Category: World Junior Championships (page 1 of 6)

Turkish juniors write history

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By Alister McMurran – IIHF.com

Turkey won the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey U20 World Championship Division III final 2-1 in front of an enthusiastic group of expats at the Dunedin Ice Stadium and will be promoted to Division II Group B next year.

When the clock ticked time the emotionally fired team on the rink threw their hats on to the ice and players on the bench rushed on to the ice to hug each other.

It was an emotional time for a Turkish team that played their hearts out, out-thought and outplayed their more fancied opponents.

It was a well thought out strategy by veteran American coach Keith McAdams who has lifted the performance of Turkish hockey since becoming the under-20 and under-18 head coach over two years ago.

“Turkey hasn’t won an under-20 medal in a long time so there was a lot of pressure on the players,” he said.

“It gives these players something to grow with when they reach the senior team. They are still young and can develop. We knew it would be hard to compete with China with all the ice and financial backing they have.

“I’m so happy for the boys. We played very well as a team. The guys have worked hard on the tactics we are using.”

McAdams plan began when he selected an under-18 team for the under-20 Division III that was held in Dunedin as well two years ago. The same team also played in the under-18 tournament at Auckland the same year.

They were an experienced group when they came back to Dunedin this year. The players all bought into the plan and it worked.

The game plan was simple. They had to shut down the neutral zone and stop the breaks that China likes to make in that part of the rink.

It meant man-on-man marking and putting pressure on the Chinese players. It worked because the Chinese team became frustrated and rattled at not being allowed to play its own game.

Turkey was especially good at competing for the puck when it went behind the net and by making it difficult for China to get out of the tight corners.

They did not give China the freedom and open space it had enjoyed in other games during the tournament.

The first period was tight but U.S.-based forward Hakan Salt scored with just over a minute left to give Turkey a 1-0 lead.

That was the crucial play of the game. It gave the Turkish players the belief that they could win and it put doubts into the minds of the Chinese team.

The margin was extended to two goals after 10 minutes in the second period when the Chinese defence failed to clear the puck away from the front of their goal and Yusuf Kars scored from a rebound.

The margin was reduced when Ou Li scored China’s only goal five minutes later. Turkey’s defence was solid as a rock and no goals were scored in the third period.

The best Turkish player in the final and throughout the whole championships was aggressive forward Omer Kars. The forward from Erzurum is also a member of the Turkish senior squad.

Others to impress for Turkey throughout the week were Hakan Salt, who scored seven goals, and Yusuf Kars, who was named best defenceman of the tournament.

McAdams has coached in Turkey for the last seven years with the Erzurum BBSK teams. They have won eight national titles.

Twelve members of the 20-man strong Turkish under-20 team play for the club.

Erzurum, a city of 600,000 in Eastern Turkey, has four ice rinks thanks to the 2011 Winter Universiade but only one can be used for ice hockey.

“Most of the team have played for me and they know the systems,” McAdams said. “We have been able to build on this over the last three seasons.”

Turkey finished sixth last year but has made a significant improvement over the last 12 months. What made the difference?

“We had a young team at first and our players have gained a lot of experience of international hockey over the last two years,” the coach explained.

“Two years ago we won the under-18 Division III Group B tournament at Auckland and last year we finished second with the under-18 team in the Division III Group A in Bulgaria.

“It was the first time, in any age group, that Turkey has ever won any game when moving up to a higher level.”

The Turkish U20 team reached 35th place overall this season, its highest placing in the new millennium.

Turkey’s biggest advantage was continuity. Only three players of its squad had not played in the team that came to New Zealand two years ago.

McAdams knew it would be difficult for Turkey to continue its unbeaten tournament record in the semi-finals and final. Turkey had beaten New Zealand, 6-4, Bulgaria, 8-1, and South Africa, 6-0, in the group stage. The Turks beat Iceland 3-2 in the semi-finals coming back from a two-goal deficit with three unanswered third-period goals.

“The goal is always to win but I would have been happy as long as we played well and did our best,” he said.

There are 24 indoor ice rinks in Turkey and they are spread over five cities. There are just fewer than 1,100 ice hockey players in Turkey and 576 of them are juniors. But only 22 of them are good enough to make the under-20 team.

“We need more hockey players in Turkey,” McAdams said. “Until the government comes up with a supportive plan it’s always going to be hard.”

Most of the team did not start playing ice hockey until they were aged 14.

“It took five years with me before they became really good players,” McAdams said. “Erzurum BBSK never had a team until I started coaching there.

“They have come a long way and every Erzurum player, boys and girls, has made the national team. That is what I am most happy about. I like the players to develop as people and be able to get a university education.”

This was the second time McAdams has coached a Turkish team at a World Championships in Dunedin in the south of New Zealand.

“Dunedin is a great city and I’m impressed by everything you guys do. Everything is done professionally. I’m impressed with the work the volunteers do. It would be impossible to do this in Turkey.”

China

China won the gold medal in Dunedin two years ago but was not able to stay in the higher grade.

But with new Russian Coach Alexander Barkov on board as head coach China started as favourite.

This favouritism was confirmed in the early rounds when China demonstrated that it was able to lift the power of its games to win tight games.

China reached its pinnacle when it thrashed home team New Zealand 11-2 in the semi-finals.

In that game China sparked into life from the start and scored three goals in the first six minutes and ended the first period with a four goal cushion.

New Zealand, as expected, fought back in the second period but China then romped home by scoring six more goals in the third period.

If China had repeated that form 24 hours later it was difficult to see it losing.

Turkey shut down China’s ability to make breaks through the neutral zone and China had no answer.

The best Chinese player was its captain Rudi Ying who plays for Kunlun Red Star in the Kontinental Hockey League. Ying scored the most goals in the week-long championship with nine and was the scoring leader with 19 points. He was named as the best forward by the directorate.

The other noted forward was Ou Li, who was second on the leaders scoring table with 10 points and scored six goals.

Other Chinese players to impress during the championship were forward Zemin Deng and defenders Pengfei Zhang and Haolin Nie.

Iceland

Everything worked for Iceland when it beat New Zealand 10-0 in the bronze medal game.

It outplayed the hosts in all departments with its speed on skates and its ability to use the width of the rink to create gaps in the defence.

It was particularly skilled in the battle for the puck behind the net and in the corners.

Iceland tested New Zealand in the first period and then displayed complete dominance in the second period to score five goals.

Latvian-born team captain Edmunds Induss, who is in his fifth season in the top senior league in Iceland, was playing dynamically with his speed with the puck down the centre of the rink. He used his skill to score the fourth goal that went between the legs of the goalie.

The fifth goal, scored by Elvar Olafsson, was all class. It came from a back pass to the trailing man who had a better angle to shoot the goal.

The well drilled Icelandic team continued its dominance in the final period and added five more goals. They were able to jam the New Zealand defence into the neutral zone to open up scoring opportunities.

