The IIHF World Juniors Quater-Finals recap.
Canada, the USA, Russia, and Finland all advance.
The International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) gave us the four quarterfinal games we were wanting. The top four teams in each group crisscrossed and played an opposite team from the other group. Top-seeded Canada and the USA both had tougher than expected challenges from the two number four-seeds. Number two seeded Finland was down by two after the first. The other number two seed, Russia, had a tougher go than what the 2-1 final scored showed. Let us look at the four games starting with the first game of the day featuring Russia and Germany.
Game One: (3) Germany 1 vs (2) Russia 2
The first game of the day saw what could have been a dejected German team hold their own against the mighty Bears. The Germans led by the number three overall pick of the Ottawa Senators in 2020; Tim Stutzle lead his team like a veteran NHL player. The Germans who not only battled the world’s best also battled Covid-19 throughout the group play. Stutzle who finished the tournament tied in team point with 10, had 5 goals and 5 assists. He currently is third overall.
Russia who started the tournament with a great 20 minutes against the American’s, were upset by the Czech Republic and finished the group a disappointing second seed. They allowed a late goal to Sweden, forcing overtime and in the three-point system, an overtime win became two points and not three. This ultimately led to them being behind the team they beat, by a point.
Both teams entered this game looking for some type of momentum. Russia took an early lead as both teams traded procession and shots. The Bears broke through on a shorthanded shocker from Vasili Ponomaryov. He caught the Germans off guard 9 minutes into the opening period.
Russian coach Igor Larionov felt “The Germans played a similar game to the Czech Republic,” he noted. “They played tight, defensive hockey and waited to counter-attack. They didn’t give us many chances, and when they did, we missed the net a lot. Their team has been gelling the last couple of games when all their players got back. They showed a lot of energy and were our equals in battles for the puck. It was a tough quarter-finals game. It always is.”
Russia made it 2-0 in the second frame. Andrew Podnieks of IIHF.com wrote just “8:27 in Russia [was able] to capitalize on a giveaway by the Germans behind their own goal line. Yegor Afanasiev got the puck along the boards and made a perfect pass to Danil Bashkirov in front, and his quick shot beat Bugl to the stick side.”
Russian Goalie and Nashville’s 2020 1st round, 11th overall draft pick Yaroslav Askarov was up for the challenge and said a few blagodaryu vas-es to the goalposts.
Germany made it a one-goal game in the third on a tally from Florian Elias after he stripped the puck then fired a shot that beat Askarov.
With the Goalie pulled the Germans came within a whisker from forcing overtime when Elias deflection bounced off the crossbar.
Germany finishes the IIHF World Juniors in 6th place
Game Two: (2) Finland 3 vs (3) Sweden 2
Sweden like Germany had to deal with Covid-19 throughout the tournament. Lucas Aykroyd of IIHF.com noted, “Head coach Tomas Monten and three members of his staff, plus players including William Eklund, Karl Henriksson, William Wallinder, and Albin Grewe, to miss the World Juniors.”
The Swedes who came into this championship had not lost a group stage game since 2006, lost in overtime to Russia, and were shut out by the Americans.
Sweden was able to take a 2-0 lead going into the first break after goals by Lucas Raymond and Elmer Soderblom. The Juniorkronorna held the Finns to just 4 shots in the first.
In the second period, Sweden’s game started to breakdown and lose its structure. “We started really well in the first,” said Sweden’s Arvid Costmar. “The Finns came out extremely hard in the second. We started to do some soft plays and couldn’t pick up the play we had in the first period. It cost us the tournament.”
The Finns started the second just a bit better and outshot the Swedes 12-6. At the 5:32 mark, they made it a one goal deficit when Henri Nikkanen converted a backhand pass from Eemil Viro.
The Finns thought they had tied the game just seconds later but after a challenge by Sweden the play was ruled offsides. What could have been devastating for the Finns, motivated them and they just kept coming.
Anton Lundell got the disallowed goal back at 11:05 of the third.
The game stayed tied and looked destined for overtime when Sweden’s near nightmarish tournament came to an end with just 25 ticks left Roni Hirvonen slammed home a wrap around.
The Finns went wild, and they also have a date with the Americans making the IIHF happy I am guessing.
Sweden finishes the IIHF World Juniors in a disappointing 5th place.
Game Three: (1) Canada 3 vs (4) Czech Republic 0
The darlings of the 2021 World Junior Championship turned out to be two teams from what was one country during the cold war. Now separate, both the Czech Republic and Slovakia showed that they were up-and-coming teams in World Hockey.
The Czech’s got undefeated and rarely scored upon Canada in the third match-up of the day. Throughout Group A play, the powerful and full of first-round draft pick, 19 of them yea count them 19, have only allowed 4 goals. Two of them to the Germans and one each to Finland and Slovakia. Canada destroyed the Swiss 10-0. If the Czech’s were a bit intimidated who would have blamed them. The mighty Canuck-ers had also scored a tournament-high 33 goals. Just 7 less than the other four teams in the group scored combined.
