Day: December 27, 2020

Canada overcomes determined Slovaks

By Andrew Podnieks – IIHF.com

There were no 16 goals tonight for Canada, no tired or under-manned opponent, only a determined and persistent Slovakian team clearly bent on containing Canada’s speed come what may.

The result was a 3-1 win for Canada, good enough to keep the hosts atop Group A with a 2-0-0 record, ahead of Finland on goal differential, but it was no waltz in the park.

Despite the fine effort, the loss leaves Slovakia in third place with three points with a 1-0-1 record.

“After the game, we weren’t happy because we had so many opportunities to score the tying goal, but overall I think we did a really good job,” said Slovak forward Martin Chromiak.

The Canadians remain undefeated in U20 history against Slovakia, having won 14 of 15 games to go with a 0-0 tie at the 1999 tournament. Canada now has a day off to prepare for Switzerland on Tuesday while the Slovaks are back at it tomorrow night in a crucial game against Germany.

The goalies were the stars of this show, Devon Levi for Canada earning the win on his 19th birthday while Samuel Hlavaj was superb in the Slovak net.

“I want to say a big thank you to my teammates,” Hlavaj said. “They did a great job tonight. They blocked a lot of shots.”

It was clear early on that the Slovaks were intent on doing an effective job of keeping Canada to the outside and limiting good scoring chances in the danger areas, and although the hosts got the only goal of the first period the visitors were more than happy with their own play.

The one error came off a scramble in front. Hlavaj made two fine stops, but in the process slid out of the goal without controlling the puck. That allowed Jordan Spence the chance to snap the puck into the open cage at 4:08.

Spence is one of the team’s feel-good stories. He was a healthy scratch in the team’s first game and got into the lineup—his first in Team Canada togs—thanks to the one-game suspension to Braden Schneider.

Spence was born in Manly, Australia, and his parents, Adam and Kyoto, moved to Osaka, Japan, when their son was three. Jordan played his first hockey there for several years, and it wasn’t until he was 13 that the family moved to Cornwall, Prince Edward Island.

Despite not speaking English at first, Jordan flourished with a stick in his hand and skates under his feet. He was drafted last year 96th overall by the L.A. Kings and has played the last two seasons in the Q with the Moncton Wildcats, the most conventional part of his hockey journey to date.

“It was unfortunate for Schneider with the suspension today, but Mitch Love the assistant coach called me and said I was in, so obviously I was excited to play in my first game,” Spence enthused. “When I went out for my first shift, there was a loose puck in front of the net, and I just buried it. It was a surreal moment.”

The Slovaks were an even more determined group in the second period, choking Canadian rushes, pushing their opponents to the outside, and not giving an inch in front of Hlavaj. They had an early power play that didn’t click, but Canada had two late in the period and barely managed a shot on goal. Indeed, the finest chance of the middle 20 came with a few seconds remaining when Levi had to make a great pad save off Juraj Slafkovsky who was left alone in the slot.

Early in the third Hlavaj showed his worth again, this time robbing Connor McMichael on a clear shot from in close, frustrating the Canadians and keeping it a 1-0 game still. With seven minutes left, Hlavaj did it again to McMichael, and moments later the Slovaks drew a penalty.

But this time Levi showed his mettle, making three nice stops on the ensing power play. Moments later, captain Dylan Cozens stripped Slafkovsky of the puck inside the Canadian blue line and in one motion sent Philip Tomasino in alone. As he was chased by Samuel Knazko, Cozens roofed a shot over Hlavaj’s glove at 16:25 to give Canada a much-needed insurance goal.

That goal came in handy. At 18:36 and the net empty, Slovakia got to within one when Martin Chromiak wired a hard wrist shot past the glove of Levi.

Jack Quinn added an empty netter with 30 seconds left to end Slovak hopes.

Finns hand Swiss second loss

Roni Hirvonen and his Finnish teammates fired 43 shots on goal in a 4-1 Group A win over Switzerland on Sunday at the 2021 World Juniors

By Lucas Aykroyd – IIHF.com

The Finns have “Flying With Finnair” on their helmets and jerseys. They took flight with a big territorial advantage in the second and third periods on Sunday in a 4-1 win over Switzerland. 