Iceland demonstrated its dominance when its second line scored three goals against a withering New Zealand defence in the final period. It kept peppering the New Zealand net and its dominance was demonstrated by having 59 shots at goal compared to 20 by New Zealand.

Iceland was heading for the gold medal game when it led Turkey 2-0 at the end of the second period in the semi-final. But it conceded three goals in the last period to lose 3-2.

“We made a good effort but it was not our lucky day,” head coach Magnus Blarand said. “We did a lot of good things today but the final result was a big disappointment to us.”

Iceland led 1-0 after the first period but Turkey had the momentum for 10 minutes in the second period and only good defending kept Iceland’s goal intact.

A goal in the last minute by Vignir Arason gave Iceland a 2-0 lead and an upset was on the cards.

It was a frustrating time for Iceland supporters when Turkey stormed back in the third period to score three goals.

Fatih Faner, a member of the Turkish senior squad, used his experience to hit the winning puck with 3:20 left in the game.

The best player for Iceland in the game was goalie Maksymilian Mojzyszek, who made 25 saves and conceded three goals.

Iceland showed its best game in the 4-1 group-stage loss to China. The score was 1-1 after two periods but China held its structure and scored three goals in the final period.

“China thought they would beat us easily but we showed fight and dominated. It showed that Iceland hockey is on the move,” coach Blarand said.

Iceland’s best players in the tournament were goaltenders Arnar Hjaltested and Maksymilian Mojzyszek, defencemen Sigurdur Thorsteinsson and Jon Arnason, and forwards Edmunds Induss and Hjalti Johannsson.

Mojzyszek saved 89 shots and conceded only eight goals.

New Zealand

New Zealand struck China in vintage form in the semi-finals and lost 11-2. It was a big occasion for the young team in front of their home supporters and they froze in the first period when China raced to a 4-0 lead.

New Zealand got its ice legs back in the second period and played with more urgency and put their bodies on the line.

Goalie James Moore let in three early goals in the first six minutes and was replaced by Taylor Goodall, who let in only one goal to the end of the second period when New Zealand out-scored China 2-1.

But the wheels fell off in the third period when China scored six more goals. The best player for China was captain Rudi Ying who scored four goals.

New Zealand finished runner-up in 2015 and third last year. But assistant coach Matthew Sandford knew that it would be a re-building year with only six members of last year’s squad returning.

“It was a good tournament for us to get this far with so many rookies in the team,” Sandford said. “To reach the top four was a bonus.”

Sandford was pleased with the second-period effort against China.

“The boys went hard and came out with a lot of pride,” Sandford said. “But the skill of the Chinese team broke our resistance in the third period. It was tough.”

Sandford could hear the noise and praised the partisan crowd for its support.

New Zealand started nervously in its home patch and lost its first game to Turkey 6-4.

But the performances got better as the tournament progressed and experienced Robin Vortanov kept his cool to score late goals to give the Kiwi’s a 3-2 win over South Africa and a 5-4 margin against Bulgaria to progress to the semi-finals.

“The chips were down but the boys never gave up,” Sandford said. “It was a good fight in both those games.”

New Zealand had six players returning from 2016 when it finished third and Vortanov, captain Mason Kennedy, Logan Fraser, Ben Harford and Taylor Rooney displayed composure under pressure and stood up when it counted.

Rooney, who finished fourth equal on the goal scoring table, was named the Kiwi’s best player of the tournament and the best new boy was Shaun Brown, who plays for the Canterbury Red Devils national league team.

Israel

Israel finished fourth last year and the team was disappointed not to be in medal contention after the three round-robin games.

It needed to beat China in its last game to reach the semi-finals. It was outplayed in the first period and was down 3-0 at the break. But it fought back after that to only trail by two shots, 6-4, at the end.

It came back strongly in its last two games to beat South Africa 9-0 and narrowly beat Bulgaria 3-2 to finish fifth.

Israel held a 2-0 lead after two periods and added a third goal early in the third period.

But Bulgaria was a team that never gave up and scored two quick goals in the 56th minute by Veselin Dikov and Yanaki Gatchev to give Israel a tense last four minutes.

The star player in this game was goal keeper Raz Werner, who stopped 35 of the 37 Bulgaria shots at goal. Bulgarian keeper Dimitar Dimitrov stopped 19 of Israel’s 22 shots.

Werner, named the top goal keeper by the directorate, saved 141 goals and conceded only 11.

This was only the third time that Israel had competed at the under-20 championships. With only three players returning from last year it suffered by a lack of experience at crucial times.

The big problem for the development of Israeli hockey is that 18-year-olds are drafted into the army for two years and eight months and only a few return to the sport after their military service.

The best players for Israel at the championships were overseas based players Dan Hoffman, Tom Ignatovich, Ariel Kapulkin, Raz Werner, and Denis Kozev and Mark Revniaga who have had experience in the United States.

Others to impress were Ori Kafri, who plays for the Israeli senior team, and promising newcomer Itay Mostovoy.

Bulgaria

Bulgaria finished runner-up to home team Mexico last year when beaten 3-0 in the crunch game.

“We hit the post so often and their goalie made some crazy saves,” Bulgarian captain Tomislav Georgiev said. “I thought we could win it this year because we had six of our players back.”

They began confidently this year with a 5-2 win against South Africa but then slumped to a big 8-1 loss to Turkey.

The crunch final game in section play was won by New Zealand 5-4 when the Kiwis scored two late goals. The last by Robin Vortanov on a power play snuffed out Bulgaria’s medal chances.

It beat Chinese Taipei 6-1 in the first placement game but lost was beaten 3-2 by Israel in the game for fifth place.

Its best players were goaltender Dimitar Dimitrov, who made 41 saves in the 5-4 loss to New Zealand, Daniel Dilkov, Tomislav Georgeiev, Miroslav Vasilev and assistant captain Yanaki Gatchev.

Bulgaria has been a member of the IIHF since 1960 but the sport does not have lot money and has just three indoor and five outdoor rinks for its 760 players.

The country’s strength is with its 575 junior players and it could build its future on this.

South Africa & Chinese Taipei

South Africa and Chinese Taipei were always were seeded at the bottom and ended up in the game for seventh place.

Both countries need international competition and that’s what they got. Originally seeded as the only teams in the Division III Group B, the organizer managed to accommodate to add the teams and make the Division III an eight-team event.

Chinese Taipei coach Ryan Lang was happy that it worked out so the team could get the experience of playing games against five different teams.

Canadian Lang played junior hockey in Canada and the United States and was a professional in the Australian Ice Hockey League. He has been coaching for the last 12 years and has been involved with a club side on the island of Taiwan and with the national side for the last three years.

This was the first tournament that the Chinese Taipei under-20 team has played in the last six years and it has been a big boost to the morale of hockey in the country.

