Having endured a selection process, travel issues, and a quarantine period, all while following strict health protocols, members of the Switzerland and Austria world junior teams were just happy to finally get on the ice and play a game.
It did not matter, the contest didn’t mean anything as the first of four exhibition games scheduled prior to the start of the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship at Rogers Place.
For the players, it was just good to face an opponent again.
“Yeah, it’s nice,” said Austrian forward Tim Harnisch. “It was hard being in quarantine for four days, but it was nice to get back on the ice. I think everybody was looking forward to the game and was excited to play. We competed hard to try and win and unfortunately, we weren’t able to do that.”
Switzerland won the first exhibition game 3-2 against Austria, who feature Minnesota Wild first-round pick – ninth overall – Marco Rossi on its roster.
Gaetan Jobin, Inaki Baragano and Lionel Marchand scored for Switzerland. Mathias Bohm and Leon Wallner countered for Austria, who went 0-for-8 on the power play.
“It was pretty exciting, the whole team was looking forward to that first game and I think we did a pretty good job,” said Switzerland forward Simon Knak. “It was the first step to get a good start in the tournament, and for our first game on the 25th, we want to keep on doing the same things that we did (Tuesday).”
Switzerland opens the tournament on Christmas Day against Slovakia, while Austria faces the United States on Boxing Day in its opening game.
“They were very excited to play,” said Austria head coach Roger Bader. “They were very excited after four days in quarantine in the hotel room to get on the ice for practice and now they are even more excited to play a game. This is what the players want to be doing.”
Austria is grouped with Russia, Sweden, the United States and the Czech Republic. Switzerland is in the group with Canada, Finland, Slovakia and Germany, who are currently still in quarantine after having eight players test positive for COVID-19 after arriving in Edmonton.
“It was awesome for them to play a game,” said Switzerland coach Marco Bayer. “It’s been a long time for them, we’ve just been practicing and they haven’t been with the national team since the summer. For all the guy, all the players, it was really nice to come back and play some games.”
“It was OK, because we rolled four lines and everyone had short shifts, so the legs were good,” Bohm said. “It took a few minutes to get into the game but I think we did OK.”
Switzerland used two goaltenders in the game with Thibault Fatton and Noah Patenaude splitting the duties. Fatton made 13 saves and Patenaude made nine saves. Sebastian Wraneschitz went the distance for Austria, stopping 25 shots.
“We took too many penalties, that’s for sure,” Bayer said. “You can’t play international games like that. If you take that many penalties, usually you’re going to lose the game. But I think the guys did a pretty good job because on the other side they have a really good team from Austria, so we respect that and it’s good for the guys to win the game. That was a positive thing. We learn from that and we keep going forward.”
After the game, Austria was lamenting its inability to score on the power play. Austrian centre Marco Kasper had what will likely be the miss of the tournament, unable to bury the puck into an open net, sliding it across the crease behind Patenaude instead.
“I’m quite happy how my team competed in the game,” Bader said. “I think we were able to skate with the Swiss team and we had a lot of quality scoring chances. Maybe the reason we could not win is that we couldn’t score on the power play. We had a lot of power plays and a couple of five-on-threes and we could not score. I think if we could have scored there, we could have won the game.”
Cole Caufield (Stevens Point, Wis.) scored twice and Trevor Zegras (Bedford, N.Y.) added two assists to propel the U.S. National Junior Team to a 3-2 victory over Finland tonight in its first and only pre-tournament game ahead of the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship.
“I thought tonight was good overall, I thought some guys were a little tight in the first 10 minutes but that’s what these pre-tournaments games are for,” said head coach Nate Leaman (Providence, R.I.). “I’m glad we played Finland, they’re a really good team, and we found some things that we’re good at and they showed us some of our weaknesses. It’s important we had this game tonight to help us prepare for the next step in the tournament.”
Finland got off to an early lead, scoring on the power play 1:26 into the contest. The U.S. evened the game with a power play goal of its own with just :06 left in the opening period when Arthur Kaliyev (Staten Island, N.Y.) slid the puck past Finland netminder Kari Piiroinen from out in front, after receiving a slick feed from Matthew Boldy (Millis, Mass.). The U.S. had the final 13 shots of the opening stanza, aided by four power plays in the second half of the period.
