Day: December 31, 2020

Canada overwhelms Finland

Canada dominated Finland and skated to an impressive victory to close out the preliminary round

By Andrew Podnieks –

From the opening faceoff Canada attacked the Finns wave after wave, pursuing every puck with abandon and taking away the Finns’ time to think. The result was a thoroughly dominating 4-1 win.

Shots favored Canada by a wide margin, 40-19, and over four games Canada outshot its opponents 159-67.

The result means Canada, with a perfect 4-0 record, will take on the Czech Republic in one quarter-finals on Saturday, while the other three matchups are still contingent on the last game of today between Sweden and the United States.

“We didn’t play as well as our last game,” admitted Finnish defenceman Mikko Kokkonen. “Defensively, we didn’t get pucks out of our end early, so we spent too much time in our own end. We knew how they were going to play, but in the first two periods we didn’t play well. We have to be better.”

Canada’s pressure was a thing of beauty for its intensity. Dylan Cozens opened the scoring off the rush at 3:49 after a mistake by Eemil Viro at the Canada blue line. Viro tried to pinch off a turnover, but Cozens took the puck down the left wing on a three-on-one. Seeing few options on the pass, he took aim and wired a shot to the short side of Kari Piiroinen.

Jakob Pelletier had a great chance to make it 2-0 a little later on a clear break but was foiled by Piiroinen’s left pad. All the same, Canada drew the only two penalties of the period and outshot the Finns 17-1 in their most dominant period of the tournament.

Nothing changed in the second. Canada doubled its lead at 6:54 after incredible pressure and several shots, the final blow coming when Pelletier’s point-black shot bounced off Dylan Holloway and in.

Six minutes later, after another sequence of intense pressure, they made it 3-0. This time it was a Bowen Byram point shot that bounced around in front where Peyton Krebs, back to the goal, smacked the puck between his legs and in.

Canada made its first mistake of the night early in the third when Cozens took the team’s first penalty of the game deep in the Finland end. The Finns capitalized. The goal came off the stick of 16-year-old Brad Lambert whose shot went off the shaft of Thomas Hartley and over Levi’s glove.

Canada withstood the Finnish confidence, however, and Cozens added his second of the night with an empty netter as Finland tried to tie the game. That goal was his tournament-leading sixth and he now has eleven points, also tops

Czechs on to quarters

The Czechs scored four goals in the second period on their way to qualifying for the quarter-finals

By Andrew Podnieks –

The Czech Republic overcame a nervous start to score four goals in the second period en route to an easy 7-0 win over Austria.

The win solidifies the Czechs’ fourth-place finish in the Group B standings, and the team will now play the winner of today’s Canada-Finland game in the quarter-finals on Saturday. The Austrians go home but will return next year a little bit older and wiser.

“We need to play the same way we played today,” Czech goalie Nick Malik said of his team’s chances in the playoffs. “We need to follow the coach’s game plan and play good hockey. We can’t be nervous and have to believe we can play with anyone.”

“We’re still in the tournament, which is great for us,” said coach Karel Mlejnek, “and now we have to prepare for the quarter-finals and plan for our opponents. That’s the key, to analyze our opponents and figure our what we need to do to be better.”

The loss means Austria has yet to win a top-level U20 game after 21 tries, the longest such streak in U20 history. And, they scored just once in four games, which just is not good enough.

“It was really tough for us because we have no experience at this level,” said capain Marco Rossi. “Everything was new for us, but it will be better next year. We had a really young group here, but we’ll know what to expect next year and we’ll have a better chance. I’m still proud of how we played.”

“We have to get stronger physically, and the players have to play in leagues and play against these types of opponents,” offered coach Roger Bader. “They are not used to it. And here we had a bit of bad luck in our group, where four of the teams are in the top six of the World Ranking. I don’t think we are far behind Switzerland, Germany, and Slovakia.”

The game also featured only one minor penalty, tying the record for fewest penalty minutes by one team in a U20 game (0, Czech Republic) and for both teams (2).

Martin Lang led the way with two goals and an assist while Pavel Novak had a goal and two helpers.

Coming into the game the implications of the game were very clear. If Austria won in regulation, it would qualify for the quarter-finals. If the Czechs lost after regulation, or won any which way, they would advance.

And the way the first period went, Austria showed just enough life to suggest they had the wherewithal to pull off a giant upset. Although the Czechs had the better of play, shots favoured the Czechs 15-6, the second lowest period margin for the Austrians this tournament.