“We were excited to get back,” Lang said. “It was a huge bonus for us to be here.”

For the first time Chinese Taipei will compete in four World Championship categories with the under-18, under-20 and senior men’s teams and the women’s team.

They finished the championship on a high note with a comfortable 7-1 win against South Africa to claim seventh place.

Their best players were goalie Sheng-Chun Huang, who made 34 saves in the 3-0 loss to Israel, forward Po-Jui Huang and assistant captain Wei Chiang.

South Africa did not win any games when it finished last in the seven-team competition in 2016. It finished eighth this year when beaten by Chinese Taipei.

It expected to be demoted to the lower grade but received a reprieve when two extra teams were added to the competition this year.

South Africa’s best game was the narrow 3-2 loss to New Zealand in its second game when the Kiwis scored a late goal to win the game.

Goalie Ryan Boyd was the hero in that game and stopped 38 goals. The other goalie to excel was Aslam Khan, who made 49 saves in the 6-0 loss to Turkey.

The other standout player was defender John Venter.

South African coach Marc Giot said that his aim was to secure a spot in the competition for next year.

“We wanted to do well but we had to be realistic at the same time,” he said.

“Ice hockey is an expensive sport and we only have seven indoor rinks in the country. We have to pick our teams from a small pool of players. Our competitive level is not as high as in other countries we come up against.

“With so few rinks our players have to travel long distances to get to rinks to train and it is difficult to get enough ice time to progress our skills.”

Hyukjin scores twice to give Korea promotion

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By Andy Potts – IIHF.com

Two goals from Hyukjin Lee helped Korea U20 to victory over Spain in Logrono and sent his country back up to Division IIA one year after relegation.

But it took a breathless finale featuring five goals in barely six minutes, plus a passage of 6-on-3 play as Spain threw everything at the Koreans, before the hooter sounded on a 5-3 win for head coach Hyung Jun Cho and his team.

For the host, though, the defeat means another year of frustration in second place, just as Spain endured 12 months ago, when Romania won this section.

The Spanish came into this winner-takes-all showdown against Korea with a one-point advantage after the two teams dominated the competition. Spain picked up crushing victories over Australia (15-2) and Mexico (10-0) to enjoy a goal difference of +28 from four games, while the Koreans also ran riot against the team from Latin America, winning 12-0 on its way to a +18 record. The only blemish for either team came in Korea’s first game, when it needed a shootout to edge past Serbia after a 2-2 tie.

Despite those free-scoring performances, though, it took some time for this game to ignite. The first big opportunity came midway through the first period when Spain’s Ignacio Granell was denied by a great last-ditch challenge from Yun Ho Kim as he shaped to shoot. Granell did better in the 16th minute, opening the scoring with a wicked shot from the face-off spot, even as he tumbled under the attentions of a Korean D-man.

That sparked the visitor into life and the remaining minutes of the period were dominated by Korea. Hyukjin Lee forced the equalizer with 1:45 left to play, exchanging passes with Je Hui Lee behind the net and squeezing the puck home from a tight angle.

The middle stanza saw both teams get a chance to show off their power play, with Korea’s Heedoo Nam and Spain’s Bruno Baldris seeking to orchestrate the offence and capitalize on the numerical advantage. Baldris had the better of that duel, despite Korea enjoying 61 seconds of 5-on-3 play, but the only goal of the period came in the 39th minute. A Spanish attack broke down, Korea countered quickly and Byung Gun Kim wrestled control of the puck behind Lucas Serna’s net. His attempt pass to the slot was deflected, and Ki Suk Lee responded quickest to step up from the point and fire his team ahead.

In the final stanza, with Spain desperate to come back into the game, the host made a lively start and was up 7-2 on shots after five minutes. But Hyounseop Shim in the Korean net was equal to the task and the play steadily became more open as Korea found space on the counter attack. Serna made a big save to deny Byung Gun Kim in front of the net, Spain failed in a one-on-one breakout. Then Korea’s pair of Lees combined once again. Je Hui took the puck into the Spanish zone and set up Hyukjin for a wrist shot from between the hash marks to open a two-goal lead with barely six minutes left.

That was the prelude to some crazy scenes. Two Korean penalties in the space of 13 seconds encouraged Spain to gamble, withdrawing Serna to play 6-on-3. Granell thought he’d got one back when his shot bounced goalwards off a Korean arm; the officials ruled otherwise. Then Granell did get his second of the night after Alfonso Garcia touched Oriol Rubio’s shot into his path.

Spanish joy lasted just seven seconds. Still shorthanded, Korea won the face off and Byung Gun Kim skated through to surprise Serna with a shot over the glove. Korea believed it was safe, but only for 16 seconds when Juan Monge forced home the rebound after Garcia’s shot crashed back off the boards and into the danger zone. Serna headed to the bench once again, but this time Spain coughed up possession and Je Hui Lee added an empty net goal to his two assists.

Spain missed out on gold, but did achieve some individual successes. Rubio’s assist gave him 11 points for the competition, sharing the top scorer honours with Bruno Baldris and Serbia’s Mirko Djumic. Baldris and Rubio were selected as the best defenseman and forward respectively, while the top goalie was Serbia’s Jug Mitic. Granell’s double made him joint leading goalscorer alongside Serbia’s Luka Vukicevic, with six apiece. Baldris finished with 10 assists, way out in front on that chart. For Korea, Heedoo Nam led the scoring with 1+7=8 points, while Hyukjin Lee was the team’s leading goalscorer with five.

Outside of the race for gold, Serbia completed the top three with 10 points from five games. The Serbian first line of Djumic (3+8), Vukicevic (6+3) and Lazar Lestaric (5+4) ensured the Balkan country was well-represented among the competition’s leading scorers. Belgium took fourth place, and Mexico escaped relegation back to Division III with a nerve-jangling 6-5 overtime win over Australia. The Australians, without a victory all week, finished last and face the drop.

Bronze goes to Russia

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By Lucas Aykroyd IIHF.com

Russia edged Sweden 2-1 in the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship bronze medal game on Thursday. Denis Guryanov scored the overtime winner at 0:33.

The goal came from a miscue. Swedish defenceman Rasmus Dahlin, one of two 2000-born players in this tournament, attempted to feed the puck back to scoring leader Alexander Nylander, who couldn’t control it. Guryanov jumped on the puck and surprised everyone with a quick backhander that slid past Swedish goalie Felix Sandstrom.

It’s Russia’s seventh straight World Junior medal. The streak includes gold (2011), silver (2012, 2015, 2016), and bronze (2013, 2014, 2017).

“I’m proud to keep this streak going for Russian hockey,” said captain Kirill Kaprizov.

Guryanov stepped up in the playoffs. The 19-year-old forward from the AHL’s Texas Stars also scored two third-period goals in the 4-3 semi-final loss to the United States, and put two pucks in the net during the shootout finale.

