Date: December 31, 2016

Russia takes 3rd place

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By Andrew Podnieks IIHF.com

Russia and Slovakia played the final IIHF game of 2016 in the final group game of the U20s, beating Slovakia 2-0 to complete the round-robin stage of play.

Ilya Samsonov stopped 16 shots for the shutout.

It was a tame game which saw only five minor penalties called (three to Slovakia).

The result means that the quarter-finals include the Russians playing Denmark in Toronto at 1:00pm while Slovakia will now travel to Montreal to play Sweden at 3:30pm on the same day.

“We wanted to win and give our fans a little gift for New Year’s,” a playful Mikhail Sergachyov said. “We got a lot of pucks on net and our power play was working, but our defensive play wasn’t that good.”

Despite the fact that almost the entire first period was played in the Slovak end, the game was scoreless after 20 minutes. While the Russians were the faster and more skilled team, the underdogs did a great job of keeping them to the outside and limiting dangerous scoring chances.

Russia came close to the first goal midway through the second when captain Kirill Kaprizov fed a nice pass to Mikhail Vorobyov in full flight, but Vorobyov’s shot rang off the post.

Moments later, Marek Sloboda took an unnecessary tripping penalty deep in the Russian end, and this time the Russians made no mistake. Denis Guryanov snapped home a loose puck from a scramble in the slot at 9:06.

Slovakia had its best chance to score early in the third when the Russians incurred their first penalty of the game. Vorobyov was called for a hook deep in the Slovak end, but the ensuing man advantage was of little benefit for the Slovaks and the score remained 1-0.

The Russians doubled their lead at 9:39 off the rush. The puck ended up in the corner where Kirill Urakov made a nice pass in front to Yakov Trenin. Trenin fired a quick shot to the far side, past the outstretched blocker of Matej Tomek.

“We’re getting better every game,” Sergachyov said. “We are mostly from the KHL, so it’s taking a bit of time to get used to the smaller ice. But we’re happy where we are. But we have to be better in our own end against Denmark.”

Finns blank Switzerland

By Lucas Aykroyd IIHF.com

With a 2-0 loss to Finland, the Swiss came fourth in Group A and will face the U.S. in the quarter-finals. The Finns take on Latvia in the relegation round.

This New Year’s Eve tilt only affected Switzerland’s quarter-final seeding. Relatively speaking, their tournament is already a success. After finishing ninth the last two years, they have a shot at medalling for the first and only time since 1998’s bronze.

The Swiss, who now head to Toronto, are playoff underdogs. They have an all-time record of zero wins, two ties and 20 losses versus the Americans.

“I think the U.S. has such a good team,” said Swiss assistant captain Jonas Siegenthaler. “Good skaters, good skills. If we play like yesterday with heart and everything, we can beat the U.S., but it’s going to be a tough game, for sure.”

The Finns have fared abysmally at the Bell Centre. They came in as defending champions, but were eliminated from quarter-finals contention when Switzerland beat Denmark 5-4 in a shootout. Compounding the shock, the Finnish federation then relieved head coach Jukka Rautakorpi and his assistants of their duties.

New Finnish coach Jussi Ahokas made his World Junior debut against Switzerland, assisted by Tommi Niemela and goalie coach Aki Naykki. Ahokas, who had done commentary for Finnish TV network YLE at this tournament, was originally slated to take over the World Junior team at the 2018 tournament in Buffalo, New York. He led Finland to U18 gold in April.

“I thought our team played really well today,” said Ahokas. “They really wanted to win and show that they can play active hockey, that we can play a fast game with the puck. The boys did a great job.”

Finland’s best-of-three relegation series versus Latvia kicks off on Monday. It’s the first time in history that a defending World Junior champion has had to play relegation games. The Latvians, who have a 6-29 goal differential, are at their sixth elite World Juniors of all time. Twice they have avoided relegation, finishing eighth in 2009 and ninth in 2012.

Versus Switzerland, Aapeli Rasanen and Eeli Tolvanen notched a goal and an assist apiece. Final shots on goal favored Finland 51-17. Finnish goalie Veini Vehvilainen got his second career World Junior shutout.