As well, goalie Sebastian Wraneschitz continued his fine play, blocking everything that came his way and giving his team a fighting chance, even though it had scored just one goal in ten periods of hockey.

“We needed to get better in the offensive zone, so we just wanted to keep going and wanted to score the first goal,” Simon Kubicek noted. “We did that in the second period and then we played better and better.”

“The game wasn’t easy for us mentally. After the first period we tried to tell our players to stay aggressive and keep going to the net,” Mlejnek added. “That’s where the scoring chances are.”

And the first good chance of the second went to Austria. Lucas Thaler cut in on goal off the right wing, but after a nice move he fumbled the puck and couldn’t get a shot off. The rest of the period was all Czechs.

They opened the scoring at 6:27 when Simon Kubicek took a bouncy shot from the point that hopped unluckily over Wraneschitz’s glove and in. Six minutes later, the Czechs made it 2-0 off a wild scramble that saw the puck come to Martin Lang. He had an open net and didn’t miss.

The Czechs got two late goals which were, in essence, insurance markers. Lang got another off a long shot that beat Wraneschitz cleanly, and then, with only 32.3 seconds remaining, Filip Prykril redirected a pass from Radek Muzik in close.

In all, shots were 23-2 in the middle period, a clear indicator of the Czechs’ domination.

Pavel Novak added to the total just 1:39 into the third when his sharp-angle shot found its way behind Wraneschitz through a screen which gave the goalie no chance.

David Jiricek made it 6-0 at 16:45 of the third on a similar goal to the first, his drifting shot from the middle of the point going all the way. Jan Mysak closed out the scoring with 25.6 seconds remaining.

Russia ends Swedish streak in OT

Russia’s Marat Khusnutdinov (#22) celebrates after scoring the 4-3 overtime winner against Sweden in preliminary-round action at the World Juniors in Edmonton

By Lucas Aykroyd –

History was made. With an exciting 4-3 overtime victory on Wednesday, Russia broke Sweden’s all-time record preliminary-round winning streak at 54 games. The result moves the Russians (eight points) into first place in Group B for the time being.

Marat Khusnutdinov scored the winner on the power play with six seconds left in OT.

“There was great work before,” said Khusnutdinov. “Mikhail Abramov got us the power play [by drawing a penalty]. There was a great shot from Rodion Amirov and I scored on the second chance.”

Sweden (seven points) and the U.S. (six points) will still get to battle for first place, each seeking a regulation-time win in their New Year’s Eve group finale. The second-place team in Group B will face Germany, which finished third in Group A, in the quarter-finals.

Sweden last lost a preliminary-round game on 31 December 2006 in Leksand when the U.S.’s Jack Johnson scored the 3-2 overtime winner.

“It doesn’t matter,” said Swedish captain Philip Broberg. “We’re here to win gold. It doesn’t matter in group play. You’ve got to be the best when the stakes are the [highest]. So this is going to make us stronger and hopefully we’ll just get better for tomorrow and get ready.”

This was the most intense and dynamic hockey we’ve seen at the 2021 World Juniors, setting the stage for more thrills in Edmonton.

“It’s not an easy game, and it’s the type of hockey we expect to play moving forward,” said Russian head coach Igor Larionov, whose team scored three power play goals. “I like the boys responding really well after the loss to the Czech Republic. Tonight was good, despite some circumstances in the second period when we got a few minutes of shorthanded play against Team Sweden.”

Eleven of the last 12 games between these two elite nations have been decided by just one goal. Last year, Ivan Morozov scored twice, including the overtime winner, as Russia beat Sweden 5-4 to advance to the gold medal game against Canada. The Russians and Swedes settled for silver and bronze respectively. 

Swedish coach Joel Ronnmark gave Jesper Wallstedt his first start in net over incumbent Hugo Alnefelt. Wallstedt, 18, has a 2.06 GAA and 92.0 save percentage with the SHL’s Lulea HF this season. Yaroslav Askarov, who was pulled in last year’s semi-final, returned between the pipes for Russia after Artur Akhtyamov played in the 7-1 win over Austria.

“The game felt pretty good,” said Wallstedt, who found out he would play after Sweden’s practice on Tuesday. “You know, it’s tough being here. I haven’t played a game in a couple of weeks. But I felt all right. Very sad that we couldn’t get out with a win.”

Shots on goal favored Sweden 36-35.

