Date: December 30, 2016

Finland fires head coach at WJC

By The Canadian Press

Finland’s under-20 national team has fired its world junior hockey championship head coach after failing to make the tournament’s quarter-finals.

A team spokesperson confirmed in an email to The Canadian Press on Friday night that Jukka Rautakorpi had been fired.

The Finns won the event last year on home ice in Helsinki, but lost their first three preliminary round games at this year’s tournament. Finland was forced into a best-of-three relegation round against Latvia after Switzerland edged Denmark 5-4 in a shootout earlier Friday.

It’s the first time in tournament history that a country has gone from winning gold to playing relegation games the following year.

Jussi Ahokas will take over in Rautakorpi’s place. The 36-year-old has been the head coach of Finland’s under-18 team for the past three years and led them to gold at the 2016 world championship. Seven players from that team are currently playing for the Finns at the world juniors.

Ahokas has also coached Finland’s national women’s team and was part of the Vancouver 2010 Olympic staff. He won two bronze medals at the 2008 and 2009 women’s worlds.

Finland is missing NHL rookie sensation Patrik Laine, who is currently playing with the Winnipeg Jets, Jesse Puljujarvi of the Edmonton Oilers and Kasperi Kapanen, who all played on last year’s gold medal winning team.

The Finns have never ranked worst than seventh since the world junior championship began in 1977.

Finland will conclude the preliminary round against Switzerland on Saturday before the relegation round against Latvia begins on Monday. The second game takes place on Tuesday and third on Thursday, if necessary.

Slovakia avoids Finns

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By Andrew Podnieks IIHF.com

Slovakia played its best and most inspired game of the tournament, putting 36 pucks on net and skating to a crucial 4-2 win over Latvia.

The win gives the Slovaks three points in the Group B standings and means tomorrow’s game against Russia (also with three points) doesn’t have relegation-round implications.

The Latvians have finished the group stage with no wins and zero points and will now face Finland in a best-of-three relegation-round series. 

“It was a tough start,” captain Erik Cernak admitted, “but we played really well after that. We dominated, really. We were stronger on the puck and pressured them a lot. We knew we had to win. I’m very happy right now.”

“They were the better team,” affirmed Latvian captain Kristaps Zile. “We can do better, and we’ll keep our heads high. Finland is a great team, but it’s not impossible to beat them. We’ll do our best.”

It was a big game on the calendar all along, but soon after the opening faceoff it got even bigger. It was about that time that Switzerland defeated Denmark in a shootout in Group A in Montreal, sending Finland to the relegation round.

“We were watching the game before we went out and during the first period as well,” said Milos Roman, who was dominant tonight with a goal and an assist. “We knew if we won tonight, we’d be in the quarter-finals, which was our ambition all along.”

That, in turn, meant that the loser of today’s game at the ACC would face the daunting task of having to defeat last year’s gold medallists twice in three tries to avoid being relegated for 2018. Slovakia responded, peppering two Latvian goalies with 36 shots while surrendering only 24.

Latvia struck first, scoring just 3:40 into the game when a Karlis Cukste point shot drifted and dipped as it reached the net. The trajectory fooled Adam Huska and it slipped through his pads and in.

“That was their first shot on goal” Milos Roman said, “so we weren’t nervous at all at that point. We knew we’d be the better team, and we scored soon after.”

Indeed, four and a half minutes later the Slovaks got the equalizer thanks to some hustle by Milos Roman. Goalie Mareks Mitens had played the puck behind the net, leaving it for defenceman Tomass Zeile, but Roman pressured Zeile into making a bad pass.

The puck came right to Filip Lestan, and he found the net before Mitens had a chance to get square in the crease.

Most of the second was dominated by the Slovaks, who were the more determined side. They got to the loose pucks, moved up ice with confidence, and generated double the shots of the Latvians. 

It wasn’t until 18:11 that they were rewarded, though. Milos Roman won a faceoff in the Latvian zone and went to the net. A point shot by Michal Roman was blocked in front, but Milos knocked in the rebound to give Slovakia a huge 2-1 lead heading to the dressing room.

“I won the faceoff and my brother took a quick shot from the point. Our wingers checked their men, leaving some space in front for me when the puck came free,” Milos described.

Continuing where they left off, the Slovaks added a third goal just 41 seconds into the third off a point shot from Andrej Hatala that beat Mitens cleanly.