“It’s just amazing to win a medal, especially in the Bell Centre, my home rink,” said defenceman Mikhail Sergyachov, who played three games for the Montreal Canadiens at age 18 this season. “It’s special. Our goalie Ilya Samsonov was amazing. He’s an NHLer, for sure.”

It’s the third straight year with no medals for Sweden, which also finished fourth in 2015 and 2016. They settled for silver in 2013 and 2014.

“We had a lot of chances to put the game away early,” said Rasmus Asplund. “We played well but we made too many mistakes.”

The last Swedish gold – the first and only one since 1981 – came in 2012 under coach Roger Ronnberg, with Mika Zibanejad scoring the 1-0 overtime winner versus Russia in Calgary. That was also the only other time Sweden and Russia have squared off in a medal game since the IIHF instituted the playoff system in 1996.

Kaprizov said: “Our players were completely exhausted last night after losing — physically and emotionally — but we battled to the very end. We knew a bronze medal is still a medal to be proud of.”

In regulation, Jonathan Dahlen scored for Sweden, and Kirill Kaprizov tallied for Russia. Sweden outshot Russia 39-36, and Samsonov saved his best tournament performance for last.

“He came up big for them,” said Swedish captain Joel Eriksson Ek. “We needed to maybe get in front and get some tips, get some rebounds. And we weren’t able to do that today.”

Samsonov, a 2015 first-round pick of the Washington Capitals, barred the door in the scoreless first period, where the Russians took three minors. Sweden, despite outshooting their opponents 15-3, couldn’t break through.

Kaprizov drew first blood just 16 seconds into the middle frame. Showing great determination, he cut to the net and flubbed his first attempt, but got the puck away from Dahlin to bang it past Sandstrom.

Kaprizov’s goal – his tournament-leading ninth – tied him for the second-highest number of goals in one World Juniors by any player in the post-Soviet era (after 1991). Sweden’s Markus Naslund set the all-time record with 13 goals in 1993, while Russia’s Pavel Bure had 12 in 1991. Max Friberg, another Swede, scored nine goals in 2012.

About five minutes later, Samsonov was briefly shaken up when Eriksson Ek collided with Carl Grundstrom going to the net, pushing his teammate into the Russian goalie. But Samsonov got up and kept on trucking.

Sweden tied it halfway through the second period on a Russian mistake. Assistant captain Yegor Rykov got the puck right in front of his net, but fluffed his pass, enabling Dahlen to whack it past a surprised Samsonov for his fifth of these World Juniors.

“I saw that he was holding the puck unusually long in that situation, so I tried to pressure him,” said Dahlen. “Then I saw he made the pass really quickly and I just tried to get it in the net because the goalie was not ready. It was a lucky play, but it was in the back of the net.”

Russia failed to click with its two second-period power plays.

Dahlen got a breakaway with under six minutes left, but Samsonov stoned him on the initial shot and the follow-up. The Russian goalie strained himself while kicking out his right leg to foil a late-period Swedish chance. But again, he soldiered on. Fredrik Karlstrom came close just before the second buzzer, putting one off the crossbar.

Chances for both sides abounded in the third period. Asplund sent a lovely pass to Karlstrom on a 2-on-1 rush, but Samsonov came across to foil him. Guryanov waltzed down right wing and rang one off Sandstrom’s left post. Nylander and Grundstrom barely failed to click on a pretty give-and-go.

“We won the first two practice games before the tournament and the five first games in the tournament,” said Dahlen. “We won seven out of nine games but we’re standing here without a medal. Something was wrong. It’s a huge disappointment.”

Both teams will hope for better results at the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship in Buffalo. That American border city was the site of Russia’s last gold medal seven years ago.

Fired up Canada wins

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By Andrew Podnieks IIHF.com

Canada rallied from a shaky start and deficits of 1-0 and 2-1 to defeat Sweden, 5-2.

The win earns the hosts a spot in tomorrow night’s gold-medal game with arch-rivals United States.

Julien Gauthier had two goals for Canada while Anthony Cirelli and Dylan Strome each had a goal and an assist.

“We had a game plan and we stuck to it: getting in on the forecheck, playing physical, not giving them too much time to move, because they’re a skilled team,” Cirelli said.

“We just played harder,” Gauthier added. “We’ve done a lot of things differently. I think we have better chemistry between all the guys, and that’s why we’re here.”

Goalie Carter Hart was perfect in relief of Connor Ingram who struggled and was replaced after giving up two early goals on three shots. 

Canada outshot the Swedes 43-31 in a hard-hitting, sometimes chippy game that was the most emotional both sides have played all tournament.

“We had a great start,” said coach Tomas Monten, “but we had several chances for a third goal and didn’t get it. Our speed and skill weren’t good enough to get away from their forecheck.”

“We played Canadian hockey tonight,” offered coach Dominique Ducharme. “We used our speed to take away their space and time, and we played a physical game.”

Fans were treated to a wild first period punctuated by several great scoring chances, four goals, one goalie change, and plenty of big-time hits.

The Swedes opened the scoring at 6:05 when captain Joel Eriksson Ek beat Ingram with a long shot. It was the kind of shot a goalie must stop every time.

Less than two minutes later, though, the fired-up Canadians tied the game thanks to some nice work by Cirelli. He got a loose puck behind the net and tried a wraparound. Goalie Felix Sandstrom blocked the shot but the puck bounced over defenceman Gabriel Carlsson’s stick and Mitchell Stephens banged it in.

We weren’t done yet. Carl Grundstrom came in on goal on a partial breakaway and fanned on his shot, but it still dribbled through Ingram’s pads. Coach Ducharme had no choice but to insert Hart.

Hart was perfect the rest of the period, but the Swedes missed the net on some nice chances or drilled a few other good chances into Hart’s body for easy saves. Nonetheless, it was a steadying influence.

Cirelli tied the game at 18:49 when his hard shot beat Sandstrom over the shoulder, another goal that had a bit of an odour to it.

The tide began to turn midway through the second period. Quickly Canada upped the tempo and the Swedes couldn’t respond. Then wave after wave of Canadians forechecked, attacked, created scoring chances.

Cirelli rang a shot off the crossbar, and moments later Canada finally got the well-deserved go-ahead goal. Gauthier jammed a puck in at 12:02, and Canada continued its attack.

Sandstrom deserves full credit for keeping the score close. He made two unbelievable saves off Tyson Jost on the back side, first with a pad, then with the glove.

Sweden’s only decent chance came late when Hart flubbed a shot that trickled to the goal line.

“It was a rolling puck, so I went to catch it, and it bounced out of my glove,” Hart said. “I saw it pop up, and I reached back and got my glove on it. Luckily it didn’t go in.”

Captain Dylan Strome made it 4-2 at 7:38 of the third while teams were four-on-four. His screen shot fooled Sandstrom.

