Month: December 2020 (Page 2 of 4)

Tight-checking Czechs blank Russia

By Lucas Aykroyd –

On the strength of goals by Filip Koffer and Martin Lang, the Czech Republic upset Russia 2-0 on Sunday night in Edmonton.

It was a goalie duel at Rogers Place. Lukas Parik, a 2019 third-round pick of the L.A. Kings (87th overall) who backed up Lukas Dostal in last year’s seventh-place finish, debuted here with a superb 29-save shutout for the Czechs. Russian starter Yaroslav Askarov made 27 stops.

“Of course, we played great as a team and the guys helped me a lot,” Parik said. “So it’s a great feeling. But we have to refocus for our [next] games.”

The Czechs and Russians are traditional rivals who usually play tight, tense games, and this fit the classic mold. The result also made the Group B battle for playoff positions even more intriguing.

“I guess we got our first kind of obstacle, which is the Czech Republic,” said Russian head coach Igor Larionov. “They play a really solid defensive game. We have to be maybe more determined around the net, finish a lot of shots and get some rebounds and get some dirty goals.”

Both nations aspire to end long gold-medal droughts. The Russians, who fell 4-3 to Canada in the 2020 final, last triumphed in 2011 in Buffalo. The Czechs haven’t struck gold since back-to-back titles in 2000 and 2001.

Last year, the Czechs surprised Russia 4-3 to kick off the World Juniors in Ostrava. This year, they needed a bounceback game after opening with a 7-1 loss to Sweden, and they got it, once again at Russia’s expense.

“I think it’s a good lesson for us and we’ll get better,” Russian defenceman Yan Kuznetsov said.

Larionov’s top dogs like captain Vasili Podkolzin and Rodion Amirov were held in check, as the Czechs worked hard and blocked shots aplenty.

“We are pretty sore, but it’s the feeling of the win,” said Lang. “We will do it again next game.”

In a scoreless first period, Russia had the better of the early play, but the tide then shifted toward the Czechs. Askarov, the 2020 first-round pick of the Nashville Predators (11th overall), had to make a fine blocker save when Adam Raska busted loose on left wing. Raska was back in action after serving a one-game suspension for a boarding incident in the 6-0 pre-tournament win over Slovakia.

The Czechs slowed down the skillful Russians with physical defence and smart counterattacks — similar to the golden era of the Czech men’s national team (1998-2001). The acrobatic Askarov flirted with disaster when a long shot slipped under his arm and over the net and he lost his goal stick. Parik also got lucky with a shot that rang off his cross bar.

Raska shook up Amirov in an early second-period collision near the benches. Askarov had a long head man pass picked off by Jakub Rychlovsky, but he stretched out his left pad in Sergei Bobrovsky-like fashion to foil the Czech forward’s backhand move. Near the midway mark, Parik was ready when Maxim Groshev swooped in for a chance.

At 16:38, the Czech counterattack provided the first goal. After the Russians bottled up the Czechs in their zone for more than a minute, defenceman Shakir Mukhamadullin turned over the puck at the opposing blue line, and Rychlovsky pounced, racing down left wing at the end of a long shift. He pivoted deep in the Russian zone and found Koffer, who pounded the puck past a lunging Askarov.

In the third period, Lang made it 2-0 at 5:07 on another counterattack. He blocked Daniil Chaika’s shot at the blue line and got a breakaway, scoring blocker side on Askarov.

“I don’t care about the goals, but everyone sees the blocked shots,” said Lang. “I think that’s the main thing. Just block shots and help the teams. That’s just a gift for me to score a goal.”

The Russians couldn’t generate a shot on their second power play of the game, and even when Czech D-man Simon Kubicek was sent off for a hit from behind with 10:30 left, Russia only got two shots on their third PP. It wasn’t reminiscent of the 1980’s Green Unit.

Larionov pulled Askarov for the extra attacker with under two minutes to play, and the Russians got one more power play with less than a minute left. But the Czechs sacrificed their bodies to keep the puck out and celebrated in a dogpile at the final buzzer.