“It’s not easy going to relegation after we won last year,” said Tolvanen. “But we just had to be motivated because we want to play in this top tournament too.”

Swiss captain Calvin Thurkauf returned to the lineup after serving a one-game suspension for slewfooting Sweden’s Rasmus Dahlin. Yannick Zehnder, who scored twice against Denmark, sat out due to illness.

“It was hard to watch the game from up top,” Thurkauf said. “It was nice to be back, wear the equipment again and try to help the team. Unfortunately, we lost the game today.”

Finland outshot Switzerland 17-8 but couldn’t click on two power plays in a scoreless first period. Arttu Ruotsalainen hit the crossbar early in the second period.

At 4:35 of the second, Finland’s top line finally broke through. Rasanen went to the net and fluttered a Tolvanen rebound over Swiss goalie Joren van Pottelberghe to make it 1-0. It was the first time Finland had scored since Rasanen’s first-period goal in the 3-1 loss to Sweden.

At 13:53, Tolvanen gave Finland a 2-0 lead with his power-play one-timer. With under three minutes left in the second, Tolvanen was barely stopped by the overworked van Pottelberghe on a breakaway.

“I felt like the whole team was not ready for Finland,” said Siegenthaler. “The best player on the ice was our goalie, van Pottelberghe. Every player played bad today. That can’t be. We have to learn from it and move ahead.”

The Finns finished group play with just six goals. Their lowest-scoring World Juniors ever was also here in Montreal. In 2015, under coach Hannu Jortikka, they totalled eight goals in five games, losing 6-3 to Sweden in the quarter-final.

“I don’t know much about Latvia, but it’s going to be tough,” said Tolvanen. “They’re going to defend and they have a good goalie. It’ll be tough.”

USA ends NYE drought

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By Andrew Podnieks IIHF.com

The United States put on a shot- and pass-blocking clinic in defeating Canada, 3-1, this afternoon at the Air Canada Centre to claim first place in Group B.

The result marked the first New Year’s Eve victory for the U.S. over Canada in 18 years, a streak of seven games (six losses, one tie).

The U.S. was full measure for the win, playing with greater confidence and surety, capitalizing on early power plays, weathering the storm when Canada turned on the heat, and getting better goaltending at crucial moments from Joseph Woll than that provided Canada by Connor Ingram.

“The penalty killing was the story of the game for us,” U.S. coach Bob Motzko said. “We weren’t so good the last two games, and we made some changes, and tonight the killers were great.”

In fact, Canada had nearly 12 minutes of power-play time in the game but managed only one goal and not many more scoring chances. The Americans scored on their first two man advantages.

“Obviously, it’s great to win this game, but now we’re focused on the quarter-finals,” said Clayton Keller. “Our best hockey is yet to come. Beating Canada and Russia is huge, but the real hockey starts Monday.”

“They’re a great team,” said Jordan Greenway, who had a goal and an assist in the first period, “but we kept our game simple and did what we had to do. “Our forwards, our defencemen, everyone was blocking shots when they had to. We have great chemistry playing defence as a team.”

The Americans silenced the crowd early with two quick power-play goals. The first came at 4:31 on a play around the goal. Greenway feathered a nice pass from the corner to Colin White, and his quick shot beat Ingram to the far side.

Just a minute and a half later, after a lazy kneeing penalty by Philippe Myers, Greenway walked out form the corner and tucked the puck between Ingram’s pads, a soft goal, to be sure, but a great burst of speed from the American forward.

Later in the period Canada had a great chance to get on the board thanks to a two-man advantage for 47 seconds, but it got nary a decent shot off during the power play.

Canada had another opportunity early in the second when U.S. captain Luke Kunin took a five-minute major (and game misconduct) for interference. The Canadian on the other end of the hard hit, Myers, left the game and didn’t return. Coach Dominique Ducharme confirmed after that Myers has a concussion and might miss the rest of the tournament.

This was followed by another minor soon after, giving the home side a two-man advantage for 1:48. This time they connected. Thomas Chabot got a rebound to the back side of the net and drilled it in before Woll could get over.

This started several minutes of intense pressure, but Canada couldn’t get the equalizer and the visitors silenced the crowd with a goal off a juicy rebound from Ingram. This time it was Jeremy Bracco who found the back of the net to make it a 3-1 game.