Most expected this to be yet just one more blowout for Canada. The problem is no one informed the Czech Republic of that. The Czechs held their ground and played a tough controlling style that they used to beat Russia.
Andrew Podnieksof IIHF.com in a story stated, “Canada opened the scoring at 8:22 courtesy of an imaginative long-bomb flip pass from Connor McMichael. He lobbed the puck over three Czechs out to center [ice], where Dylan Cozens skated under it and went in alone. His shot was stopped by Nick Malik, but it dribbled behind the goalie and over the line.”
Cozen leads the tournament with 7 goals and is second in points with 13.
Canada made it 2-0 just 197 seconds later when Cozen’s returned the favor and assisted on acting captain Bo Byram sneaker along with Peyton Krebs.
In the second the Czech’s did what they do best and clogged the middle like a hair plug in the bathroom sink. Team Canada also played a perfect defense as each team had only one scoring chance apiece.
Late in the third, the Czechs went for broke and pulled the goalie with 5 and a half to go. The valent effort did not work as the host got the empty netter with 3 minutes left. the Czech’s finished the World Junior in 7th place.
Game Four: (1) USA 5 vs (4) Slovakia 2
The Eagles came into this IIHF tournament with cautious expectations. Group B had three powerhouses and one was not likely going to make it out of the quarters. After an opening defeat to rival Russia, it felt as if that team would be the Americans.
Then Team USA decided not to let anyone else score. For almost 12 periods no opponent’s puck found the back of the American’s net. Netminders, 1st round pick Spenser Knight and 7th round pick Dustin Wolf were as tight as a chastity belt. Team USA was just that, a team, on the defensive side limiting shots and not giving up many scoring chances.
The other darlings of the tournament Slovakia, a huge underdog made a game of it. Knight the USA starting goalie as more than made up for his shaky start against Russia on Christmas day.
He shut out both the Czech Republic and Sweden. The American goaltenders went a WJC record 218:53 before they allowed their first power-play goal of the tournament.
Slovak Matej Kaslik deflowered the American net with a minute 28 left in the second. His tally made it 3-1.
The American’s goals came from Arthur Kaliyev, John Ferinacci, And captain Cole Caufield. Scoring leader Trevor Zegras added two assists.
The Slovaks gave Uncle Sam’s young men a scare when Dominik Sojka made it 3-2 with 10 minutes and ten seconds left in the game.
Ferinacci got his second of the game on a feed from Bobby Brink with 4:14 left to play. Brink got his second assist just moments later, at 1:36 left, with the Slovaks goalie on the bench, he sent a pass to Matthew Beniers who buried the empty netter and Slovakia.
Team USA now faces Finland in the second semi-final.
Slovakia finishes the World Juniors in 8th place.
Up Next, The Medal Round.
Game One: (1) Canada vs (2) Russia 6 PM EST
The rivals meet again. Two of the best hockey countries will battle it out for a chance at the Gold in the World Juniors. This is Ali vs Tyson with them both in their prime. This is as mono-a-mono as it gets in the hockey community. Canada has 19 first-round draft picks on this team and nothing short of the gold medal are the expectations set for this squad. For the Russians, they might feel like the boys from Mystery, Alaska taking on the New York Rangers. Russia had the same expectations as the host prior to the start of this championship. The devastating upset by the Czech Republic may have changed that just a bit.
I expect this to be a great game that should go down to the wire. For Canada, I remind them what the late Burt Reynolds said as the judge in the film Mystery, Alaska. “We have two things here in Mystery, our illusions and our dignity” looking around the crowded room he continued “let keep them both.
Game Two: (1) Team USA vs (2) Finland 9:30 PM EST (sound familiar Blues fans?)
The Americans are here and while many thought this might be a tough task including the team after that loss to the Ruskies in the opener. They used the same feistiness in the World Juniors that Finland showed in getting to this game. Now two tough and slightly tested teams will face off. While this might not be the Miracle on Ice” this can be a storybook ending for Team USA.
There are two chapters left and the next one is just as important as the one in 1980 when a bunch of kids went up against the men of Russia in the semi-finals. Team USA should have a strong pen ready to write this chapter.
While Finland may not be the powerhouse Russia was in 1980, they were among the favorites to win it all. Their only loss has come at the hands of the host.
The heads of the IIHF must feel like a schoolboy who got his first kiss. This is what they wanted, and it could be better than they ever thought it would be.
I can not wait for puck drop.
I predict a North American Final, USA vs Canada
Till next time Hockey FANS.
Do not forget to drop me a comment or three
Remember by a fan, for the fans, and most definitely About YOU the FAN.
Guy “Hawaii Blues Fan” Bensing