Caufield scored goals :25 apart in the first 1:39 of the second period to stake the U.S. to a 3-1 lead. He struck first with a one-timer delivered from Zegras, and then followed with a backhander into the upper corner as he peeled around the side of net. Jake Sanderson (Whitefish, Mont.) collected the puck at the blue line, making a great to play to push the puck ahead to Caufield. Finland scored on the power play at 8:23 in what would be the game’s final goal.
Dustin Wolf (Gilroy, Calif.), who played the second half of the game in net for Team USA, stopped all six shots he faced in the final frame to preserve the U.S. lead. Spencer Knight (Darien, Conn.) started the game and made seven saves on nine shots, including back-to-back scoring chances prior to yielding the net to Wolf.
The U.S. will open play in the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship against Russia on Friday (Dec. 25) with puck drop scheduled for 9:30 p.m. ET. The game will be broadcast live on NHL Network.
In 2000, Ukrainian striker Danylo Didkovsky moved from Sokol Kiev to Spanish Club CH Jaca. Danylo continues to work in Spanish hockey. He is the technical director of Barcelona. In an interview with our site, Danylo Didkovsky spoke about his career, the popularity of hockey in Spain and who are the local players look up to.
Tell us about how you ended up in Spain?
It happened in 2000. I was invited to Spain by Sergei Zemchenko, a former hockey player, now a coach. I think that many people know him – he played in “Sokol”. Recently he worked as a trainer at Severstal (KHL) and was a assistant at Almaz (MHL). At that time Sergei worked as a coach of the local club “CH Jaca” and he told me to come to Spain to play if I had no other proposals. Then at the very last moment Germany fell through. So I came to CH Jaca. I thought it was for a couple of years, but it turned out that I am still in Spain.
In Spain you played for two teams?
Yes, the first team was CH Jaca, which I have already mentioned. The second is Barcelona. In 2008, I was invited there by Evgeny Semeriak, a famous hockey player who played for Dynamo Riga in the Soviet Union. For three seasons, I was just a player, then I became a player coach, then I became the head coach, and now I work as the technical director.
Barcelona’s team photo in the 2008/2009 championship season
Do you only work for Barcelona – is this your main job?
Yes, I only do hockey.
What happened in the 2007/08 season? ( according to statistical sites Danylo Didkovsky did not play that season)
I started that season at CH Jaca, but because of problems with the Ice rink, we played only six weeks, our club was removed and the statistics were not counted.
In the 2016/2017 season, you again took to the ice with the Catalan team?
Yes. I continued to train and played a couple of decisive games. I also Coached the team.
What was the feeling of playing on the same team with your son?
During training, I try to treat him like everyone else, and not my son. That is, there are more expectations than from other players. Sometimes it happened that he was offended and asked why you yell at me more than at some of the local players (lol). We didn’t really intersect on the ice, so I didn’t really feel it.
Danil Didkovsky with his son Stanislav
An incident occurred in the first round of this season of the Spanish Championship?
Yes, it happened in Majadahonda, in the suburbs of Madrid. We went out on the ice and it turned out that during the Spanish anthem, the grandmother of one of the hockey players felt sick. She was reanimated right in front of everyone in the stands. For 10 minutes we tried to bring her to her senses, but she did not react. Everyone was in shocked. Moreover, this person was a close relative of one of the hockey players who did not have parents. By mutual agreement, it was decided to postpone this game to February, And this grandmother, unfortunately, died a day or two later, she had a heart attack.
And last year in Barcelona in the pre-qualification for the Olympic Games, the ice began to melt.
In Barcelona, the skating rink is from the 1980s and it turns out that before the tournament it was melting it was necessary to impose markings and logos of the organizers. In some places where the ice was not frozen enough. There was a “hole” in the middle of the ice, it was not possible to freeze it, so the game was postponed to January.
Were there any consequences?