Canada tried valiantly in the third but was stymied at every moment. “We wanted to keep them to the perimeter,” Greenway added. “Nothing complex; just get it out.”

And now, both teams head to the quarter-finals against teams to be determined later tonight. For the U.S., today’s win was another building block towards a medal, and for Canada it was a lesson learned.

Trinity Western Spartans China Goodwill Tour

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By

Today was the day we got to play hockey.  When so many things are unknown and there are so many distractions, one thing that we can all count on is the game of hockey.  Nobody knows what a great day every day is for hockey more than Stefan Gonzalez and he does not shy away from displaying his enthusiasm for iced sports.  The neat thing about our opportunity hear in Chengde is that at the same time that we are to play hockey, there is also a bandy tournament going on and believe it or not, some of our players will get a chance to play bandy.  If you do not know what bandy is, it is a bit like a hybrid between field hockey, soccer and hockey.  It is played on more of a soccer field sized sheet of ice and is played with a ball opposed to a puck.  I am not a bandy expert but I may become one over the course of our stay in Chengde.  Stay tuned.  Anyways, the reason some of our players may get a chance to play bandy is that we are the largest team here in regards to numbers.  There is a bug tournament going on here in Chengde with a senior hockey division, a hockey division that our team is playing in, and a bandy division.  Since we have the greatest number of players.  Some of our players each day are going to be lent out to other teams whether they be in the senior division or the bandy division.  On day one of the tournament, Kenny Batke, Aaron Grunehage, Dawson Sawatzky, Deryk Kirchner and captain Kaleb Denham all bravely volunteered to be loaned out to other teams for the day.

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Our first game was to be played against a Chinese under-20 team.  This was all we knew as we geared up in our hotel rooms for our first taste of Chinese hockey.  And yes, you heard me right, we geared up in our hotel rooms.  Since the rink we are playing on is built right on top of frozen water, there are no facilities in the area for dressing rooms.  The boys had a lot of fun with this and appreciated the puzzled looks in the elevator as we ventured down in to the lobby in full gear.  It’s not every day we get to see the streets of Chengde but it’s also not every day that the people of Chengde get to see a 6 foot 3 towering Lucas Hildebrand dressed in full hockey equipment walking around in a hotel lobby, politely speaking the only 2 Chinese words in his vocabulary repeatedly.  Like Lucas, many others have attempted to make use of Chinese words for ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’ and in response we have received many looks of either annoyance, confusion, entertainment and from time to time, even gratitude.
Chinese language aside, we all did something we have done hundreds of times and that is to climb onto a bus to go play a hockey game.  Despite being in unfamiliar territory, there was still somewhat of a comfort level knowing that we were off to play a hockey game.  There were a few sets of headphones on the bus to get in the zone like always and an obvious sense of excitement.  Once we pulled up to where we were going to play, we immediately realized that we had never experienced anything like this at all.  There was no ice in sight and we learned that it was a 1000 meter walk to where to ice was.  Again with smiles and awe of being in China, we began the trek to the frozen water that we are all too familiar with.  On the way there was much to look at and it barely felt like a chore to walk so far on hockey equipment, some even with their skates on.  We could not help but to be amazed by what we were doing.  Things only got more amazing when we reached the ice surface.  Hockey rinks, built right on top of a frozen lake, ice to skate on everywhere in between and hockey players from many different parts of the world.  After taking a few moments to soak it all in, we were ushered toward the rink we would play on where the skates were laced up, sticks were grabbed and the game proceeded.