Gauthier closed out the scoring with an empty netter with 1:58 remaining.

Americans going for gold

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By Lucas Aykroyd IIHF.com

Troy Terry scored three shootout goals to give the U.S. a 4-3 semi-final win over Russia. It’s the first U.S. playoff win over Russia in World Junior history.

In the best-of-five shootout, which had 14 shots in total, Terry’s hat trick feat equalled that of Jonathan Toews in the 2007 semi-final when Canada beat the United States 2-1.

“He has great skill, great hands,” U.S. defenceman Charlie McAvoy said of Terry, who plays for the University of Denver. “He’s got ice in his veins, and he proved that tonight.”

The Americans will face the winner of Sweden-Canada in Thursday’s gold medal game at the Bell Centre, while Russia goes for bronze.

“I’ve never been a part of something like this,” said U.S. scoring leader Clayton Keller. “It’s crazy. It’s unbelievable to get the win and go for the gold medal tomorrow.

This was one of the most exciting games of the 2017 World Juniors, a fitting showdown between these two old adversaries in Montreal.

In regulation, Colin White scored twice and captain Luke Kunin added a single for the Americans. Keller had two assists. For Russia, Denis Guryanov scored twice and Kirill Kaprizov had the other goal. Guryanov also put two pucks in during the shootout.

Russian goalie Ilya Samsonov let in a couple of shaky goals, but like his U.S. counterpart Tyler Parsons, he was excellent overall. Shots on goal favored the U.S. 44-36.

“Obviously it’s super-tough,” Russian defenceman Mikhail Sergyachov said of losing. “We wanted to win that game. We did everything we could to win. We lost in the shootout. I just want to say thanks to the boys for a great effort.”

The Americans, who earned bronze last year, are seeking their first World Junior gold since beating Sweden in the 2013 final. The previous two U.S. titles came in 2004 and 2010. The Russians, who haven’t won gold since 2011, will look to take their seventh straight World Junior medal.

For the U.S., it was a wonderful end to a longstanding jinx. Russia defeated the U.S. 5-3 in the 2014 quarter-finals, 3-2 in the 2015 quarter-finals, and 2-1 in the 2016 semi-finals.

“It’s unbelievable, especially to do it in that fashion,” Keller said.

The game unfolded with a high tempo and few whistles. True to form, the Americans had the edge in overall play, but the Russians were opportunistic. Both teams’ leaders came to play.

Kaprizov scored his tournament-leading eighth goal at 11:54 to open the scoring. Behind the net, the Russian captain grabbed the puck, exploded between Terry and Joe Cecconi, and caught Parsons looking the wrong way as he completed the wrap-around. In the KHL, Kaprizov plays for Ufa, the site of the 2013 World Juniors, where the U.S. won its last gold medal.

With 55 seconds left in the first, Keller fired a bad-angle shot from the corner that bounced off White and past a surprised Samsonov. Keller was named MVP at the 2016 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship in April when the Americans won bronze.

“He put it off my butt there,” said White. “I was a little bit lucky there.”

At 1:17 of the second period, Russia jumped into a 2-1 lead. Parsons kicked out Vadim Kudako’s drive from the top of the left faceoff circle, but Guryanov was there to bang in the rebound.

The U.S. got the game’s first power play at 4:52 when Danil Yurtaikin cross-checked U.S. defenceman Adam Fox from behind into the boards, but the acrobatic Samsonov kept them at bay.

At the other end, Kaprizov came within a heartbeat of scoring again on a goalmouth chance, and Alexander Polunin knocked Parsons’ helmet off when the U.S. starter stretched to block the rebound. There was a long delay while trainers checked Parsons out, but he carried on.

“He’s a great goaltender,” Keller said of Parsons. “He’s hard to score on in practice. He’s chill back there. He’s not nervous. He’s not going to let them score an easy one.”

At 10:23, the U.S. tied it up on a great play with their second man advantage. Kunin went hard to the net to tip Jordan Greenway’s feed past Samsonov’s left pad.

White gave the Americans a 3-2 lead with his sixth goal of the tournament at 16:21. His shot from the left faceoff circle tipped off Sergyachov and fluttered past Samsonov’s blocker side.

In the third period, Sergei Zborovski hauled down the fleet-footed Keller on a partial breakaway at 5:14, and a penalty shot was awarded. Keller approached slowly, and Samsonov made a great slove save on his high backhand attempt.

Just 50 seconds later, Guryanov got loose on a breakaway and went to the forehand to slip the disc through Parsons’s legs. A wild celebration broke out at the Russian bench.

In the 4-on-4 overtime, exciting chances abounded at both ends. In particular, Samsonov dazzled when Joey Anderson hit the crossbar, followed up by a close-range save on Caleb Jones, and a stunning grab when Anderson tried to slide it in.

“It was a super-fast and emotional game,” said Sergyachov. “A lot of penalties for us. Our goalie made some crazy saves. Our forwards played their best game in the tournament. We executed well. We made some mistakes in the D zone.”

Of the shootout, Keller said: “When I was watching, they’d score, and then when I wasn’t watching, we’d get the save or whatever. So I thought I’d just not watch the last couple of shooters and it worked out.”

America’s long wait for this first playoff win makes it that much more satisfying.

World Juniors Semi-Finals Preview

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By Jeff Langridge – The Hockey Writers

Sweden vs. Canada

Quarter-Final Results: Sweden- 8-3 over Slovakia; Canada- 5-3 over Czech Republic

Sweden has been the best team in this tournament since the beginning. They have only trailed for 15:41 of the WJC and that was oddly enough against Finland. That domination continued in the quarters as they absolutely demolished Slovakia.

By the 13:07 mark of the second period, it was already 5-0 Sweden. They did receive a bit of a scare as the Slovaks managed to score three straight goals to make it 5-3. That was all Slovakia could muster as Sweden went on to score another three goals to ease into a 8-3 victory.

Canada looked good in the preliminary round all the way up to New Year’s Eve when they faced the US. Their offense was shut down almost perfectly and the 3-1 loss resulted in them finishing in second in Group B. They did, however, get an opponent that they had dominated in the pre-tournament in the Czech Republic because of that loss.

The Czechs put up a bit more of a fight in this one, though. They scored the first goal and even when they started trailing, they kept it close for pretty much the rest of the game. It was not enough though as Canada would move on to the semi-finals with the 5-3 victory.

Canada is going to have their work to cut out for them if they want to get to the Gold Medal game. After last year’s disappointing finish, Sweden is not an opponent you want to be facing until the final. This should be a very close game, possibly the best of the tournament.

USA vs. Russia

Quarter-Final Results: USA- 3-2 victory over Switzerland; Russia: 4-0 Denmark

We have a age-old rivalry in this match-up as the USA takes on Russia. This will be the second match-up between these two teams in this tournament as the Americans beat Russia 3-2 on December 29.