The last time Russia was shut out at the World Juniors was the 1-0 overtime loss to Sweden in the 2012 gold medal game.

On Tuesday, the Czechs take on the Americans, while Russia faces newly promoted Austria.

“It’s just a hockey game,” said Lang. “We’ve got some plans for the game, and we have to get it done.”

Russian goalie coach Nikolai Khabibulin, who won Olympic gold in 1992 and backstopped Tampa Bay to the 2004 Stanley Cup, was not with the team. He has returned home since his father passed away. His duties are being handled by Rashit Davydov, who hails from Larionov’s native Voskresensk.

Canada overcomes determined Slovaks

By Andrew Podnieks –

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 –

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 –

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.

Defending champs Canada roll over Germany

The goals came fast and frequently for Canada tonight in its easy victory over under-manned Germany

By Andrew Podnieks –

Defending champions Canada stormed out of the gates, scoring early and often in a 16-2 victory over Germany in its first game of the 2021 World Juniors. It was the second loss in as many days for the 14-man German squad that has been hammered by positive Covid results and the ensuing quarantining of nine of its players.

Canada scored more goals than Germany had shots (15), while the winners fired 44 mostly dangerous pucks at two German goalies.

Dylan Cozens led all scorers with three goals and six points while Dawson Mercer had two and two.

“It’s the first game of the tournament, and we have to establish our good habits,” Cozens said. “We want to play the right way, so just because we’re up by a lot we’re not going to change. We want to pretend it’s a close game and keep those good habits. We weren’t too focused on the score, just playing the right way.”

Canada now owns a decisive 15-0-0 record over Germany in World Junior history, with a goal advantage of 91-21 all-time.

“It’s not about the score,” coach Andre Tourigny reiterated. “It’s about our play to move forward in the tournament. We have no time to waste. The thing I liked the most about our game tonight was our third period because that’s the period we were the best at doing the little things, all the stuff you need to do to win, winning faceoffs, battles in front of the next, that sort of thing.”

Tonight, the short-handed Germans had no chance against a Canadian squad wearing their Summit Series-inspired sweaters and chomping at the bit to get started.

“It’s obviously very disappointing,” said Samuel Dube. “But all we can do now is focus on the next two games and winning those two.”

“We were tired, but we’re not looking for excuses,” added John Peterka. “We knew we were short-handed, but in the end we have to skate and battle hard. We didn’t do that.”

The Germans now have a day off before two critical games against Slovakia on Monday and Switzerland on Wednesday, games that almost certainly will decide who advances to the quarter-finals. Canada is right back at it, facing Slovakia tomorrow afternoon.

“You have to give a lot of credit to the Germans,” Tourigny added. “They’ve had sickness on their team, playing two games in 24 hours against two really good countries. They fought hard, especially in the first period.”

While Devon Levi had a solid two periods in goal for Canada, Germany was also undone by some weak goaltending from Arno Tiefensee, who also played 24 hours ago. He should have had the first goal, just 1:51 in the game, which came off a short-side shot from Kaiden Guhle.

Moments later, Levi made his finest stop of the opening 20 minutes, a desperate left pad save while on his stomach as Tim Stutzle tried to slide the puck around on a nifty deke.

Canada made it 2-0 at 7:27 when Tiefensee mishandled the puck behind his net on a Germany power play. Dawson Mercer stripped him of the puck and wrapped it in the vacated cage.

Canada’s Braden Schneider took a senseless penalty for a direct hit to the head of Jan-Luca Schumacher. After gaining his composure, Schumacher was able to leave the ice without help, but Schneider was given a five-minute major and game misconduct. Late in that lengthy power play the Germans cashed in. Florian Elias made a brilliant pass to John Peterka, unguarded in the slot, and he whistled a shot over the shoulder of Levi, who had dropped to his knees.