Broberg returned to the lineup after a one-game absence due to injury. Meanwhile, Larionov’s team went without Yegor Chinakhov, who was injured when hauled down on a break against Austria. Chinakhov was awarded a penalty shot on the play, but it was Rodion Amirov who took it and opened the scoring. (Larionov said afterwards that Chinakhov is expected to skate on New Year’s Day and his quarter-final status will be reevaluated.)

The Russians came out blazing and thought they’d opened the scoring again just 37 seconds in. Captain Vasili Podkolzin bulled his way to the net with the puck, with Broberg right on top of him, and Amirov shoveled the rebound in. The play was video-reviewed, and as per the original call on the ice, it was ruled that Podkolzin’s stick had interfered with Wallstedt. No goal.

At 7:28, it was 1-0 Russia for real. Larionov’s troops hounded the Swedish defence on the forecheck and turned the puck over. Mikhail Abramov rounded the net and slid a sneaky cross-crease pass to Yegor Afanasiev, who buried it past Wallstedt’s right skate.

“I thought Russia started the game really intense, and we grew into it,” said Ronnmark. “It was a hard-fought game, something to build on for the upcoming games.”

Sweden gained momentum, and Arvid Costmar tied it up at 14:33 with his second goal of the tournament. Noel Gunler flipped the puck past three Russian defenders to Costmar, unmolested in front of Askarov. The Linkoping HC product whacked a backhander through the goalie’s legs.

With just 46 seconds left in the opening frame, Amirov and Podkolzin got some revenge on the power play for their earlier disallowed goal. From the goal-line, Podkolzin made a heads-up pass to a wide-open Amirov, who whipped the puck off Wallsted’s paddle into the gaping cage. Flamboyantly, Amirov pointed to the net like a referee after scoring.

Things got rougher early in the second period. Russian defender Yan Kuznetsov got away with a stick jab on star Swedish forward Alexander Holtz. Sweden’s Elmer Soderblom inadvertently whacked a crouching Semyon Chistyakov in the mouth with the follow-through from his shot attempt.

The Juniorkronorna dictated the tempo and outshot Russia 17-7 in the second period. That said, the Russians still got quality chances, like when Maxim Groshev got in the clear and put a high backhander off Wallstedt’s left shoulder.

Sweden pressed hard during a mid-game man advantage with Holtz and fellow “Terror Twin” Lucas Raymond firing away, but Holtz could only ring one off the post. The Russians took four straight second-period minors and were lucky to escape without giving up a power-play goal.

“Obviously, we want to score a couple more goals there,” said Ronnmark. “I think we’re creating a lot. We can execute on our chances a bit better, hopefully, tomorrow, and in the games coming up after that.”

Holtz’s persistence finally paid off, as he got the 2-2 equalizer at even strength at 15:59. With a wide-open net, the 2020 New Jersey Devils first-round pick (seventh overall) put a bouncing puck off the side of the cage, but then retrieved the puck below the goal line and fired it in off Askarov for his first goal of these World Juniors.

In the third period, Broberg appeared to strain himself and skated off gingerly after a spectacular solo jaunt where he failed to tuck the puck past Askarov’s outstretched left skate. The Swedish captain declined comment when asked about his health afterwards.

Holtz went off for hooking and Kirill Kirsanov made it 3-2 with the power play (Russia’s first since the opening period) at 9:46. From the left faceoff circle, the World Junior rookie from SKA St. Petersburg unleashed a wicked wrister that dinged in off Wallstedt’s left post, high to the glove side.

Costmar had a great chance to tie it with under three minutes when he whizzed a shot off Askarov’s cross bar. With Wallstedt pulled for the extra attacker, Ronnmark called his timeout after Russia iced the puck at 18:28.

It paid off. The Swedes controlled the puck and Holtz’s one-timer ricocheted in off Noel Gunler’s shin pad with just one minute remaining in regulation. Gunler now has four goals.

However, to cap off a wild overtime, Khusnutdinov would break Swedish hearts when he converted an OT rebound with Costmar in the penalty box for holding.

Of the streak’s demise, Ronnmark said: “I know you guys [the media] have asked about it. We haven’t focused at all on that. We lost this game. Obviously, we always want to win when we go into a game. That’s the goal. We have some good stuff from this game. Tonight we lost. It is what it is.”

According to statistics compiled by TSN, the now-defunct Swedish streak included preliminary-round wins over Switzerland (8), the Czech Republic (8), Russia (7), Finland (7), Slovakia (5), Denmark (4), Canada (3), Latvia (3), Norway (2), the U.S. (2), Austria (2), Kazakhstan (2), and Belarus (1). 

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