Captain Anton Lundell and Kasper Simontaival both stepped up with a goal and an assist for Finland, which stayed perfect. Juuso Parssinen and Aku Raty also scored. Brad Lambert and Topi Niemela added a pair of assists apiece. Finland converted three times on the power play.

“I think it’s very important that we scored two goals in the last period with the power play.” said Simontaival. “It was important for us to trust the process and get some goals.”

Attilio Biasca had the lone goal for Switzerland.

“I thought we had a good game,” said Biasca. “We played solid defence, but we had way too many penalties. But it was a good game. We have to play more offence.”

Swiss goalie Thibault Fatton performed valiantly in his second start. Roope Taponen made his World Junior debut in net for Finland, which outshot Switzerland 43-14.

Winless Switzerland, which was blanked 1-0 by Slovakia in its opener, faces a tough battle for a quarter-final berth. The next Swiss game is against Canada on Tuesday.

“They’re a good team,” said Swiss blueliner Noah Meier. “They have lots of good players. We have to do the easy plays, simple plays. Play as hard as possible and try to get some points in this game against Canada.”

The Finns, who finished fourth last year, are vying for their sixth gold medal of all time (1987, 1998, 2014, 2016, 2019). The Swiss, who were fifth in 2020, have one bronze medal to their credit (1998).

Coach Marco Bayer’s squad brought a solid battle level to keep this game close.

In a hard-fought first period, the Swiss got their first goal of the tournament when Biasca sniped a power-play goal from the left faceoff circle at 3:44. The 17-year-old Zug forward is looking forward to making his debut with the Halifax Mooseheads after the QMJHL season resumes.

“It felt great to shoot the puck in,” said Biasca. “It was a great pass.”

Lundell struck back 36 seconds later with his second goal in as many games. With the Finns forechecking smartly, the 2019 World Junior champion worked a give-and-go with Simontaival, hustling to the net to convert a cross-crease pass.

“I would say that we have good chemistry,” said Simontaival. “We can find each other on the ice and play pucks to the net and redirect them.”

After Finland killed off Switzerland’s second power play, Lundell set up top Finnish D-man Ville Heinola in the final minute of the first period for a great chance in the high slot. Fatton picked it off with his glove.

In the second period, the Finns picked up their tempo and carried the play. Parssinen made it 2-1 with the man advantage at 4:53. The 19-year-old son of two-time Worlds silver medalist Timo Parssinen maneuvered into the Swiss zone with heads-up stickhandling and knifed a high backhander past Fatton.

Second-period shots favored Finland 16-6, and that told the tale. Coach Antti Pennanen’s players weren’t doing anything fancy, just wearing down their foes. Lundell rang one off the iron midway through the period, and Fatton denied Santeri Hatakka on the rush. The Swiss barely generated any pressure except during Finland’s three straight second-period minors.

Early in the third period, Switzerland’s Cedric Fiedler went off for holding Parssinen, but the most dangerous moment on that power play was when Heinola, coming out from behind the Finnish net, bobbled the puck and almost scored an own goal.

With 9:19 remaining, Aku Raty gave the Finns a two-goal cushion with the man advantage, tipping in Lambert’s deft feed from the left faceoff circle.

On another power play, Simontaival finished off a tic-tac-toe passing play from Lundell and Roni Hirvonen at 16:49 to round out the scoring at 4-1.

“We saw each other on the ice, and also, Roni Hirvonen has been playing well with us,” Simontaival said.

The gap between these two nations has narrowed over the last 10 years. Including this game, the Swiss have points in four of their last seven World Junior outings against Finland, including one regulation win (31 December 2019) and two shootout wins (4 January 2011, 31 December 2013).

Next up for Finland is Slovakia on Wednesday.