They got an insurance goal at 5:01 on another long shot, this from Milos Roman, that was redirected by a Latvian player in front of the goalie to make it 4-1.

Latvia had a two-man advantage later on, converting at 13:29 as Filips Buncis swatted home a loose puck from the crease, but it was too little too late.

Swiss shoot down Danes

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By Lucas Aykroyd IIHF.com

Switzerland rallied from deficits of 3-0 and 4-1 to beat Denmark 5-4 in a shootout. This means Finland must play relegation and will not repeat as champions.

Finland has achieved an unfortunate first. It is the first time in World Junior history that a nation has won World Junior gold one year and played in the relegation round the next year.

Swiss forward Marco Miranda scored the only goal in the shootout. Switzerland outshot Denmark 53-22 and showed a never-say-die attitude. Danish goalie Kasper Krog was heroic in defeat.

“It was a pretty wild one,” said Krog, who got an ovation from the Montreal crowd at the end of overtime. “We didn’t really stick to the game plan and we allowed them to get some offense that they maybe shouldn’t have had, because they have a good team. They know how to score.”

In regulation, Fabian Zehnder scored twice for Switzerland, and Nico Hischier and Nando Eggenberger added singles for Switzerland. Jonas Siegenthaler had two helpers.

“The first period was [garbage],” said Siegenthaler. “The second period, we started good and scored some goals and came back into the game. We just needed to shoot the puck and go for rebounds. At the end it was 4-4, and we had some good chances in the overtime. Their goalie was good and they played good defence and everything. At the end we won in the shootout.”

Regardless, the Danes have made the final eight for the third straight year. They’ve proved that taking them lightly is a mistake. Just ask Finland and the Czech Republic: here in Montreal, Denmark has defeated both of them for the first time in World Junior history.

“We’ve played up against a lot of good teams in the round-robin,” said Danish captain Alexander True. “I for sure think we can be proud of ourselves. Every night we came out and competed with the other team.”

But there’s still some maturing for Denmark to do. The ability to clamp down on a big lead is an important key to success, and they blew leads of 3-0 and 4-1 versus Switzerland.

True and Mathias From tallied a goal and an assist apiece. Joachim Blichfeld and Niklas Andersen added singles. Oliver Gatz had two assists.

Switzerland has one more round-robin game against Finland on New Year’s Eve and will aim to edge out Denmark for second place in Group A.

“We don’t have to score beautiful goals or whatever,” said Siegenthaler. “We want to win and be second in the group. We’ll see next game.”

The Danes drew first blood just 20 seconds in. Gatz’s point shot hit a leg in front and the puck bounced to True, who beat Swiss starter Joren van Pottelberghe high to the glove side.

At 3:45, Denmark went up 2-0. Again, Gatz shot from the point and Blichfeld, standing in front, deflected in his third goal of the tournament.

Denmark’s Morten Jensen was assessed a two-minute minor and 10-minute misconduct for a hit to the head of Siegenthaler. However, the Swiss didn’t test Krog, apart from a stiff Damien Riat one-timer from the left faceoff circle.

On Denmark’s first power play, Andersen gave Denmark a 3-0 lead at 13:40 with his one-timer set up by Mathias From.

Hischier gave the Swiss life with 2:04 left in the first, getting loose in front to bang in the rebound from Riat’s point shot past Danish goalie Kasper Krog. It was his second goal of these World Juniors.

Denmark stalled Switzerland’s momentum with yet another early-period goal. At 0:28 of the second, From made it 4-1, executing a fabulous curl-and-drag move and firing high on the rush. It was the second goal in as many games for the 19-year-old Chicago Blackhawks prospect. He got the 3-2 overtime winner versus the Czechs after missing the first two games due to injury.

The Swiss refused to cave. At 6:29, Zehnder cut the Danish lead to 4-2, scoring with a backhand deke on a breakaway. Defenceman Nico Gross, one of just two 2000-born players in this tournament along with Sweden’s Rasmus Dahlin, earned his first World Junior point with an assist.

Less than six minutes later, Eggenberger cut the Danish lead to one, popping a rebound over Krog to cap off a rush.

“I think we get a little high sometimes, and then when they got a couple of goals on us, we got a little low,” said True. “So we gotta keep our emotions in check.”

In the third period, Switzerland made it 4-4, as an onrushing, unchecked Zehnder slammed home his own rebound from the slot at 3:35.