Philip Tomasino got that one back for Canada. After skating patiently down the right side, he wired a low shot to the short side as Tiefensee moved off his post. But the backbreaker came as time expired. Germany was short-handed thanks to a penalty for too many men, and after Tiefensee failed to control a routine shot Peyton Krebs jammed the puck over the goal line.

Although video review seemed to show time had expired before the puck crossed the line, the referees indicated otherwise. That goal made it 4-1, and took the wind out of the German sails.

Coach Tobias Abstreiter put Jonas Gahr in to start the second period in place of Tiefensee, but things went from bad to worse as Canada racked up seven goals, the last of which, as in the first period, came in the dying seconds and was confirmed by video review. In this case, the goal, by Krebs again, was the result of a quick shot that went in and out too quickly for the officials to see during game action.

Alex Newhook scored twice in the second, and in addition to Krebs, Tomasino and Mercer also scored their second of the night. The seven in the second tied a team record.

Tourigny took advantage of the blowout to give his other goalie some playing time, and so Dylan Garand stepped into the blue ice only to stand idle most of the final 20 minutes. He stopped four of five shots he faced.

Just 37 seconds into the third, Cozens scored his second of the night, on the power play, and the 12-1 score just made things worse. He scored again soon after to complete the hat trick, the first of this year’s tournament.

Florian Elias scored for Germany on the power play with 18.3 seconds left to finish the scoring.

Sweden extends prelims streak

Emil Heineman scores a short-handed goal midway through the second period to give the Swedes a 3-1 lead

By Andrew Podnieks –

Sweden broke open a 1-1 game with a dominating second period which included the only three goals of the middle 20 minutes, skating to an impressive 7-1 win over the Czech Republic.

It was the first game for both Group B teams and extended Sweden’s remarkable streak of wins in the preliminary round to 53, dating back some 14 years.

The last time the Czech U20 team beat Sweden was nearly two decades ago, December 31, 2002, after which followed a streak of now 12 Sweden wins.

The Czechs have a little more than 24 hours to recover before playing Russia tomorrow night, while the Swedes have a day off before facing Austria on Monday afternoon.

The Czechs gave Sweden all it could handle in the first, going end to end with the favourites and opening the scoring on a power play at 10:14. The goal came courtesy of a nice three-way passing play between Michal Teply, along the left-wing boards, Jaromir Pytlik, stationed to the side of the goal, and the scorer, Jan Mysak, who snapped the pass from the back-door side to beat Hugo Alnefelt cleanly.

The ink was barely dry on the recording of that goal when Arvid Costmar had a clean break, but he was stoned by Nick Malik in the Czech goal. On the same sequence, though, defenceman Victor Soderstom made a brilliant pass from the point to Costmar, driving to the net, and Costmar tipped the puck deftly past Malik just 32 seconds after Mysak’s goal, tying the game at one.

Teply thought he had given his team a lead a few minutes later when his quick shot from in close was headed inside the short-side post, but Alnefelt got his glove over and made a sensational save.

Or did he?

Replays looked like the goalie might have made the save with his glove behind the red line, but video review failed to provide an angle to substantiate that theory, and the call on the ice stood—no goal…great save.

Special teams played an important role as the game changed in the second. The Swedes went ahead 2-1 on the power play when Malik overplayed Simon Holmstrom’s shot from the slot. The puck went wide and came out the other side where Albin Sundsvik tucked it in before the goalie could get over.

Less than three minutes later, they extended their lead on a short-handed goal. A clearing puck bounced over the stick of Czech defenceman Martin Has pinching at the Swedes’ blue line, and Emil Heineman scooped up the puck and dashed the length of the ice, beating Malik with a shot between the pads.

And then Sweden made it 4-1 at 16:05 on a similar play to Sundvik’s goal. This time it was a wide shot by Philip Broberg that bounced out the other side to Theodor Niederbach, who again had the open net after Malik overplayed the original shot. It was the third assist of the period for Broberg, who is playing in his third World Juniors and was drafted 8th overall by Edmonton in 2019.

