Recapping the first four days of the WJHC
The World Junior Hockey Championship U20 tournament officially started on December 26th and was packed with action through four games. We were afforded insight into the outlook for eight different teams, including the perennial favorite, Canada. Although the first day of the tournament proved the mettle of two teams through blowout losses, it also showed the might of another two who kept it close.
Game 1: Czech Republic 5, Russia 4
To say this was a surprise would be an understatement. The Czech Junior team has struggled the past few years and had officially been discounted after it’s drought of championship mettle after the early 2000’s. Russia, on the other hand, has been a force for years, upsetting Canadian and American teams poised to be champions year after year. The Czech Republic has not even medalled since 2005, while the Russians have received medals for the past seven tournaments. Of their last twelve meeting, Russia had won ten leading up to the match and was stunned by a tough Czech squad. The Czechs took the lead with three 2nd period goals and allowed two 3rd period goals, one of which while the Russians had pulled their goaltender. Watch for the Czech team to surprise some people going forward in this tournament, led by Martin Kaut who looks to be a natural passer after registering three in the first game.
Game 2: Sweden 6, Belarus 1
One of the previously mentioned blowout games, Sweden rolled over Belarus from start to finish. A strong Sweden squad led by the Buffalo Sabres’ Alexander Nylander dominated the game throughout and left nothing to doubt throughout the game. Belarus was simply no match for the star-powered Swedes. Elias Petterson scored and assisted on another, while Lias Andersson scored twice as well. Nylander finished with two assists.
Game 3: Canada 4, Finland 2
The most anticipated game of the first day, two top-five squads faced off in a fast-paced battle. The depth of the Canadian’s lineup proved to be their competitive edge, as they seemed to be provided with offense and strength from every line. Canada’s main downfall, however, was close to costing them the game. The Canadian’s committed lots of turnovers throughout the game, while the Finn’s were able to draw a handful of penalties throughout as well. Canada opened the scoring on a controversial breakaway, short-handed goal, as Boris Katchouk plowed into the net after a fancy move. It seemed the net had been knocked off it’s mooring prior to the puck crossing the goal line, but the score was upheld. Canada never looked back, as they scored three times on their first five shots. Of note: Cal Foote is worth quite the look, despite his defensive style of play. He stopped a Finnish goal with his glove and looked to be the best Canadian skater all day.
Game 4: United States 9, Denmark 0
The United States started off strong for the tournament with a shutout of the lowly Danish team. The Americans demolished the recently relegated and returned team who is most likely to be relegated once again. Max Jones opened the scoring the American’s just 2:27 into the game, and it was a brutal attack then on. No particular American skater blew the game up, as six separate players recorded two points. As for the Danes moving forward, they will look to their goaltenders in hope that they are able to step up and carry the offensively troubled team.
We learned much about the teams at play throughout the first day and will continue to do so through until the playoff round. Of course, this is not a tournament that can be worked into, as the round robin is very short, and the single-game playoff is quite unforgiving.
With opening day behind us, we have moved forward onto the second day of the tournament. The second day was far less exciting as we only had two games played. Canada played Slovakia, while two former relegation teams – Belarus and Switzerland – also squared off in yesterday’s action.
Game 1: Switzerland 3, Belarus 2
In the first game of the day, we saw Switzerland with it’s best opportunity for a win in the round robin. Switzerland has always been a lower-tier WJHC team but has regularly the victor in this matchup. Belarus took a second loss in two days, as they fell by just a single goal. Switzerland used their speed to beat the Belarussian team, additionally relying on 27 saves by their goaltender Philip Wuthrich. Switzerland is now 1-0, while Belarus is struggling at 0-2.
Game 2: Canada 6, Slovakia 0
Another show of force from the Canadian’s was proved at the hands of the Slovakian team. The Slovakians were outmatched from the beginning, and Canada controlled the tempo throughout. Canada had a scare as top defenseman Jake Bean was hit awkwardly into the end boards in the second frame. Kale Clague sat out the game with a sore knee after blocking a Finnish shot in the first game. Slovakia had no answers for the Canadian backup goalie Colton Point, while the Canadians scored with ease against a Slovakia squad that was looking to open the tournament strong. Jonah Gadjovich scored twice, as the Whitby, ON native looked strong all game. Jordan Kyrou also had three points well looking very good in game two of the tournament. Canada has now moved to 2-0 through two days of the tournament, while Slovakia is now 0-1 and looking to rebound against the United States on December 28th.
Through two days of the tournament, a few things are clear. Firstly, Canada has looked like the power it had been just a few years ago, making the first two games look easy back-to-back. That being said, their true test will be on Friday as the Canadians faceoff against a mighty United States team reeling off a 9-0 opening day win over Denmark. The game will be played outside at the Buffalo Bills home stadium in a first for the tournament.
We also learned that the only surprising underdog squad we may see this tournament is the Czech Republic team. They beat the Russians in a shocking victory on the first day, while Belarus and Slovakia have both shown on Day two that they were accurately assessed at the beginning of the tournament.