At 7:35, the Swiss thought Damien Riat might have given them their first lead of the game during a goalmouth scrum. However, the play was video-reviewed and it was inconclusive whether the puck had crossed the line. Swiss coach Christian Wohlwend gave his team an animated lecture during the lengthy review.

“He just said it doesn’t matter what’s going to happen – just play the same way,” said Siegenthaler.

Overtime solved nothing, although the Swiss dominated the play and defenceman Serge Weber nearly won it in the final minute.

“I think it’s good that we won this game,” said Hischier. “If we’d lost this game in the shootout, it would have been hard after such a loss to play against Finland.”

Swiss captain Calvin Thurkauf did not play against Denmark. He was serving a one-game suspension for a slew-foot on Swedish defenceman Rasmus Dahlin. In Thurkauf’s absence, Riat wore the “C” for Switzerland. Thurkauf is eligible to return for the quarter-finals.

Day Five of the Spengler Cup

By spenglercup.ch

Team Canada first finalist

Defending champion Team Canada is back in the Spengler Cup final. The Canadians secured a final berth with a hard-fought 3-2 victory over Dynamo Minsk on Friday afternoon.

After the Belarusians had pulled their goalie in favour of a sixth skater 104 seconds before the end of regulation time, things went haywire in front of the Canadian net. But then it was the post that saved the already beaten keeper Zach Fucale. And so it remained 3-2 for the team from overseas. The Canadians had paved the road to success in the opening period, when Marc-Antoine Pouliot put his team ahead (8.) and Kirill Gotovets unluckily redirected a Chris DiDomenico pass into his own net (15.) during a 5-on-3 power play to make it 2-0.

Minsk only really found its way back into the game in the second period, mostly due to five minors giving the opponents several man advantages. Andrey Stepanov’s marker in 22nd minute to cut the deficit in half then invigorated the game. The decisive pass came from former Lugano forward Fredrik Petterson, playing his first game for the Belarusians. Because the Canadians played attentive and disciplined defense and the two netminders Fucale and Ben Scrivens were brilliant, it was not until the 53rd minute that Chay Genoway’s finish on a counter attack lead to the third goal for the Canadians. On a two-man advantage Matt Ellison was able to narrow the lead to 3-2; yet the score remained after a dramatic finish.

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Lugano to face Team Canada in final

HC Lugano qualified for the final of the 90th Spengler Cup with a 4-0 win over HC Davos on Friday evening. There they will face defending champion Team Canada – same as a year ago – at 12pm on New Year’s Eve.

The convincing final score may not accurately depict the on-ice performances – the shot totals were 35-33 in favour of Davos -, but Lugano was clearly the more efficient team on the finish, not least due to being fresher. And that for good reason. While Davos played its fourth tournament game within 74 hours, it was only the third for the Ticinesi and – thanks to a first-place finish during the group stage – also following a day off. In the opening period Linus Klasen scored the go-ahead goal thanks to his persistence: he beat HCD goaltender Melvin Nyffeler on the third attempt. Dario Bürgler with a power play goal (32.) and Alessandro Chiesa with the 3-0 (36.) dealt the final blow in the second period. Alessio Bertaggia scored in the 46th minute for the final score. Lugano goaltender Elvis Merzlikins notched the first shutout of the 90th Spengler Cup.

In a rematch of last year’s final, HC Lugano and Team Canada will face off in the final at noon on New Year’s Eve. Then the Canadians captured the trophy with a 4-3 victory. Now the Ticinesi will get a chance for payback.

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Canada routs Latvia, 10-2

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By Andrew Podnieks IIHF.com

Canada moved into a tie atop Group B with the United States with a crushing 10-2 win over Latvia tonight at the Air Canada Centre.

Both teams remain a perfect 3-0. The result means that the winner of the New Year’s Eve classic between the two North American nations will earn first place moving into the quarter-finals matchups.

“We’ll be ready,” said Raddysh. “It doesn’t matter who we play; we’ll just stick to our system, get pucks low, play strong defensively. We have to limit their chances and play in the offensive zone as much as possible.”

The loss leaves Latvia in a last-place tie with Slovakia. Both teams have yet to earn a point, but that will change tomorrow night when, in all likelihood, the winner will avoid the relegation round.

Taylor Raddysh led Canada’s  attack with a Canadian record four goals and an assist. Dylan Strome had four assists.

“I have to be happy with what happened,” Raddysh said. “I don’t know if I’ll ever get another four-goal game. It was a lot of fun.”

