The International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) World Juniors started today. The ten-team under 20 Tournament kicked off Christmas day with three matchups.
The contest is being played in Edmonton, Alberta in a COVID bubble. The teams are divided into two groups. Group A consists of Host, the tournament favorite, and 18 time champs Canada, five-time champions Finnland, Switzerland, Slovakia, and Germany. Groups B, the Group of Death consists of Four-time Champions the United States and Russia (combined Russia, Soviet Union, CIS teams have won 18 times), two-time winners Sweden and the Check Republic, and Austria.
The World Juniors Three-Course hockey menu: (Defense, Offence, Power Hockey)
The First Course: Switzerland vs Slovakia (Defense)
This appetizer got the defensive hockey pallet satisfied. The Slovaks shook things up by starting back-up goalie Simon Latkoczy. The gamble paid off big time. Latkoczy stopped all 28 shots he faced including a fury near the end of the 3rd period. Rough play was featured much of the game with the Swiss team taking the first four trips to the sin bin, three in the first period and at the 2:28 mark in the second.
The back of the net remained empty till 14:17 into the third. Slovak Roman Faith smacked home a loose biscuit from in front, beating Swiss keeper Thibault Fatton. Fatton made a stop on a bad angle shot from Simon Nemec, but he left the rebound right in front of Faith. Faith slammed home what would turn out to be the game-winner.
The Second Course: Germany Vs Finnland (Offense)
The next course went the opposite way as the offense was put on display. Germany who was playing with a short bench due to a COVID outbreak faced an uphill climb against mighty Finland. The Germans dressed only 16 of 22 possible players but did not roll over to the Finns.
The Finns got 2 tallies in the first from Anton Lundell and Aku Raty. Lundell opened the scoring just 3 minutes and 38 seconds after the puck drop. Raty got his marker with just 12 seconds left in the first. The Finns took a 2-0 lead into the break.
The two teams came out ready to play solid hockey in the second. Mikael Pyyhtia made it 3-0 a minute and 39 into the second frame. Just when it looked like the rout could be on, Samuel Dube gave the Germans some life just 3 minutes and 55 seconds later, on the power play. Tim Stutzle, the Ottawa Senators number three overall pick in the 2020 draft, showed his skill 5 minutes later making it 3-2.
The Finns, not to be outdone, answered right back netting a goal just over a min later. Stutzle, would take a kneeing penalty that would lead to Finland’s 5th goal at 13:51. Henri Nikkanen’s power-play goal seemed to be the dagger to the Germans.
The third period was much quieter, with no one making a trip to the box and the Dutchman getting a goal from Florian Ellas.
The Germans played hockey the best they could and should be commended.
The Main Course: Russia vs the USA (Power Hockey)
The IIHF served up what looked like a by reservation only New York steakhouse dry-aged T-bone. This course lived up to its billing, at least till the middle 20.
Russia took control early, but shots were limited by both squads. Russia scored after a bad clear from Team USA Goalie Spenser Knight. Russia retained the puck, Vasili Ponomaryov net-front presence allowed for a tip-in on a shot from Amtemi Knyazev that Knight could not see.
The Americans were held shot less for over 12 minutes. Missing open opportunities and trying to be overly fancy with the rubber.
It took 14 minutes for team USA to get their third shot, but it was a good one. Cam York slapper from the point became a seeing-eye puck slipping past Askarov, the Russian netminder and 11th overall pick of the Nashville Predators.
The second period felt as if it would be more of the first and was till a missed chance by team USA and a great pass by the Bears that lead to a breakaway goal. Bardakov Zakhar received a perfect stretch pass from Maxim Groshev, skated right down Broadway one on one, and beat Knight with ease right through the wickets. Knight seemed to come undone at this point. Poor puck handing by the USA netminder led to the fourth goal and the end of Knight’s night. The third tally for Russia was also the second goal for Ponomaryov, a snapshot from in front of the net.
Dustin Wolf, a seventh-round draft choice by the Calgary Flames in 2019, came in and stopped the bleeding. Stopping all 11 shots he faced. Team USA was able to make it a game in the 3rd scoring two goals, one on a power play with the goalie on the bench.
Askarov gave up a lot of prime rebounds, with the USA capitalizing on all three markers. Russia’s long arms and solid team play shut down Uncle Sam’s boys.
Up next for Team USA, Team Austria on Saturday at 9:30 PM EST. Team Russia gets the day off. tomorrow other World Junior match-ups include Team Canada opening against a depleted Team Germany on Boxing day at 6 PM EST. The first matchup on Saturday will pit Team Sweden against the Czech Republic.
Guy “Hawaii Blues Fan” Bensing
Photo Credit: IIHF images