The third day will have lots of action as the Czechs faceoff against a strong Swedish team, and the USA will square off against Slovakia. Also: SUI v. RUS, and DEN v. FIN
Moving to the third day of the tournament, we have gifted a foursome of games to watch. Every team has played at least one game to date, and day 3 answered some questions about teams. Are Russia and Switzerland legitimate contenders this year? Are the Czechs as good as we hope? Is Sweden good enough to be a medal team in this tournament? All these questions were answered in an exciting third day of tournament play.
Game 1: Finland 4, Denmark 1
The Finnish team needed a rebound from their squad and luckily had Denmark as their next opponent. A weak Danish squad allowed four goals on a whopping 62 shots on goal, while only taking seven shots all game. Nikolaj Krag scored Denmark’s first goal of the tournament on a power play in the second period but was never able to get another against Finland. The Finn’s rebounded with a dominant victory, as they look to improve on their 1-1 record against Slovakia on Dec. 30th. Denmark however, has their best chance for a round-robin victory against Slovakia on Dec. 31th.
Game 2: Russia 5, Switzerland 2
The score doesn’t tell the story of this game. With eleven minutes left in the game, the teams were tied 2-2, but Russia took the lead a few minutes later. Up 3-2, The Swiss team looked defeated and let another easy goal in, then pulled the goalie and allowed a fifth goal. This is a loss for the team but was a testament to how far the Swiss team has come. The first Swiss team to not have a legitimate drafted/draftable prospect, they did not look overmatched against the Russian squad. Russia, on the other hand, has looked like a weaker squad than expected, after falling to the Czechs a game ago. Look for the Swiss team to rebound against Sweden on Dec. 30, while the Russians look to improve on their 1-1 record against Belarus on Dec. 29.
Game 3: Sweden 3, Czech Republic 1
The Czechs looked to improve to 2-0 after their surprise win over Russia but were unable to do so, as a strong Swedish team showed their strength. The Czech Republic opted to not pull their goalie in the dying minutes, as it seemed like the Czech coaches were worried about goal differential. Of course, in the event of a tie, goal differential is the tiebreaker. The Swedes, however, hung onto their lead throughout the matchup and did not look overly worried by the underdog Czechs. The Czech Republic can certainly use this game as a stepping stone, as they did not look way overmatched, but rather the game was close. The Czechs look to bounce back against a weak Belarus team on Dec. 30th, while the Swedes have Switzerland in the way of a 3-0 record.
Game 4: Slovakia 3, USA 2
In the final game of the day, we were afforded a shocker. The lowly Slovakian team served up the second upset of the tournament at the hands of top 5 favorite USA. The Americans received a shock from the Slovak’s to the tune of a 3-2 loss. Quoted from Sportsnet.ca, forward Marian Studenic stated “It’s like winning a medal. It’s a big win for us. We’re a small state and this is an honorable feeling.”. Filip Krivoski scored two goals for Slovakia, while Roman Durny stopped 43 of 45 shots. Durny was the factor in the win, as he made his first World Junior Championship start, and looks like a strong possibility to continue for the Slovaks. The United States looks to rebound in the tournament against a reeling Canadian team at New Era Field, the Buffalo Bills Stadium as they play the game outside. The defending gold medallists look to rebound after starting just 1-1 thanks to a shocking defeat at the hands of the now 1-1 Slovaks.
Tomorrow’s Games: RUS v BEL, Can v USA (outdoors)
The fourth day of the tournament has elapsed, and we look back on what was a major day of the tournament. The American team looked to rebound against a tough Canadian squad who came in undefeated. The Americans lost the night before to Slovakia in a shocking 3-2 defeat. Russia however, looks to add another win against Belarus. Belarus, who is still without a win in the tournament, looked to stay in contention against a lackluster Russia team.
Game 1: Russia 5, Belarus 2
Not a surprising result, but surely a disappointing one for a struggling Belarus squad. Belarus (0-3) was looking to finally get its first win of the tournament but to no avail. Russia on the other hand was able to improve their record to 2-1. St. Louis draftee Klim Kostin scored twice to lead the Russians, as they won their second game in a row. The Belarussian team was aided from goals by Dmitri Deryabin and Sergei Pishuk but was unable to gain momentum at any point. The Belarussians get one final chance at a victory against the Czech Republic, while the Russians look to move to 3-1 against a strong Sweden team. Both games on Dec. 31.
Game 2: USA 4, Canada 3 (SO)
The American’s were able to bounce back against the Canadian team after losing to Slovakia the night before. In the first outdoor game in tournament history, attendance rose to nearly 45,000 while the snow blew into New Era Stadium. The American’s were down 3-1 into the third period before a 2 man advantage allowed the American’s to cut the lead to one. They scored again to tie, and drove the game into OT and then a shootout. American sons of former stars Bellows and Tkachuk both scored in the shootout, as the Canadian’s hit the post twice and lost in the five-round-shootout. The Canadians will look to come back against Denmark tomorrow, while the Americans faceoff against Finland on the 31st to end the round robin.
Tomorrow’s Games: BLR v CZE, SUI v SWE, SVK v FIN, CAN v DEN