Canada scored five of its goals in the second period and now has eleven goals in the middle period so far after three games, the most of any nation (USA has 7).

Despite sloppy play and poor decisions for the first half of the period, Canada took a big 3-0 lead to the dressing room after 20 minutes. All goals came courtesy of man-advantage situations. 

Matt Barzal opened the scoring short-handed. He came out of the penalty box with Ricards Bernhards, but a terrible line change by the Latvians allowed Barzal to scoop a loose puck at centre ice and go in alone. He made a nice deke and roofed a backhand over a sprawled Mareks Mitens.

A minute later, Canada made it 2-0 on a power play when a Thomas Chabot point shot was tipped in front by Nicolas Roy.

Then, with only 19.5 seconds left, Chabot drew half the Latvian team to him as he threatened to shoot, then fired a pass against the grain to a wide open Raddysh. He roofed a quick shot to make it 3-0.

Canada made it 4-0 at 9:11 of the second when Raddysh got his second of the night. Soon after, Latvian coach Rriks Miluns switched goalies, inserting Gustavs Grigals, who promptly allowed four goals in a span of 2:43, including Raddysh’s hat trick marker.

The only bright note for Latvia in the period was a short-handed goal from Renars Krastenbergs, who beat Carter Hart with a weak shot to the far side off a rush down the left wing.

Raddysh got his fourth early in the third, tipping in another point shot.

Latvia got its second goal off a sensational burst of speed by Martins Dzierkals to create a breakaway and then deke Hart out of his equipment at 7:59.

Julien Gauthier got a late goal to make it an even ten and close out the scoring.

NOTE: Linesman Dmitri Golyak of Belarus took a puck to the chin midway through the first period and was forced to leave. He was replaced by Lukas Kohlmuller of Germany for the remainder of the period. Golyak was then so eager to get back out for the second period that he put on the wrong sweater, wearing 55 instead of his normal 53 for the remainder of the game (55 is usually worn by Canada’s Nathan Vanoosten). In short, the game featured three linesmen wearing a total of four numbers!

Sweden clinches Group A

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By Lucas Aykroyd IIHF.com

Finland’s dreams of repeating as champs are fading, while Sweden is dialed in so far. With a 3-1 win over Finland, the Swedes wrapped up first place in Group A.

If the Swiss beat Denmark on Friday, Finland will be eliminated from quarter-finals contention, which would be a truly shocking outcome.

“The good thing is Denmark has played so well here,” said Finnish captain Olli Juolevi. “They have surprised everyone. But this is not the way we wanted to go.”

Alexander Nylander scored twice and added an assist, and Lias Andersson added a single for Sweden, which rallied after trailing 1-0 for more than 32 minutes.

Of Nylander’s star turn, Andersson said: “He’s been in the right spot every time. He steps up every night for us. He’s scoring big goals for us and making good plays.”

Aapeli Rasanen had the lone goal for Finland.

Swedish starting goalie Felix Sandstrom won the Thursday night duel in Montreal with his Finnish counterpart Veini Vehvilainen as Finland outshot Sweden 29-20.

Sandstrom felt good about his performance after allowing two goals on 15 shots in a 4-2 win over Switzerland: “Yesterday’s game was a bit too bad from my side, so it was nice to come up big today and show the guys on the team that they can trust me.”

The Swedes are seeking their first gold since 2012 and first medal of any shade since 2014. The Tomas Monten-coached squad entered this battle with a 10-3 goal differential, and have been full value since Day One.

“We’re feeling very good,” Andersson said. “It was a big win for us to win the group.”

This wasn’t just a grudge match between the two classic Nordic rivals. It was supposed to be desperation time for the Finns, mired in last place in the group. Even without firepower to match last year’s top line of Jesse Puljujarvi, Sebastian Aho, and Patrik Laine, nobody expected the defending champs to have zero points at this stage.

Under head coach Jukka Rautakorpi, Finland’s pop-gun offense has been a huge problem. Heading into this game, only Slovakia had scored fewer goals (two).

The Young Lions need to stop pussyfooting around. But it may already be too late.

“We lost to Sweden, Denmark, and the Czechs,” said Finland’s Eeli Tolvanen, who took seven shots on Sandstrom. “We can’t be happy.”

On New Year’s Eve, the Finns will need a regulation win over Switzerland to move on — and that’s only if the Swiss lose to Denmark. Earlier that day, Sweden takes on the Czech Republic.