By the third period the Czechs had nothing in the tank, and the Swedes were overpowering. Elmer Soderblom made it 5-1 early in the third with highlight-reel hands on the power play. He got the puck at the top of the crease and puck it between his legs, along with his stick, and scored off the far post.

They made it 6-1 at 12:22 thanks to a nice pass by Tobias Bjornfot as he circled the net, Oscar Bjerselius, finishing the play. Noel Gunler closed out the scoring with another power-play score at 17:37.

Ponomaryov pots pair in Russian win

Russia’s Vasili Ponomaryov (#13) celebrates after scoring a first-period goal in Russia’s 5-3 win over the U.S. at the 2021 World Juniors

By Lucas Aykroyd –

With an old-school emphasis on creativity and puck possession, Russia kicked off its 2021 World Juniors with a 5-3 win over the rival Americans in Edmonton on Friday.

Vasili Ponomaryov scored twice for Russia and Zakhar Bardakov, Ilya Safonov, and Yegor Chinakhov added singles. U.S. captain Cam York had a goal and an assist, and John Farinacci and Trevor Zegras also scored for the Americans, who couldn’t complete their rally from a 4-1 deficit.

“We had a couple of shifts or a couple of moments where we weren’t playing our best and playing our game,” said Farinacci. “But obviously we had a good comeback and we came back there in the third. I think that’s what we’ve got to stick to as this tournament goes on.”

In a duel of two NHL first-round pick goalies, Yaroslav Askarov (11th overall to Nashville in 2020) got the better of Spencer Knight (13th overall to Florida in 2019). Knight was pulled in favour of Dustin Wolf in the second period after allowing four goals on 12 shots. Final shots favored the U.S. 26-24.

This was the official World Junior debut for a pair of rookie head coaches in Russian legend Igor Larionov and longtime Providence College bench boss Nate Leaman. Both had previous experience as WJC assistants, Larionov in 2020 (a silver medal under Valeri Bragin) and Leaman in 2007 (bronze under Ron Rolston) and 2009 (fifth place under Rolston).

“When we talk about a game against Canada or the U.S., we always talk about puck possession,” said Larionov. “As long as you keep the puck away from them, you can dominate the game. Basically, we tried to take time and space away from them, tried to forecheck, be more aggressive and more determined.”

Expectations are high for these two perennial contenders. Russia is looking for its first gold medal since 2011. The Americans last triumphed in 2017.

The Russians kept the U.S. in check in the early going and drew first blood offensively. Artemi Knazyev fired a shot from the left side that Ponomaryov tipped across his body, fooling Knight for a 1-0 lead at 8:07.

Ponomaryov said he enjoys playing for his new coach: “Right now, I’m feeling insane feelings, just because I feel so good. Igor Larionov is a legend, not only in Russia, but in the world of hockey. I think he will be a famous coach, like [Anatoli] Tarasov, maybe, in the future.”

The U.S. struck back at 14:01. York drifted an unscreened center-point shot that slipped under Askarov’s blocker and trickled in. That caused some jitters for Russian fans, recalling Askarov’s up-and-down play during last year’s silver-medal run.

Early in the second period, defenceman Maxim Groshev sprang Bardakov with a spectacular stretch pass. The Vityaz Podolsk forward has just one goal in 27 KHL games this year, but when he got in behind the U.S. defence, he looked like old-school Alexander Mogilny, snapping the puck through Knight’s legs at 3:12 to make it 2-1.

“I thought where we struggled in the game tonight is where they got pucks in transition,” said Leaman.

The American snipers were getting good looks. Bobby Brink missed an open net and Cole Caufield almost outwitted Askarov with a backhander on an individual dash. Bardakov clipped Brink in the face at 8:38, sending the Americans to their second man advantage of the game, but it fizzled. 

Ponomaryov gave Russia a two-goal edge just 28 seconds after Bardakov’s minor expired. In the left faceoff circle, the Moscow native, who had nine points in nine games this season for the QMJHL’s Shawinigan Cataractes, picked off an errant pass by blueliner Jackson Lacombe from the corner, and zinged the puck over Knight’s glove.