The US dominated against Latvia and Slovakia but locked it down defensively against Russia and Canada. Knowing that they have already won twice against strong opponents should give them a confidence boost for this game. However, they did just scrape by the Swiss as Nico Hischier single-handedly brought his team back from 2-0 down to tie the game. Unfortunately for the Swiss, they took a bad penalty just after tie the game and Jordan Greenway quickly took advantage and made it 3-2.

The Russians had largely underachieved throughout the tournament, losing to both Canada and the US. They did probably get the easiest opponent in the quarters however as Denmark surprised a lot of people. That run ended against the Russians as they were completely outclassed as Russia cruised to the 4-0 victory.

Russia might have been underachieving, but Kirill Kaprizov has been one of the best players in this tournament. The Russians will need him and his line to be on top of their game to stand a chance against the US.

Finns finish off Latvia

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By Lucas Aykroyd IIHF.com

Finland booked its ticket to the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship in Buffalo, New York with a 4-1 relegation win over Latvia in Game Two on Tuesday night.

The Finns won Game One of the best-of-three series 2-1 at the Bell Centre on Monday.

Assistant captain Villi Saarijarvi got the third-period winner for Finland and added an assist. Juuso Valimaki scored twice, and Eeli Tolvanen chipped in a goal and an assist, while Aapeli Rasanen had two helpers.

“We were finally able to score,” said Finnish captain Olli Juolevi about the third period. “After we scored the first goal, they were probably a little bit frustrated after that and they took those bad penalties there. That helped us to secure the win. Still, it was not a good game, but that’s not the big thing right now. The big thing is we finished the series 2-0 and we are finally off.”

Renards Krastenbergs replied for Latvia.

Finnish goalie Veini Vehvilainen won his final duel with Latvia’s Mareks Mitens. Shots favoured Finland 42-23 in this choppy, penalty-ridden affair, and they had three power-play goals.

The Finns finish ninth, their worst placement in any IIHF competition since 1955. Last-place Latvia is demoted to the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey U20 World Championship Division I Group A.

“We’ll be back,” said Krastenbergs. “We’ll go [to Division I] next year, we’ll win, and we’ll come back better.”

The placement was a major disappointment for Finland after winning gold on home ice in Helsinki last year. The Finnish federation’s decision to fire coach Jukka Rautakorpi and replace him with Jussi Ahokas mid-tournament was unexpected. But it worked out as well as it could under the circumstances.

Ahokas led Finland to 2016 U18 gold in Grand Forks, North Dakota in April. Rautakorpi had seen declining results at his previous three World Juniors, finishing fifth in 1999, sixth in 2008, and seventh in 2009.

Offensively cursed, the Finns totalled just 12 goals in six games. It was their second-worst World Junior output ever. In 2015, also in Montreal, they had eight goals in five games.

“There was pretty much zero confidence after those first three games,” Juolevi said of losing to the Czechs, Danes, and Swedes. “It was tough. But we stayed together and we believed we had to be patient and we could score those goals, especially in the last two games. It was not easy when you can’t score that many goals.”

Latvia, which has 13 roster members playing in North America this season, was participating in its sixth elite World Junior Championship. Only twice in history have the Baltic underdogs avoided relegation (2009, 2012).

Finland drew first blood. On an early 5-on-3, Tolvanen cruised into the high slot and winged one under the crossbar at 1:31.

The Latvians hung tough and tied it up on their second man advantage with 3:37 left in the first period. Krastenbergs dued up a wrister from the faceoff circle that zipped through Vehvilainen. It was the Oshawa Generals forward’s third goal of the tournament.

Finnish defenceman Jesper Mattila went off with an apparent lower-body injury less than a minute later after Rihards Puide caught him with a knee on the forecheck. However, Mattila would return to the game.

“It’s been a tough ride for us,” said Mattila.

The Finns struggled to put their Baltic rivals away. With under six minutes to play in the middle frame, Latvia got a two-man advantage for 1:38, but Vehvilainen held down the fort.

Ahokas’s troops couldn’t capitalize with their subsequent power play before the second buzzer. Julius Nattinen had the best late chance, ringing one off the post.

Finally, at 1:28 of the third, Saarijarvi hammered a power play one-timer from the centre point to put Finland up 2-1. Mitens battled to stem the rising Finnish tide, but couldn’t prevent Valimaki from whacking in a loose puck for a 3-1 lead just over a minute later.

The Latvians didn’t give up, but their zeal only stalled their momentum. Martins Dzierkals was penalized for going hard to the net and bowling over Vehvilainen. Tempers flared late when Latvia’s Valters Apfelbaums crushed Urho Vaakanainen with a high hit in the Finnish end.

It was a rough ending all around. Kristian Vesalainen skated off gingerly after taking a puck in the head area in front of the goal during the game-closing Finnish power play. Valimaki rounded out the scoring for Finland on a 5-on-3 with 2:34 left.

“We wanted to get two wins from these games and we got two wins,” said Valimaki. “That’s all that matters.”

The three best players of the tournament were named for each team. For Latvia, it was Mareks Mitens, Karlis Cukste, and Martins Dzierkals. For Finland, it was Veini Vehvilainen, Villi Saarijarvi, and Aapeli Rasanen.

“It’s our first year here,” said Krastenbergs. “The other teams are more confident and have better players. They’re bigger countries with bigger opportunities.”

Besides 2016, the Finns have three previous World Junior gold medals (1987, 1998, 2014). With nine players eligible to return for Buffalo, they will aspire to better things next year.

Canada to face Sweden in SF

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By Lucas Aykroyd IIHF.com

Julien Gauthier scored twice in the third period to lift Canada to a 5-3 quarter-final win over the Czech Republic and set up a showdown with unbeaten Sweden.

It wasn’t a picture-perfect performance for the hosts, but it was a big relief to make the final four.

“In the first period we were panicking a little bit, but in the end I think it’s a big win for us,” said Gauthier, whose squad trailed 1-0 after 20 minutes despite an 11-4 edge in shots.

Canada, with five returning players from last year’s 6-5 quarter-final loss to eventual champion Finland, was hungry to avoid a second consecutive disappointment. The Canadians, who last won gold in Toronto in 2015, also failed to medal in 2013 and 2014.

“It’s obviously better than last year,” said captain Dylan Strome. “It feels good to be on the winning side of the quarter-finals. Obviously you’re not satisfied yet, but I think it’s a good step.”

The last time Canada faced Sweden in the World Junior playoffs was the 2009 gold medal game in Ottawa, a 5-1 Canadian victory. Sweden won the last two meetings, 6-5 in a shootout on 31 December, 2010, and 5-2 on 31 December, 2015.

“They’re a good team, and we’re going to have to be aware on all sides of the puck,” Strome said of the Swedes. “In the offensive zone, they can attack just as quickly as we can.”