The Swedes had one little problem here: they spent too much time in the penalty box, taking eight PIM to Finland’s zero. But it didn’t stop them from winning.

It was a tight-checking affair, and the Finns only got some momentum going on their first power play. Forward Otto Koivula drew the penalty when he got past Rasmus Dahlin at the Swedish blue line and the 16-year-old wunderkind tripped him up. Then, Tolvanen attempted a shot that defenceman Kristofer Gunnarsson blocked, and it deflected across to a wide-open Rasanen, who fired the puck into the gaping cage at 16:35.

Tolvanen and Rasanen, who play together with the USHL’s Sioux City Musketeers, were an effective duo for the gold-medal U18 team in April, but had been blanked in Montreal until now. It was Finland’s first power play goal of the tournament.

Midway through the second period, the Finns got a 5-on-3 for 1:55 with Dahlin off for interference and Carl Grundstrom for putting the puck over the glass in his own end. But it came to naught, despite lots of puck movement around Sandstrom’s cage.

Andersson got his second of the tournament to knot the score at 12:16. Nylander backhanded a sweet feed from the side boards, and Andersson surprised Vehvilainen with a low wrister from the high slot.

“There were two guys coming up in a screen, and I tried to shoot through the screen, and it went in,” said Andersson. “So, perfect. Great pass from Alex, too.”

At 1:24 of the third, Nylander put Sweden up 2-1 on a gorgeous passing play. He controlled the puck outside the Finnish blue line and sent it right to Grundstrom, who dished it cross-ice to Joel Eriksson Ek. The Swedish captain found Nylander cruising in the slot, and the ever-cool 19-year-old whizzed it into the top corner.

Finland pressed in the dying stages, and pulled Vehvilainen for the extra attacker. But it was futile. Nylander intercepted the puck in the Swedish zone and scored into the empty net with one minute remaining to seal the deal.

“We got scoring chances in the last period, but we couldn’t score,” said Tolvanen. “That’s been our problem the whole tournament. We just can’t score.”

Montreal has not been friendly to the Finns. At the 2015 World Juniors, they also played at the Bell Centre, and scored just five goals in four games en route to sixth place.

At the World Junior level, Sweden-Finland is historically one of international hockey’s most even rivalries. In fact, prior to this game, the two nations shared a record of 16 wins, two ties, and 16 losses apiece, dating back to 1976.

However, the Swedes came in seeking revenge here after Finland ended their hopes of gold last year with a 2-1 semi-final victory. Consider that mission accomplished.

“Our goal at this tournament is to win the gold,” said Sandstrom. “I think our team is feeling stronger and stronger. I think we’ve played better and better.”

U.S. hangs tough to beat Russia

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By Andrew PodnieksIIHF.com

The U.S. came out a-blazin’ but Russia slowly worked its way into the game. In the end, the U.S. played a perfect third period. Next up, New Year’s Eve!

The win puts the U.S. in first place in the group, but an expected Canada win tonight against Latvia will give both teams nine points leading up to their clash on New Year’s Eve. 

“It’s going to be a great game,” said Clayton Keller, one of the scorers this afternoon. “It’s not something you get to experience too often, so we’re looking forward to it.”

The Russians are now 1-2, but their three points will almost certainly be enough to get to the quarter finals as both Latvia and Slovakia have no points yet.

The Americans got goals from three players today, once again spreading the scoring.

“We showed a lot of heart today and did a great job shutting them down in the third,” Keller added. “All lines can score and have skill, but our best is yet to come. We’re on the right track.”

Despite coming out lights out and outshooting the Russians 18-6 in the first period, the U.S. left the ice after 20 minutes in a 1-1 tie.

The Americans got the opening goal at 4:14 on a crazy-good play by Keller to the side of the goal. He got the puck, faked goalie Ilya Samsonov and a defencemen into next week, and tucked the puck into the open net. That was a goalscorer’s goal, to be sure.

“Casey Fitzgerald took the puck down the wall and threw it across to me,” Keller described. “I just tried to make a move, and I was lucky enough to beat him.”

Keller and linemate Colin White were effective all afternoon, seemingly knowing each other’s every move. “We have great chemistry,” Keller agreed. “We played on the same line two years ago at the under-18s. We’re both fast and Joey Anderson fits well on our line as well.”

But despite incredible territorial advantage and puck possession—not to mention the only three power plays—they couldn’t add to the lead. In fact, the Russians tied the game with the second short-handed goal of the tournament (Sweden has the other). 