The fourth Russian goal was one Knight would have liked to have had back. The Boston College starter left his net to fire the puck up the boards, but Safronov picked it off at the right point. His shot deflected in off the lunging Knight’s blocker at 12:15. Leaman had seen enough and Wolf took over between the pipes.

“When we switched out, it was like, ‘Hey man, it’s not your fault,'” Wolf said. “‘You’re a tremendous athlete, a tremendous person, and you’re always going to bounce back.'”

In the third period, the never-say-die Americans cut the lead to 4-2 at 9:57. Defenceman Drew Helleson stepped in off the line with a wrister and with traffic in front, Farinacci snared the rebound and elevated the puck over Askarov.

With under eight minutes to play, Chinakhov stole the puck from Lacombe at the Russian blue line and got a breakaway, but Wolf stared him down.

With Wolf pulled for the extra attacker, Zegras made it 4-3 on the power play with 2:18 left, dinging a perfect shot in off Askarov’s left post. However, Chinakhov added an empty-netter with 21 seconds remaining to cap off Russia’s victory.

It was another great chapter in one of the hottest World Junior rivalries. Until this Christmas Day opener, the ice had tilted in the Americans’ favour recently. The U.S. had won the previous five encounters dating back to 29 December 2016, including a quarter-final win in 2018 (4-2) and semi-final wins in 2017 (4-3 on Troy Terry’s shootout winner) and 2019 (2-1).

Next up, the U.S. faces newly promoted Austria on Saturday, while the Russians take on the Czech Republic on Sunday. Larionov’s team can’t afford complacency. Last year, Russia opened the tournament with a 4-3 loss to the Czechs in front of a happy Ostrava crowd. We’re only just getting started on the road to 2021 gold.

Finns beat undermanned Germany

Finland’s Aku Raty, Mikael Pyyhtia, and Juuso Parssinen celebrate after a second-period goal in their opening 5-3 win over Germany

By Lucas Aykroyd –

Dealing with adversity is the name of the game this year. Finland defeated short-staffed Germany 5-3 in their Christmas Day opener at Edmonton’s Rogers Place.

The gap in talent was as big as the gap on the roster sheet, despite the valiant efforts of German captain Tim Stutzle – the #3 overall pick of the Ottawa Senators in 2020 – and linemate John Peterka. With nine players in Edmonton unavailable, German head coach Tobias Abstreiter iced a skeleton lineup with nine forwards and five defencemen. Stutzle played 26:01, second only on Germany to defenceman Simon Gnyp at 28:53.

“I’m very proud of the effort from from our team,” said Abstreiter. “They really showed great character and unbelievable composure. At the beginning, you saw a little bit of what’s natural, the rust in their bodies, but they came [on] really good in the game.””

German goalie Arno Tiefensee faced relentless Finnish pressure in his World Junior debut. Finnish netminder Kari Piiroinen, whose lone 2020 start was a 7-1 win over Kazakhstan as he backed up Justus Annunen, had an easier outing. The Finns outshot Germany 50-22, including an 18-4 first-period margin.

Aku Raty, Henri Nikkanen, and Topi Niemela chipped in a goal and an assist apiece for Finland. Captain Anton Lundell and Mikael Pyyhtia added singles.

“We had a couple of good practice days before the game, and we felt pretty good,” said Raty.

Stutzle and Florian Elias each had a goal and assist, and Samuel Dube also scored for the Germans, who are hoping to improve on last year’s ninth-place finish.

The Finns are seeking their sixth World Junior gold medal of all time. They last triumphed in Vancouver (2019) on Kaapo Kakko’s late 3-2 winner versus the Americans.

Lundell opened the scoring at 3:38. Roni Hirvonen circled the zone and found Santeri Hattaka down low. Hatakka sent the puck cross-crease to the Finnish captain, who lifted it over Tiefensee. Lundell, 19, currently sits second in Liiga goal-scoring (12) with HIFK Helsinki.