U.S. smothers Austria

The U.S.’s Trevor Zegras (#9) celebrates with Alex Turcotte (#15) after scoring a first-period goal in a 26 December rout of Austria

By Lucas Aykroyd – IIHF.com

America is back. Team USA exploded for six second-period goals to pound newly promoted Austria 11-0 on Saturday night at the 2021 World Juniors in Edmonton.

It was a big first win for the Americans, who opened with a 5-3 loss to Russia, the 2020 silver medalists, on Christmas Day. Matthew Boldy had a hat trick, Trevor Zegras added two goals and two assists, Brendan Brisson scored twice, and Alex Turcotte put up three assists.

“I think my confidence has gotten a lot better,” said Boldy, a Boston College star who didn’t make the 2020 World Junior team. “Along with that, obviously, comes my ability to make plays.”

Coach Nate Leaman’s group outshot Austria 73-10, including a 30-2 gap in the second period. The record for fewest shots in a game is 6, shared by Belarus (27 December, 2000 vs. Russia) and Slovakia (27 December, 2016 vs. Canada).

“I was very happy with the response,” Leaman said. “We left something on the table last night [against Russia] and they weren’t happy about it all day.”

The U.S. has now defeated Austria in all three meetings in tournament history. It was 7-2 on 2 January, 1981 and 8-0 on 26 December, 2003. The Central European underdogs last appeared in the World Juniors in 2010.

The Americans held Austrian sniper Marco Rossi in check. Rossi, the ninth overall pick of the Minnesota Wild in the 2020 NHL Draft, led the OHL last season with 120 points for the Ottawa 67s.

U.S. goalie Dustin Wolf, who relieved starter Spencer Knight after Russia took a 4-1 lead, got his first shutout. Austria’s Sebastian Wraneschitz had a baptism of fire in his World Junior debut with 58 stops. Suffering from cramps, the 18-year-old Vienna Capitals goalie was relieved by backup Jakob Brandner with 10:48 remaining.

Austrian coach Roger Bader, who also coached the senior team at the 2018 and 2019 Worlds, iced a youth-laden squad, including 16-year-old forward Marco Kasper (Rogle Angleholm). His team tried hard early on to disrupt the U.S. with active sticks and physical play along the boards.

“We battled pretty good in the first period,” said Austria’s Leon Wallner. “They are humans. We saw that if they get pressure, they make mistakes.”

Midway through the first period, Wraneschitz made a fine save on Zegras, who stickhandled in from the slot and launched a backhander. But the scoreless tie wouldn’t last.

At 15:31, Wraneschitz got fooled on the opening goal off the rush. Alex Turcotte’s centering pass bounced off Helleson’s skate, and the puck bobbled over the kneeling netminder’s stick and trickled over the goal line. The U.S. then hit multiple goal posts.

In the second period, Zegras made it 2-0 at 4:35 with a wrist shot from the over Wraneschitz’s blocker.

Now the floodgates opened. John Farinacci scored his second goal of the tournament 28 seconds later for a 3-0 lead. Brisson put the U.S. up 4-0 at 8:05 with a power-play one-timer. At 11:59, Zegras threaded the needle with a high short-side goal.

A close-range Matthew Beniers backhanded pass on the rush gave Boldy the 6-0 marker at 14:15. And with 1:12 left in the period, Boldy poked in a rebound with the man advantage.

In the third period, Brett Berard executed a Pavel Bure-like dash down right wing and cut to the net to make it 8-0 at 2:25. Just 42 seconds later, Brisson scored his second of the night. Boldy completed his hat trick at 5:52. And Sam Colangelo scored on the U.S.’s first shot at 9:45 after Brandner took over Austria’s cage.

“I thought we stayed with it pretty much to the end of the game, which was good,” Leaman said.

Austria’s Philipp Wimmer was ejected for a hit to the head of Patrick Moynihan with just over a minute remaining.

U.S. defenceman Tyler Kleven, an NTDP product and University of North Dakota freshman, slotted into the lineup in lieu of Jackson LaCombe, who went -2 versus Russia.

Austria’s next game is against Sweden on Monday, while the U.S. takes on the Czechs on Tuesday.