No, Spain and the Netherlands were not to blame here. The Dutch just had to visit us twice. In any case, it was clear that they were stronger than the Spaniards, so they beat them, but our guys put up a good a fight (on January 8, 2020, the Netherlands beat Spain with a score of 5: 3)
Compare the level of hockey in Spain with Portugal and France?
As far as I know, there is no hockey in Portugal. At least I haven’t heard about it. And speaking of France, we have had a joint youth league with them in the U13 and U15 categories. From France there were teams from southern cities, from Spain there were clubs from the northern part of the country. There is no difference at this age. Everyone knows that France used to play in the elite division. They have professional teams that show high level hockey. Their players train 5-6 times and play 2-3 games a week – this is the main difference from our championship. We have one game a week and a maximum of two or three trainings.
Danil Didkovsky coaches Barcelona U16
There is one league in Spain. Right?
Yes. Liga Nacional de Hockey Hielo . In the best years, the number of teams were eight, and now there are only five teams. The Federation is trying to increase the numbers, but so far there is no comprehensive approach to this. There is no interest from the state to build new ice rinks.
Earlier in the championship there was a team “Milenio Lograno”, which was losing to absolutely everyone. Does such a club make sense?
I think it makes sense when it comes to the long-term perspective. Today they have children’s teams in the cities of Vitoria and Pamplona, but they have no adult teams. They prepare players for under 18, and then they either have to end their careers or move to other cities. Making an adult team and adding up to five foreigners is a very good idea and would be stronger teams. However, this requires perspective and patience. If you do this for three to five years, it would be a big expense. Nobody wants to do this, except for a few enthusiasts. The team will stay for a year and fall apart. Now in the championship there are five clubs that are more or less stable, and these clubs have an interest from the cities.
How has the popularity of ice hockey changed in Spain during your stay?
By the way, I recently talked about this topic with people whom I have known for many years. Interest will goes up, then it goes down . Roughly the popularity has remained the same. The rural towns of Jaca and Puigcerda have high attendance for games prior to the coronavirus. This makes me happy. Then there are three clubs in Madrid, San Sebastian and Barcelona. It depends on the success of the club. If the season was successful, then yes, the stands will be filled. If not, then there very few people in the stands. In general, I think that the interest in hockey in all cities is the same.
Are there many more people in Barcelona who do not know that there is a club in their city that plays hockey?
Most of them. I think that about 20-30 percent know about the existence of Barcelona playing hockey. It happens that foreigners who have been working in the city for three or four years, or local residents, hear from someone that there is a hockey Barcelona in the city and are surprised, they say, “We hear about this all the time.” Everyone knows about basketball, which is played in the same Blaugrana sports palace, but not about hockey.
Danil Didkovskiy accepts congratulations after Barcelona U16 win in the playoffs in the 2015/2016 season
Are Barcelona hockey players paid?
Barça pays, but only the best players. In my opinion, six hockey players are paid this season. We have foreigners who come to study or work and do not get anything for playing hockey. We have a young team, the average age is 22 years old and the bulk are students.
How did the situation with COVID-19 affect Spanish hockey?
Due to the coronavirus, the number of foreigners has decreased, and the budget has been cut for clubs.
Does Spain have a women’s hockey league?
Yes, and the most interesting thing is that it has more teams than the men’s league.
Who do Spanish hockey players look up to?
If we talk about people from Czech, Canadian and Russian families, then they are equal to the NHL players. Of course, the locals are also watched.
Do you think Rafael Diaz is the most famous hockey player in Spain?
I’m sure that few people know Rafael Diaz. I think it depends on the generation. Now hearing Ander Alcaine – a good goalkeeper who managed to play in the Magnus League and even won a playoff in the “Briançon”. He is not currently playing. At one time, he went to a training camp in Toronto. If we compare him with others, then we can say that he achieved high results. About 20 years ago, when I played, there were also excellent hockey players who showed decent hockey in France.
How would you rate the game of the Spanish national team?