Sergei Zborovski got a loose puck in centre ice and made a nice clearing into the U.S. zone where Yakov Trenin chased it down. He lobbed a pass in front where Kirill Urakov batted it in at 11:59.

“We talked about not getting frustrated,” Troy Terry said of the mood in the dressing room after 20 minutes. “We didn’t want to take any shortcuts offensively. We knew we’d get our chances.”

The U.S. kept skating and went ahead at 4:03 of the second. Charlie McAvoy’s quick shot from the point was bobbled by Samsonov and Colin White knocked in the rebound.

Midway through they went up by two goals on a nifty pass from behind the red line by Erik Foley. It was beautifully tipped at the near post by Terry at 11:41 for a 3-1 lead.

“I was calling for the puck,” Terry said. “I knew I had a bad angle, so I just tried to direct it on net. I got a little lucky, but I’ll take it.”

Just when it seemed the Americans had taken control of the game, they took their first two penalties, and the Russians pounced on the second. Yegor Rykov waited at the point before shooting, and his high wrister was tipped in front by Kirill Kaprizov to bring the Russians to within a goal. They dominated the rest of the period.

The Americans settled down and played a near flawless third, though. The only glitch was a penalty to Erik Foley, but the Russians, despite some great chances, couldn’t count the equalizer.

“We’re really starting to come together,” Terry said. “We know what kind of a team we are, and when we play like we did today, we can be successful.”

Danes pull another surprise

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By Lucas Aykroyd IIHF.com

Mathias From scored the 3-2 overtime winner at 0:47 as Denmark beat the Czechs for the first time in World Junior history at the Bell Centre on Thursday.

From, who plays for Sweden’s Rogle Angelholm, beat Czech goalie Daniel Vladar with a high backhander on a solo rush. The 19-year-old forward made a memorable 2017 World Junior debut after being sidelined with an injury since mid-December.

“I knew yesterday that I was going to play,” said From. “It was hard to come into the game at first because I didn’t play for some time. [My injury] happened on the first day of training camp.”

“He brings a ton of speed and a lot of skill as well,” said Danish captain Alexander True.He’s dangerous, as you could see when he scored that OT winner. It’s really nice to have him back.

Joachim Blichfeld and Nikolaj Krag added a goal and an assist apiece for Denmark. Martin Necas and Filip Hronek scored for the Czechs.

The Danes are on a roll. They got bombed 6-1 in their opener versus Sweden, but then shocked Finland 3-2. They were outshot in that game, and again versus the Czechs, 34-22. Yet they’re winning anyway.

“That’s unbelievable,” said Blichfeld. “We’re a small country, so it’s amazing.”

Czech coach Jakub Petr’s group has points in three straight games, but is still struggling with consistency. They opened with a 2-1 win over defending champion Finland but then lost 4-3 in overtime to Switzerland.

“I think the first period was really good for us, but after that, we just stopped playing,” said Czech forward Filip Chlapik. “We were scared. In the third period, we were scared to do something. There is nothing much to say. It wasn’t a good game for us.”

It was another historic milestone for Denmark, who had never beaten Finland until this tournament either. The Czechs won the previous three World Junior meetings with Denmark 5-2 (27 December, 2007), 7-0 (27 December, 2011), and 4-3 in overtime (29 December, 2014).

“We know that we are a strong skating team,” said Blichfeld. “When we meet big opponents like the Czech Republic and Finland, we know we just need to go out there and skate as hard as we can. That paid off.”

Denmark wraps up its round-robin slate on Friday against Switzerland. The Czechs will face Sweden on New Year’s Eve.

“We gotta keep our feet on the ground,” said True of facing the Swiss. “We know they’re a really good team, so it’ll be a tough game to play.”

In this game, two odd plays required video reviews in the first period.

The Czechs dominated play early on, keeping Danish goalie Lasse Petersen busy. Adam Musil went hard to the net, sliding a backhand and bumping Petersen’s pad. Necas nudged the puck over the line at 7:56, and the officials did not spot it until play stopped a minute and a half later. Video review confirmed it was good, and the 17-year-old HC Kometa Brno centre had his first World Junior goal.

Denmark then had a great chance on a breakaway, but Vladar foiled Blichfeld’s backhand deke. On the backcheck, Czech defenceman Daniel Krenzelok, took the net off its moorings and was assessed a delay of game penalty at 12:40, as his actions denied Jonas Rondbjerg a great scoring chance.