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The game consisted of 3, 25 minute running periods.  Unorthodox may be a good word to describe the game that we were about to play.  There was no glass on the boards and the boards themselves were not stable enough for any kind of contact so we knew we were in for a different kind of game then we were used to.  Nevertheless, with curious Chinese spectators everywhere and go-pros on a couple helmets, the puck dropped and we began to play the game that we’ve been playing our whole lives.  It did not take long for the first goal to be scored and it came courtesy of 4th year forward Riley Schmitt, the first goal ever scored by the Spartans in China.  Goals continued to come and we ended up winning 11-2.  Of course there were many things to remember throughout the game, but it is impossible to name them all.  To name a few, the Zamboni came out in between periods in the form of bamboo brooms, Silas Matthys went on a personal photo shoot all over the area with photographer Jacob Kropf, and Kade Vilio got lots of work on his penmanship by all the autographs he signed.  I can only speak for myself, but I would say that the game experience we just had in Chengde, China was the coolest thing I have ever gotten to do.  It wasn’t anything I could ever have dreamt of doing because it was so surreal.  It may not even be the game itself that I remember, but what I will remember is the setting I was playing in and the people I was playing with.  This is a once in a lifetime type of thing, that is until we get to do it all again tomorrow, how lucky are we?

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Things settled down a little bit when we got back to the hotel.  We were able to get unchanged and showered up and gather for some food before being given a game plan from the remainder of the day.  Initially, we were being given the remainder of the day to do as we pleased, so long as we stuck with a minimum of a 3 person group.  However, soon after being told this, we were told that Dr. Laird had graciously paid for us all to go get massages.  So in groups of 5 at a time, we took a 5 minute walk down the street to a fancy massage parlor and had our feet, neck and backs renewed.  I’m sure for many of us, this was our only massage experience we have had thus far in our lives.  For some, it will be the only massage experience of our lives and for others like Jacob Mills, it will be the only massage experience until he can figure out how to book another one before we leave Chengde.  Regardless of what kinds of experiences we will have in our futures, it is pretty neat to share all of this with the group we call Spartans hockey.  I genuinely believe there is not another group in the world like us.  We have traveled across the world and seen hockey players of all different kinds, but no one else operates like Spartans do.  In the spirit of the Goodwill Tour, our hope is that others will take notice of this and become attracted to our program and begin to ask questions of what we are all about.  We have a lot of days left in China to make an impact and it begins tomorrow morning with another group of volunteers playing for teams that need players more than we do.  Stay tuned.

Dahlen’s hat trick leads Sweden over Czechs

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By Lucas Aykroyd IIHF.com

Jonathan Dahlen starred with a hat trick as Sweden beat the Czech Republic 5-2 to complete a perfect round-robin. Goalie Filip Gustavsson debuted with a win.

In Monday’s quarter-finals, Sweden will face the loser of the Russia-Slovakia game in Montreal.

“You need to have good games in your backpack when you get into the playoffs,” said Sweden’s Oliver Kylington. “You need to have confidence in the group. I think that’s really important. We have confidence right now and I think we showed it today.”

Topping Group A with 12 points, Sweden is questing for its first gold medal since 2012 and first medal of any shade since 2014’s silver. The Czechs last won gold in 2001 and haven’t won anything since 2005’s bronze. 

This was a battle of back-up goalies. Gustavsson, who was named Best Goalie at the 2016 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship en route to silver, made 36 saves to triumph in his first World Junior game. The Czech Republic’s Daniel Vladar had 33 saves.

“It feels good, and I think I played pretty good today,” Gustavsson said. “Unfortunately, I let in two goals there late in the game, but I think it was a good game.”

Other scorers for Sweden were Rasmus Asplund, who chipped in a goal and an assist, and Jens Looke, who had a single. Team points leader Alexander Nylander earned two helpers.

Sweden has now won 40 consecutive World Junior group games. The Juniorkronorna’s last round-robin loss was on 31 December 2006 when Jack Johnson scored at 3:16 of overtime to give the Americans a 3-2 win in Leksand, Sweden.

“It’s huge for Swedish hockey to be able to accomplish that,” said Asplund. “I think it’s going to keep on going for a few years, too, because we have good young guys coming up for next year too.”

David Kase replied with a goal and an assist for the Czech Republic, and captain Filip Hronek also scored.

The Czechs had an up-and-down round-robin. After upsetting defending champion Finland 2-1 in the opener, they lost two games in extra time to underdogs, 4-3 to Switzerland and 3-2 to Denmark.

“It’s tough every time you get scored on, especially against these kinds of teams, the top teams,” said Czech forward Adam Musil. “You gotta play them straight up and play consistently. We just didn’t do that today and we got what we deserved.”