Mitchell Stephens, who missed two games after injuring his ankle versus Latvia, was a force in the quarter-final with a goal and two assists. Blake Speers and Thomas Chabot added a goal and assist apiece, and Anthony Cirelli had two assists.

“I think we can still be better,” said Canadian coach Dominique Ducharme. “We were good at times but we need to be better over 60 minutes.”

David Kase, Tomas Soustal, and Simon Stransky scored for the Czechs.

“If we play Canada ten times we can maybe beat them once or twice,” said Czech coach Jakub Petr.

Connor Ingram, who was originally projected to back up Carter Hart at this tournament, made his second straight start in net for Canada. The 19-year-old Kamloops Blazers goalie did enough to preserve the win. Canada outshot the Czechs 41-19, testing Czech netminder Jakub Skarek from every angle.

With the loss, the Czech Republic finishes sixth. It hasn’t won gold since back-to-back titles in 2000 and 2001. Its last medal was bronze in 2005 — also the last time it made the semi-finals.

Stransky reflected on the tournament: “We started pretty good against Finland. We won that game. I thought it was going to be good. But then we lost two games against Switzerland and Denmark in overtime. Then Sweden. The key game was against Denmark. It was just unlucky, but we’re going home now.”

Prior to this game, Canada had won eight of the last nine games against the Czechs. The Czechs, however, won the previous encounter, 5-4 in a shootout on 28 December, 2013.

Defenceman Kale Clague replaced Philippe Myers on Canada’s top pairing with Chabot. Myers suffered a concussion in the 3-1 New Year’s Eve loss to the Americans.

The game got off to a relatively cautious start. Canada was outshooting the Czechs 8-1 when defenceman Noah Juulsen took the game’s first penalty for delay of game midway through the first, putting the puck over the glass in his own end. However, Petr’s team didn’t get a shot on goal during the man advantage.

With 3:11 left in the first, the Czechs stunned the Bell Centre faithful by taking a 1-0 lead on a flukey play. Captain Filip Hronek’s shot from the side bounced off Adam Musil in front and then hit the referee standing to Ingram’s right. Kase pounced on the loose puck and golfed it into the open side.

“I’ve never seen one go straight to a guy,” said Ingram. “I’ve seen it go off a linesman for a breakaway or a 2-on-1 or something like that. But I’ve never seen it cause an open net like that before. That’s something new. It’s going to happen once in a blue moon, I guess.”

Canada tied it up at 3:45 of the second period when Stephens centered it from the corner to an unguarded Speers, who redirected it through Skarek’s legs for his first World Junior goal.

That got the home team and fans fired up, and Stephens made it 2-1 Canada on a set play at 7:27. Anthony Cirelli won a faceoff in the Czech end and the Saginaw Spirit forward one-timed it in before Skarek could move.

Of Stephens, Chabot said: “He’s a guy who’s always working his ass off on the ice. He’s always first on pucks, winning every battle. He’s also a good, fast player. We’re glad to have him back in the lineup.”

However, the Czechs drew even on their first shot of the middle frame at 8:53. Soustal got the puck past Jake Bean at the Czech blue line, burst down right wing and executed a toe drag around a sprawling Juulsen before zinging it past Ingram’s glove.

At 13:32, Chabot made it 3-2. He took a pass from Stephens and stepped in, stickhandling around a sprawling Radek Koblizek before whipping home a low stick-side wrister.

“He’s a fun guy to watch,” said Ingram of Chabot, who played one game for the Ottawa Senators this season. “He’s making himself a household name across Canada right now. It’s exciting to see. The guy’s got a ton of skill.”

At 3:18 of the third period, Gauthier, a 2015 first-round pick of the Carolina Hurricanes, gave Canada some breathing room at 4-2. Nicolas Roy centered it to Gauthier from behind the net and he surprised Skarek with a quick top-corner shot.

The Czechs had an answer at 5:54. Ingram made a pad save on Necas’s turn-around shot, but Stransky deftly backhanded the rebound in. But Gauthier restored Canada’s two-goal edge just 43 seconds later, banging in the rebound from Clague’s long shot.

“Especially in the second and third, we were hemming them in their D zone,” said Stephens. “We had a lot of energy.”

In the final minute, Petr pulled his goalie and called his timeout, but it was too late for a Czech comeback. The three best Czech players of the tournament were named post-game: Filip Hronek, Michael Spacek, and David Kase.

Canada has won the World Juniors five out of the 11 times it has hosted (1991, 1995, 2006, 2009, 2015).

Parsons saves the day

 

By Andrew Podnieks IIHF.com

Jordan Greenway broke a 2-2 tie with a power-play goal midway through the third period, giving the U.S. a 3-2 win over the Swiss at the Air Canada Centre.

But the story of the game was the play of American goaltender Tyler Parsons at the right moments. He stoned Swiss teen sensation Nico Hischier with a great glove save in the dying minutes.

Hischier scored both Swiss goals and was the best player on the ice along with defenceman Jonas Siegenthaler, who had 27:24 of ice time.

“You can’t give a great team like that a power play,” Siegenthaler said of the winning goal. “It’s just stupid.”

The United States now advances to the semi-finals against Russia on Wednesday in Montreal. The U.S. beat Russia, 3-2, during the round robin in Toronto.

“The crowd was in their favour, and they fed off that,” said American forward Jeremy Bracco. “But Parsons was huge in the net for us.”

“They outplayed us,” Colin White admitted, “but good teams find a way to win. Our goalie was awesome, made some big saves. But we didn’t prepare as well as we could. We’ll learn from that and be ready for Russia.”

The Swiss are headed home after advancing in impressive fashion to the quarter-finals for the second time in four years.

The U.S. has never lost to Switzerland in U20 history, a streak that now includes 21 wins and two ties. Last year, the Americans won, 10-1, chasing tonight’s goalie, Joren van Pottelberghe, from the game.

“We had a bad start, but we said we talked about putting more pucks at the net, and we did that,” Hischier said. “We always believed we could win. We had a good tournament, and we have a good group of guys. We never gave up. It hurts.”

“We had a great four games, but we kind of felt it coming,” Parsons admitted of the team’s overall poor play. “We needed some adversity. This was our worst game of the tournament, but it’s big for us moving forward.”

The Americans started with an intensity too great for the Swiss. Bracco opened the scoring on the power play. He took a nice feed from Troy Terry and beat van Pottelberghe with a quick shot at 8:32.

Just two minutes later, they doubled their lead off a play at the top of the crease. Greenaway found captain Luke Kunin in close, and Kunin got just enough of his stick on the puck to push it over the line.

The Swiss had a great passing play to create a superb scoring chance for Raphael Prassl, but the puck was rolling and he couldn’t get a good shot on the open side of the goal.

Van Pottelberghe made a couple of good saves late in the period to keep it a 2-0 game, and that counted for something when Nico Hischier made it 2-1 just 13 seconds into a power play.