Coach Antti Pennanen’s team made it 2-0 with just 12 seconds left in the first. Tiefensee stopped an onrushing Nikkanen’s shot but lost the puck in his skates, and Aku Raty banged it in. Raty, 19, is the older brother of Aatu Raty, a prospective top pick for the 2021 NHL Draft who did not crack this Finnish roster after a sluggish start with Karpat.

“I think I wasn’t the only one who saw [the loose puck], but I was the first one in there,” said Raty modestly.

At 1:39 of the second period, Mikko Kokkonen’s point shot drifted in in off Pyyhtia to make it 3-0.

Dube, who missed a wide-open net on a German power play, quickly atoned for his error by recovering the puck and spoiling Piiroinen’s shutout hopes at 10:35, cutting the deficit to 3-1.

It was the first time a German had scored on Finland at the World Juniors since 29 December 2010, when Tobias Rieder beat Joni Ortio in a 5-1 loss. (To reinforce how long ago that was, the Pittsburgh Penguins fell 2-1 to the New York Islanders on the same date in Sidney Crosby’s last game before he suffered a concussion from a blindside hit from Washington’s David Steckel in the Winter Classic on 1 January 2011.)

Germany kept coming. On a 2-on-1, Peterka skimmed a cross-ice pass under the stick of top Finnish D-man Ville Heinola to Stutzle, and the 2020 DEL rookie of the year with Adler Mannheim capitalized at 10:35.

“I think those were really cheap goals for them, but it’s the first game,” said Heinola. “We have a lot to learn from this and we have to be better next time.”

Finland, however, had an answer just 1:18 later to squash Germany’s comeback hopes. Niemela stepped in and flung a wrister past Riefensee from the top of the faceoff circles to restore Finland’s two-goal lead.

At 13:52, Nikkanen got lucky on the man advantage when, standing on the goal line, he bounced the puck in off defenceman Jan Munzenberg’s skate to put Finland up 5-2.

In the third period, Elias, unmolested in front, converted his own rebound at 8:13, but that was as close as Germany would get.

“For sure, it’s a tough situation, but in the end we can’t change it,” Stutzle said. “We need to see the positive things, and I think we played a great game today. I’m really proud of the guys.”

All-time, Finland now boasts 12 wins and zero losses versus Germany with a 58-7 total goal difference.

Adversity for the Germans predates their Atlantic crossing. Forward Lukas Reichel, drafted 17th overall by Chicago this year, and goalie Tobias Ancicka, the presumptive starter, were among those who were ruled unavailable back home and did not travel to Edmonton.

In Germany, Abstreiter has either played for or coached teams with nicknames like Cannibals, Mad Dogs, Huskies, and Tigers. The 50-year-old, who appeared at five top-level Worlds and two World Juniors, will need to channel that spirit of aggressive determination if his boys are to earn a quarter-final berth in Edmonton.

Life doesn’t get any easier for Germany, which will battle defending champion Canada on Boxing Day. Finland next faces the Swiss, who lost their opener 1-0 to Slovakia, on Sunday.

“We know that Team Canada will fly in their first game and they’re going to come out really hard,” said Abstreiter. “It’s important for us now that we recover and make tomorrow a step in the right direction.”

Slovaks stun Swiss in ho-ho-hockey Christmas opener

Slovakia celebrates its goal late in the third, the only goal of the game in a 1-0 win over Switzerland

By Andrew Podnieks –

Goals were hard to come by in the opening game of the 2021 World Junior Championship in Edmonton, but in the end Slovakia managed to break a scoreless tie late in the third period to give it a narrow 1-0 victory over the Swiss on Christmas Day.

The lone goal came at 14:17 of the final period when Roman Faith smacked home a loose puck from the slot, beating Thibault Fatton for the victory. Fatton had made a save off a bad-angle shot from Simon Nemec, but he pushed the puck right to Faith in the process.