Youth hockey has grown. Over the past 10 years, the geography of youth teams has expanded, hence the competition. There was a mass good results of the teams under 18 and 20 years old. The progress is visible. For Spain, it is a huge plus that a good generation is growing up. The Spaniards are scattered all over the world, like Rafael Diaz. The federation is gradually bringing players with Spanish citizenship to the national team. In this regard, the federation began to work harder.
For the last two years Spain U20 has retained its position only thanks to one victory.
I think that there is simply not enough experience. I just went to the last youth world championship when Spain was playing and watched the games. There is literally not enough experience and understanding that every mistake at this level is punished. In any case, we keep our position by winning one game is a good result. We have been playing at this level for only a couple of years, and now the task is only to gain a foothold. While we will not make plans for the future, Spain is neither Canada nor Russia, which can recruit three teams. Much depends on how lucky you are with the younger generation. This is about the same as the Belgium national football team. Now they have a good line-up, and the last time was in 1986.
Spain U18 celebrates Division IIB victory in 2017/2018
Who do you think, should Spain follow the example of Romania, South Korea or Kazakhstan and start naturalizing hockey players?
I don’t think it’s necessary. I talked about this topic. The only thing is that there are foreigners who settled in Spain, have been playing here for a long time, and do not plan to leave, why not give them a chance to prove themselves on the national team. You can find people with Spanish roots in North America, but they will play in the third division, not at the top level. There is no sense in this, since the federation itself does not set high goals, because our league is semi-professional. If this is done in a comprehensive manner, as it is done in South Korea, where the level of hockey has been raised, or in China, where money has also been invested, then it makes sense.
Previously, Barcelona was invited to international tournaments. How are things now?
There have been no invitations lately. We had a chance to go to Continental Cup in Iceland, as we won the regular season. However, due to the coronavirus, this could not be done.
Does participation in the Continental Cup help develop Spanish ice hockey?
First of all, winning the Spanish Championship is an incentive for local players. A professional hockey player has his own incentives, including his salary. For our players, this translates into trips to the Continental Cup. The guys strive for this and this is a good in terms of development.
Puigcerda celebrated a playoff victory near the sea. How is the championship celebrated in Spain and are the players getting any prize money?
They won just in San Sebastian, left the ice rink and went with the cup to the beach. They are great guys. When Barcelona last won the championship we were invited to the Camp Nou, we sat in the box and went out onto the field with the cup. It was interesting.
Is there any interest from the audience to the games of the championship and national teams?
The games of the local championship are broadcast, they are shown on TV. Definitely, The final part of the playoffs was also broadcast. The spectators go to the decisive games, I think, like everywhere else. And when the national team plays, and often there are tournaments held in Spain, the stands are filled up at these games.
Last season, Serbia won in all age categories.
The same thing happened with Spain in 2017. It was a real triumph then. The adults, U20, U18, even the girls won back then, but that didn’t change anything. In any case, such successes of the national teams cannot but rejoice.
Russia won their home tournament of the Euro Hockey Tour. After beating Finland 5-1 today the Russians stayed undefeated.
After Czech Republic had beaten Sweden earlier today it was known that the winner of Russia and Finland would win the Channel One Cup. In case of overtime, Russia would win it since they had two points more than Finland in the standings. Russia took the lead in the first period when Vadim Shipachyov scored on a delayed penalty.
In the second period the show belonged to Dmitri Voronkov who scored 2-0 and 3-0 before Harri Pesonen scored the first and only Finnish goal on a breakaway after a mistake by Andrei Chibisov.
Russia added two goals late in the third period. Pavel Karnaukhov scored an empty-netter before Andrei Kuzmenko got his third goal of the tournament.
Czech Republic took many penalties in the first period against Sweden and Sweden took the lead on a PP goal by Jonathan Berggren. Czechs had the better team and score four unanswered goals by Radan Lenc, Matej Blümel, Daniel Gazda and Pavel Pycha.
#WATCH: Did you know that there’s a national Lebanese women’s hockey team right here in Montreal? The country assembled its first team in la belle province. We’ll introduce you to Lea Salem, one of the team’s players. More tonight at 6pm. pic.twitter.com/5NxKxvcrFY
“It’s like putting my Canadian side and my Lebanese side together,” Lea Salem, a player for the Lebanese Women’s National Ice Hockey Team told CityNews.