The Swedes clearly had no intention of letting the Czechs finish second in the group. On a 2-on-1 rush, Asplund went to the net and banged in a rebound to open the scoring at 0:37. The Swedish assistant captain continued to make noise, laying out Kase with a big neutral-zone hit that had the Bell Centre crowd gasping.

Kase came close to equalizing when he shoved a puck through Gustavsson’s legs, but it trickled harmlessly past the post.

On Sweden’s first power play of the game, Asplund maintained his hot hand, sending a lovely pass from the right faceoff circle to Dahlen, who directed the puck past Vladar at 8:56.

The 3-0 goal showed that this just wasn’t the Czechs’ day. Czech forward Lukas Jasek went to the net to clear away the loose puck on a Swedish rush and it deflected in off his right skate at 16:46. Looke, a three-time World Junior participant, got credit for his first goal of the tournament.

“It does not feel good when you get an own goal,” said Czech forward Filip Chlapik. “We just didn’t play the way we wanted to. We have to get better.”

Early in the second period, Sweden’s Tim Soderlund was shaken up when he slid hard into the boards on a shorthanded rush. However, the 18-year-old Skelleftea forward would return to action. On this Czech man advantage, Gustavsson made a pair of dazzling close-range saves to preserve his team’s commanding lead.

With 2:51 left in the middle frame, Dahlen fought off defenceman Jakub Zboril’s checking to push a backhand deke past Vladar for a 4-0 lead. Filip Ahl nearly added Sweden’s fifth goal just before the buzzer when he rang one off the iron.

In the third period, Dahlen completed his hat trick at 3:34 on the power play, as he skated out of the corner along the goal line and squeezed another backhander in.

“That’s the skill he has and the skill he shows back in Sweden,” Asplund said. “It’s really good for us that he can show it here too.”

The Czechs spoiled Gustavsson’s shutout bid at 13:09 with Kase’s jammed-in goal. Hronek cut the gap to 5-2 on the power play at 17:28, but it was too late for a miraculous comeback.

“If we play like the third period all game, I think we can be successful,” said Chlapik.

Gabriel Carlsson, who played a team-leading 20:53 on defence in Sweden’s 3-1 win over Finland, sat this game out.

Of getting Carlsson back, Asplund said: “It’d be really important for us. He’s a big, big D-man and we need him. Hopefully he’s fine for the quarter-final.”

14th triumph for Team Canada

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By spenglercup.ch

HC Lugano will have to wait to win its first Spengler Cup trophy. Team Canada successfully defended its title with a 5-2 victory over the Ticinesi on New Year’s Eve. The Canadians won the cup for the 14th time; they have been taking part in the traditional tournament since 1994.

When Canadian ice hockey professionals get to wear the maple leaf jersey, their pride and determination can move mountains – and that as a strong unit with the teams’ best interest in mind. Once again seen in the final of the 90th Spengler Cup. The North Americans showed no signs of fatigue, despite playing their fifth game in six days in Davos. By comparison: for Lugano it was “just” the fourth game. In addition, the Ticinesi had a day off before their semifinal game thanks to a first-place finish during the group stage.

The final even began unthinkably bad for Team Canada. Dario Bürgler made it 1-0 for Lugano on the first shot only 31 seconds into the game. But after Chay Genoway’s equalizer (9.) the Canadians gained momentum. The game-winner was scored to begin the second period. Within exactly 2 minutes Marc-André Pouliot and Cory Emmerton with a short-handed solo put the North Americans up 3-1. A spicy detail: just before Bürgler had narrowly missed making it 2-2. Even before the second intermission Team Canada’s top scorer Andrew Ebbett sealed the game for his team with the fourth goal. Canada’s compact defense aided by the strong netminder Zach Fucale did not give up more than Bürgler’s second goal. Instead, Nick Spaling scored on the empty Lugano net 17 seconds before the end of the game for the final score.

The All-Star Team of 90th Spengler Cup was announced before the final. It is composed of the following: Elvis Merzlikins (Lugano); Maxim Noreau (Team Canada), James Wisniewski (Lugano); Andrew Ebbett (Team Canada), Yevgeny Kovyrshin (Dynamo Minsk), Drew Shore (Davos).