Slovak goalie Simon Latkoczy ensured the win soon after on a Swiss power play, making a sensational glove save to the back side off a shot by Inaki Baragano, who couldn’t believe the puck didn’t go in. The Slovaks then killed off another power play at the end, diving and blocking shots with abandon. Latkoczy stopped 28 shots for the shutout, while his counterpart, Thibault Fatton stopped all but one of the 32 he faced in his Swiss-team debut.

“I found out yesterday that I would play,” Latkoczy revealed. “It was a pretty tough game. There was that glove save [in the third period] that helped me a lot, but my teammates also blocked a lot of shots for me, so I’m happy for how we played as a team.”

“We took too many penalties in the first period,” lamented Swiss coach Marco Bayer. “We had no flow, no rhythm. We had some chances later in the game, but we have to score. We have to be better in front of their net, play tougher.”

Although no team will be demoted this year, the win goes a long way to helping Slovakia qualify for the quarter-finals on January 2. Both Group A teams now have a day off before retuning to play on 27 December, the Swiss facing Finland in the early game that day and the Slovaks taking on Canada right after.

Christmas is a day for surprises, but Slovak fans were caught off guard when Latkoczy was in the blue ice to start the game. He had no previous IIHF experience with his country while Samuel Hlavaj had been considered the number-one man thanks to having previously played at two U18 and two U20 tournaments.

Latkoczy, however, was stellar in his debut. He was fortunate early on when Raymond Fust blasted a shot off the post in the first, but moments later he stoned Attilio Biasca from the slot.

Slovakia had an impressive opening period. It produced the only three power plays, but despite some good puck movement and possession in the Swiss end the team couldn’t get the game’s first goal.

In the second the Swiss got their skates moving and were the better team, but Latkoczy was rock solid. He made a nice save off Lorenzo Canonica but saved his best for last, robbing captain Simon Knak from in close in the dying seconds to keep the game scoreless after 40 minutes. Knak led all players with eight shots of his team’s 28.

The Slovaks misfired on several good chances of their own, but given their role as underdogs they deserved credit for their play, especially team defence.

Both teams were tentative in the third, and a scoreless tie through 60 minutes seemed imminent–until Faith pounced on that loose puck.

“We had a few chances during the game, but we were waiting for the bigger chances and playing good defence mostly,” Faith noted. “When I came on to the ice for that shift, I skated hard to the net hoping for the rebound, and it came to me.”

Canada beats Russians but loses captain Kirby Dach

Canada celebrates a goal scored by Jamie Drysdale (6) (not pictured) against Russia during third period IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship pre-competition action on Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2020 in Edmonton

By Jim Matheson Edmonton Journal

As a warmup for the real thing, these were two heavy hitters — far from infield practice — a ground ball to the shortstop and over to first for the easy out.

Canada vs Russia, the only exhibition before the world junior championship starts Christmas day, but maybe a prelude to a gold medal game on Jan. 5.

Truthfully, it wasn’t great theatre Wednesday because both teams also needed cans of Rustoleum on the bench along with water bottles after not playing in 10 days since the clubs entered the bubble, but it was still the two teams who met in last year’s final.

Canada won 1-0 on defenceman Jamie Drysdale’s goal early in the third but they also lost their captain Kirby Dach to a freak right hand injury a few minutes later when he went to check Russian forward Ilya Safonov in the middle of the ice and came away shaking his mitt. He appeared to have damaged his wrist.

“He’s gone for X-rays and we don’t have an update yet,” said coach Andre Tourigny, who watched as the Chicago Blackhawks forward immediately skated off the ice and down the tunnel behind the bench with 12 minutes left, leaving his linemates Dylan Cozens and Jack Quinn without their right-winger.

Playing Captain Obvious, if the hand is broken or sprained, it’s a damaging blow.

“Kirby drives the play, he tries to bring everybody into the fight,” said Tourigny. “He plays the right way, doesn’t force the game.”