“Also in Lebanon, it’s not really a common sport, hockey there. So I want to represent the country with hockey.
“It makes me proud to be able to represent my country and my roots.”
For Lea and others, playing hockey for the national team of their country of origin gives them a great sense of pride – but also means breaking barriers, and showing the world that hockey isn’t just for men.
Ralph Melki, Vice President of Hockey Operations of the federation said that although hockey isn’t very popular in Lebanon, they were able to recruit 68 female players with Lebanese heritage across North America.
“Why not? I mean if you look into any other nations all over the world, most of them have a men’s and women’s team – the diaspora here in Montreal is a big diaspora that we have, there’s a lot of women and girls playing hockey,” Melki told CityNews.
#WATCH: “Seeing that those girls are playing the sport in Canada & they’re performing, & they’re doing very well at it, why not mix both cultures,” says Ralph Melki, VP Hockey Operations, Lebanese Ice Hockey Federation – they have a women’s team in Montreal. More at 6. pic.twitter.com/4ldWxwrFwh
“I’m very proud because I’m able to represent my home, my real home, and my real nationality and this is something very important for me,” another player, Zahra Dahnoun said.
#WATCH: “I’m very proud because I’m able to represent my home,” says Zahra Dahnoun, who plays for the Lebanese women’s national hockey team, based in Montreal. Tune in for more at 6. pic.twitter.com/8XKvl7EmzI
“I feel like everyone thinks that women aren’t allowed to play hockey, or they’re bad or not as good as men,” Salem added.
“But I feel like some girls could be better. I played on boy’s teams and sometimes I was better, sometimes I was worse, but you always have to put those comments aside and play your best when you’re on the ice.”
Although the girls came from different cities and played at different levels, they all can’t wait to get back on the ice and train as a team when COVID-19 restrictions allow.
“Seeing that those girls are playing the sport in Canada – and they’re performing – and they’re doing very well at it, why not mixing both cultures if you want to say, mixing the Lebanese culture with the Canadian culture, and bring people together,” Melki said.
On the first day of the EHT tournament Channel One Cup in Moscow Finland beat Czech Republic and Russia beat Sweden in overtime.
In the first game of Channel One Cup Finland beat the Czechs 4-3. Finland got an early lead at 3:16 when Tony Sund approached the net from behind and put the puck past the Czech netminder Dominik Furch. Even if the game was close Finland was in the lead almost the entire game. Lukas Jasek tied it on a deflection at 12:10 in his first game for the national team but Finland regained the lead a few minutes later when Mikael Ruohomaa scored on a beautiful pass from Jere Karjalainen.
With a deflection Karjalainen then increased the lead two minutes into the middle period but just a few seconds later Dominik Lakatos fired a nice shot to make it 3-2. The Finnish power-play made the difference today and Otso Rantakari scored 4-2 with a heavy shot from the left wing with a man more on the ice. The Czechs got closer once again when Dmitrij Jaskin made it 4-3 from between the circles on a 2-man-advantage at 34:46 but the final 25 minutes of the game saw no more goals and Finland won the game.
The second game of the day was also a close one where Russia finally beat Sweden 4-3 after a shootout where Andrei Kuzmenko got the winner.
Sweden was in the lead twice. After a scoreless first period Pontus Åberg got his first goal for Tre Kronor with a bit of luck. The shot from Klas Dahlbäck touched a defender and then bounced off Åberg’s back past Alexander Samonov in Russia’s net. Andrei Kuzmenko tied it ten minutes later after a stunning passing combination with Ivan Morozov and Yegor Yakovlev.
Emil Pettersson took back the lead for Sweden at 46:36 but Nikita Soshnikov and Vadim Shipachyov scored in the middle of period three to take Russia ahead. Sweden tied it again with 4:27 remaining of regulation when Emil Larsson scored on a rebound.
After an overtime period with not much of action the game was decided in a shootout where Nikita Soshnikov and Andrei Kuzmenko scored for Russia while Emil Larsson got the only Swedish goal.