The Czechs thought they’d taken a two-goal lead shorthanded after the puck crazily bounced off the back boards for Lukas Jasek to put in at 14:26. But video review came to the rescue again. It showed that Jasek, standing in the crease, kicked the puck in, and it was waved off.

In the middle frame, the Danes picked up their pace. The Danish power play clicked on its fourth opportunity of the afternoon to make it 1-1. Blichfeld faked a slap shot before stepping into the left faceoff circle and beating Vladar high to the glove side through traffic for his second goal of the tournament at 8:41.

“In the last two periods, we didn’t play the same hockey as we did in the first,” said Hronek, the Czech captain. “We made a couple of bad plays in our D zone.”

At 10:29 of the second, the Czechs had an answer. After the Danes failed to clear the puck out of their zone, Hronek stickhandled into the middle and then flung a high shot past Petersen at 10:29.

In the third period, the Danes came on despite being outshot 12-6. Krag tied it up on an in-tight one-timer beautifully set up by Blichfeld at 13:36. With under four minutes left, Vladar denied Jonas Rondbjerg, fishing for a rebound on the doorstep.

Vladar, who backstopped the Czechs to their surprising 2014 World U18 silver medal, finally made his World Junior debut. The 19-year-old member of the AHL’s Providence Bruins was a spare goalie at the last two World Juniors, and Jakub Skarek got the start in the Czech Republic’s first two games in Montreal.

“Vladar played very well,” said Hronek. “We must block shots for him. On their second goal, there was bad communication in our D zone.”

Looking for the go-ahead goal in regulation, the Czechs called their time-out with 26 seconds left and a faceoff in the Danish end, but it didn’t pay off.

Blichfeld was in a chipper mood post-game: “We have played two good games now. So we’re probably going to win the next one too!”

Day Four Recap of the Spengler Cup

By spenglercup.ch

Team Canada eases into semifinals

Team Canada qualified for the semifinals on Thursday night with a convincing 5-1 victory over HK Mountfield. There the defending champions will face off against Dynamo Minsk on Friday afternoon.

The Canadians set things straight early on. In the opening period they took advantage of two of their four power play opportunities. After no less than 259 seconds it was Andrew Ebbett who put the team from overseas ahead on the first power play. Maxim Noreau, the second “Bernese” on Team Canada, then increased the lead 19 seconds before the first intermission with a snipe from long range. Midway through the game Brandon Gormley made it 3-0 during 4-on-4 play. Shortly before the second intermission Mountfield’s captain Jaroslav Bednar put the Czechs on the board on the power play, thus avoiding the potentially first shutout of the current Spengler Cup tournament. Mason Raymond and Francis Pare added a goal apiece in the closing period to seal the walkover victory for the Canadians. In an absolutely fair game played in a harmless, non-aggressive way, the referees, due to the zero-tolerance interpretation of the rules, handed out 16 minor penalties – ten against Mountfield and six against Team Canada.

In Friday afternoon’s semifinal there will now be a reunion of sorts. Dynamo Minsk and Team Canada already played each other in the first game of Group Cattini on December 26. The Belarusians handily took that matchup 7-4.

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Senn magical as Davos moves into semifinals

Thanks to a fantastic Gilles Senn in net, HC Davos qualified for the Spengler Cup semifinals on Thursday evening with a 3-1 victory over Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg. Next, a Swiss showdown versus HC Lugano awaits them on Friday evening.

The outstanding atmosphere amongst the 6300 spectators at the once again sold out Vaillant Arena obviously fired up the HCD players. Davos showed no signs of fatigue in their third tournament game within 50 hours. Only in the opening period were the Russians, on a day’s rest, superior on the ice. Yet that is when the hosts shone with efficiency on the finish. Tuomo Ruutu (6.) scored the go-ahead goal on the power play. And three minutes later Drew Shore doubled up for his team. He securely finished a textbook combination that Sven Jung had initiated with a through pass to Ruutu. Gilles Senn showed a fantastic game in net for Davos. Only Anatoly Golyshev (18.) was able to beat the HCD netminder with a snipe to the top net corner. Senn stopped 31 Russian shots, leading to a lofty save percentage of 96.88%. In the game with the fewest goals scored this tournament, it came as no surprise that Senn and his Russian counterpart Ivan Lasutin were awarded best player honours after the game.

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