But they may be forced to play without him, and they can’t just call up FedEx have have another player airlifted in to take his spot.

“I would assume the answer is no. After the teams come to the bubble you can’t add a player … if you could Germany would have brought over a lot of (new) players. My understanding is the moment you quarantine in Edmonton, you can’t bring in new players or staff,” said Tourigny, who watched the Germans shockingly have eight players test positive for Covid as they entered quarantine at their downtown hotel Dec. 13.

The Canadians are deep but Dach is an NHLer, who played about 20 minutes a game for the Hawks in the playoffs this summer. He controlled the play pretty much every shift he was on the ice. But, Tourigny has enough weapons in his gun rack to juggle. Maybe he moves Cozens to right-wing and puts Quinton Byfield in the middle.

Byfield was a force, throwing his 212-pound frame into any body he saw.

If he struggled early in camp, he’s come on and the No. 2 selection in the October draft (Los Angeles) was on the ice in the dying seconds as they held the 1-0 lead.

“Q was really dominant … when we left (camp/quarantine) Red Deer we told him we were really happy the way he was competing and paying attention to detail and how he was trying to get better every day,” said Tourigny.

“When we came to Edmonton, he kept going and he was rock-solid in every practice and got much better. I wasn’t surprised by his performance today and there’s a lot of players we could have had there in the last minute when they pulled their goalie, but there was a message there. He earned it and he’s super coachable.”

Igor Larionov’s Russian juniors won the Karjala Cup in Helsinki against senior men six weeks ago so they should have had less rust than Tourigny’s Canadian side with 15 kids who haven’t played a meaningful game since March. But Tourigny’s team was better, even if there were ebbs to go with the flow in the exhibition as Canadian goalie Devon Levi, picked by Florida Panthers about five minutes before the NHL draft ended in October, matched stops with hotshot Yaroslav Askarov, who went 11th to Nashville.

Levi robbed Russian forward Yegor Chinakov, Columbus’s surprising first-round pick in 2020, as he wheeled in alone with five minutes to play to preserve the perfect game.

“I had some butterflies but I always pictured myself playing in this tourney … and it’s a dream come true. This is still a learning experience as I try to get my feet under me,” said Levi, who doesn’t fit the stereotype of a hi-rise NHL goalie at six-feet, but stood tall against Askarov, who is two inches taller and a rare right-catching tender. Only six of the close to 90 goalies who played NHL games last season, catch right.

“The last one (Chinakov) was a partial breakaway but the read I made he was shooting … he didn’t have enough time to deke because one of our defencemen was coming at him,” said Levi.

“What can I say, he’s calm, that’s for sure … made all the saves, rock back there,” said Drysdale.

It was scoreless heading to the third, 39 shots, 39 saves.

Then, the Russians pulled Askarov as per plan and went to backup Artur Akhtyamov, the Maple Leafs’ fourth-round pick in 2020, and he gave up a seeing-eye goal by first-pairing defenceman Drysdale on the first shot he faced four minutes into the last period.

Levi only faced to 23 shots but never looked in trouble, showing why the coaching staff tabbed him as their No. 1 after camp. He stopped two shots in the last 30 seconds in traffic to leave with a big zero.

“He was very solid … he was composed and confident. I wouldn’t say he made it look easy but it didn’t make it look tougher than it was,” said Tourigny.

This ‘n that: Dylan Garand (Kamloops) was the Canadian backup and Taylor Gauthier (Prince George) didn’t dress, so he’ll be the No. 3 goalie for the tournament, playing if Levi or Garand gets hurt…Nashville first-rounder Philip Tomasino didn’t dress against the Russians. Tomasino’s sitting is testament to how insanely deep the squad is. He was fourth in OHL scoring last season with 100 points.

Czech Republic 6, Slovakia 0

Michal Teply had a goal and an assist, Stanislav Svozil had three helpers and Nick Malik made 14 saves as the Czech Republic thumped Slovakia in pre-tournament action.

« Older posts Newer posts »
Translate »