Hischier, a top prospect for 2017, made a great deke on Charlie McAvoy to move in on goal and then beat Parsons with a shot to the far side at 10:47.

Indeed, the Swiss played a much better period and allowed only two shots by the U.S., taking seven of their own and playing on equal footing for the middle 20 minutes.

The Swiss continued their fine play in the third, drawing two penalties early and tying the game, 2-2, on the second one. In a mad scramble around Parsons’s goal, Hischier pulled the puck free and executed a quick wraparound at 6:00, stunning the Americans but exciting the pro-Swiss crowd.

“Somehow the puck came to me,” Hischier described, “so I tried to lift it at the near post, and that didn’t work. I saw an opportunity for a wraparound, and it worked, so that was great.”

The celebration didn’t last long. Moments later the Swiss were down a man, and the U.S. regained its lead. McAvoy’s point shot dropped in front and Greenway knocked it in to make it 3-2.

Late in the period, Hischier had a great chance to tie the game again but Parsons snapped his glove out and denied the Swiss star. “He was there with his glove. It was a good save, but I should have shot higher as well,” Hischier said.

“I have to make those big saves when the team needs it,” Parsons said. “That’s what I focus on. There was a deflection, and I followed the puck back over. I know the good players like to get the puck high, so I tried to get my glove and leg up, and fortunately I got a glove on it.”

And with that save, the Americans are off to a semi-finals date with Russia, their medal hopes still alive and kicking.

Swedes subdue Slovaks

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By Lucas Aykroyd IIHF.com

Sweden took a 3-0 first-period lead and pounded Slovakia 8-3 in the early Montreal quarter-final. Captain Joel Eriksson Ek and Tim Soderlund each scored twice.

On Wednesday, the Swedes will battle the Canada-Czech Republic winner in the semi-finals.

Swedish scoring leader Alexander Nylander and Fredrik Karlstrom chipped in a goal and an assist apiece. Carl Grundstrom and Lias Andersson also scored for Sweden. Rasmus Asplund had four assists and Oliver Kylington had two helpers. The Swedish power play clicked three times.

Except when coach Tomas Monten’s team let its guard down at the end of the second period and the start of the third, Swedish goalie Felix Sandstrom had a quiet afternoon compared to Slovakia’s Adam Huska. Shots favored Sweden 50-18.

“We got the start we really wanted,” said Monten. “It was a similar start like in the last game against the Czechs. We wanted to get the speed going, create pressure and chances. We played a great first period.”

Martin Bodak, Miroslav Struska, and Adam Ruzicka scored for Slovakia.

“We just couldn’t keep up with the Swedes,” said Slovak coach Ernest Bokros. “They skated better and were better one on one. The shot advantage speaks for the Swedish team.”

The Swedes, who came fourth the last two years, are hoping to top the podium for the first time since 2012 in Calgary. Their only other gold medal came in 1981 in West Germany. They haven’t medaled since settling for silver at home in Malmo in 2014.

“I remember the feeling last year,” said Eriksson Ek.”I don’t want to have that feeling again. I hope we can step up a little bit more and win the hockey games.”

At the 2015 World Juniors in Toronto, the Slovaks earned a surprising bronze thanks to Best Goaltender and tournament MVP Denis Godla. It was their second World Junior medal of all time, following 1999’s bronze in Winnipeg. However, they’ll head home empty-handed in 2017.

“I think this year was pretty hard for Team Slovakia because we had a really hard group with Canada, the USA, Russia and Latvia,” said Slovak captain Erik Cernak. “But we’re staying in the [top] division, and we beat Latvia. I think that was really important for Team Slovakia.”

Sweden took just 1:08 to strike first with the man advantage. After a faceoff win in the Slovak end, Eriksson Ek accepted a pass from Asplund and snapped it from the right circle over Huska’s glove.

The Juniorkronorna kept coming. Huska foiled Jonathan Dahlen, who had a hat trick versus the Czechs, on his backhanded breakaway attempt. Eriksson Ek picked off Cernak’s pass up the middle and zinged one off both posts. Gabriel Carlsson also tasted iron with a point shot.

Soderlund, an 18-year-old from Skelleftea, gave Sweden a 2-0 lead at 16:28 with blazing right-wing speed, beating Slovak defenceman Martin Fehervary wide and cutting in to fire it home. It was the World Junior rookie’s first goal at this level.

“I got a pass from Andreas Wingerli from the middle, and I broke in and shot,” said Soderlund.

Just 33 seconds later, Grundstrom made it 3-0 when the Swedes won an offensive-zone faceoff and he roofed one from the right faceoff dot. When the horn sounded, Sweden was outshooting Slovakia 20-5.

Sweden got an early second-period power play when Struska hit Asplund from behind into the boards. Asplund was shaken up, but kept on plugging.

Nylander put Sweden up 4-0 at 7:13, taking Dahlen’s cross-ice pass from below the goal line and squeezing the rebound past Huska’s right skate. At 13:07, Filip Ahl took an open-ice hit to make a play, finding Karlstrom unguarded in front of the Slovak goal, and his high backhand gave Sweden a five-goal edge.

The Slovaks woke up with a pair of late second-period goals. Bodak spoiled Sandstrom’s shutout bid on the power play at 15:48. At 16:54, Struska, standing in front, deflected in Cernak’s point shot. Sandstrom barely denied a fired-up Struska and Ruzicka on a flurry of chances just before the buzzer.

“We played really well in the second period,” said Cernak. “We scored two goals. If we played the same game all game, that would have been good.”

At 1:53 of the third, Ruzicka eluded Andersson’s checking as he swung out in front of the Swedish net and wrapped the puck through Sandstrom’s pads to cut the deficit to 5-3.

But that was as good as it would get for the Central European underdogs, who will finish eighth for the third time in six tries under Bokros.

“It was a bit shaky when they scored their goal there, but we’re a really calm group,” Kylington said. “We talked a lot in the bench. There wasn’t any panic. I think we handled it pretty good.”

In the third period, Soderlund ended Slovakia’s comeback hopes at 2:24, stickhandling in the slot before zipping a wrister past Huska’s blocker to make it 6-3.

“It was an important goal for us,” said Asplund. “We got back the energy and they got a little bit low after that.”

Andersson scored Sweden’s seventh goal from behind the net on the power play at 4:27. Eriksson Ek rounded out the scoring with the man advantage, converting a rebound with 2:56 left.

For Slovakia, at least the final score was an improvement on last year’s 6-0 quarter-final loss to Sweden in Helsinki. The Swedes have won 11 straight World Junior quarter-finals. Their last quarter-final loss was 1-0 to Finland with Tuukka Rask in goal on 2 January, 2006 in Vancouver.

Slovakia’s three best players of the tournament were honoured post-game: Adam Huska, Erik Cernak, and Martin Fehervary.

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