then on."

Finland led 3-1 going into the third period and outnumbered and outworked the Canadians around the puck.

In its three pre-tournament games, Team Canada survived a poor second period in a dodgy 5-3 win against Switzerland, looked good in a 6-1 victory against Slovakia, then lost convincingly against Finland when the Canadians faced their only medal contender.

"Going into the tournament now, we’re going to be more prepared," Canadian centre Cody Glass said. "Nothing comes easy just because we’re Team Canada. Nothing is given to us. We have to play hard, we have to work for everything and we have to compete for 60 minutes."

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Nineteen of Canada’s 34 shots came in the final 20 minutes when Finland defended its two-goal lead by going up 4-1 at 1:26 on an Eeli Tolvanen goal from a sharp angle on goalie Ian Scott, who replaced starter Michael DiPietro about halfway through the game as planned.

Two of the Finnish goals were on the power play, and their first one was shorthanded and made it 1-0 at 10:26 when Otto Latvala scored on a rebound after Canadian Evan Bouchard gave away the puck and Owen Tippett was rounded by Teemu Engberg on a breakaway.

Down 3-1 late in the second, Canada failed on a 60-second five-on-three power play, then took a penalty when Aarne Talvitie battled for another shorthanded breakaway for Finland.

"We didn’t have a sense of urgency with the puck, a sense of quickness," Hunter said of his power play. "I really liked the Finnish power play; they snapped it around, they moved it quick, they seamed us. We didn’t do anything to make their penalty killers work. We moved it slow. I could have killed a penalty out there."

Hunter is 58 years old and he may have been telling the truth, so static was Canada’s power play at times.

Canada’s goals were scored by Morgan Frost and Barrett Hayton. It’s unclear who will be Canada’s starting goalie on Boxing Day against Denmark, although Scott was slightly better than DiPietro in the pre-tournament games.

Full of confidence, Finland opens against Sweden in Victoria.

They played without fear on Sunday.

"Why we have to fear? We have good players on our team," Finland coach Jussi Ahokas said. "It’s not a thing for us Finns; we don’t fear. We want to play and the biggest thing (we can do) is play the puck and have bravery when we play it."

Canadian forward Maxime Comtois, the only returning player from last year’s gold-medal team, said: "It was a pretty tough game for our side. We didn’t play with a sense of urgency. We can’t give a game like that to the Finns and we can’t give a game like that to the fans. It was not very good. But we’re going to learn from that and be ready on the 26th."

Ready or not, it’s showtime.

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