The tournament continues on Saturday with the games Finland – Sweden and Russia – Czech Republic
By Uttaran Dasgupta and Anindita Ghoshi – Tennessee Tribune
High up in the Indian Himalayas is Shimla — a scenic colonial town established by the British in 1864 as their summer capital. With cool weather throughout the year and icy temperatures in winter, Shimla was the perfect place for the British to set up an ice skating rink in 1920.
This winter marks its 100th year.
“When we were young, we used to sling our skates around our shoulders and walk from the Mall Road to the rink feeling like the cat’s whiskers all the way,” said 81-year-old Y.P. Gupta, an erstwhile architect of the Public Works Department who still indulges in his passion for skating now and then. “At that time it was a matter of pride to be an ice-skater. Now it has changed; youngsters still come but not like before.”
Gupta is one of the oldest skaters at the skating rink and is eagerly looking forward to this year’s skating season.
“For me, the passion to skate remains the same,” says Gupta. “I still wake up early during the skating season and never miss an early morning session at the rink.”
According to a book, “Simla-the Summer Capital of British India” written by Shimla-based historian and writer Raaja Bhasin, the rink was originally a tennis court. Shimla was called ‘Simla’ in colonial times.
Bhasinhas written several books covering British rule in Himachal Pradesh, the state where Shimla is situated.
In his book, Bhasin writes, “during the month of November in 1920 a Britisher, Mr Blessington saw drops of frozen water from a tap in the vicinity of the tennis court. People who lived around the area also complained about frozen water pipes, which led to a shortage of water supply during the winters. Mr. Blessington took this opportunity and converted the tennis court into a ground filled with water, which froze over-night under the clear sky. This marked the establishment of Shimla’s ice skating rink (sic).”
The book mentions that the ice skating rink is unique since it is functional only when it freezes naturally during winter, which makes it one of a kind.
“Most other ice skating rinks in the south Asian region are not natural. They remain functional all year because an optimum temperature is artificially maintained for skating,” said Bhasin to Zenger News.
The open-air Shimla ice skating rink remains frozen naturally because of its location in a sun-less spot, which records freezing temperature in winter.
The night before a skating session, a staff member of the skating rink sprays water across the open field, which sets into ice. With repeated sprays of water, the ice sheet grows thicker. After about five sprays, the ice layer is about 15 centimeters thick and ready for skaters.
An undated photo of the Simla Ice Skating Club
Today, the ice skating rink is a matter of great pride for Shimla residents, however, there was a time when it was out of bounds for non-Europeans.
“The club that ran the rink originally had 30 members, and all of them were Europeans. Indians during the British rule were not allowed to become a part of the club,” Bhasin writes in his book.
Bhavneesh Banga, the current secretary ofSimla Ice Skating Clubsaid that the facilities in the rink are old, but they have been working on the new remodeling plan that includes expansion of the original field and a covered rink. The plan also includes the installation of better field lights and seating.
The ice skating rink in Shimla received funding from the Indian Government in 2019 for expansion and remodeling, to bring it up to international standards. But due to the pandemic, much of the funding has been withdrawn for the time being.
“The work on the expansion was in progress till March but because of the lockdown we had to put it on hold.”
The administration hopes to host national ice-skating and ice hockey championships after the remodeling. The events were earlier hosted in an artificial skating rink in Gurugram near Delhi.
“At present, the rink in Shimla lacks the infrastructure to host big events” says Banga.
This season the Estonian women’s national team was scheduled to stage its comeback in the IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship program.
Unfortunately, the Covid-19 pandemic scratched these plans with most international ice hockey tournaments from the IIHF and its member nations cancelled. However, the hopes of the Estonians are still alive to make women’s ice hockey bigger in the country.
The Estonian women’s national team played internationally in 2007 and 2008 but then disappeared when women’s ice hockey was in a decline after the financial crisis and most teams in the country disappeared.
Things changed in 2016 when the Estonians joined the educational program at an IIHF Women’s High-Performance Camp and organized the country’s first World Girls’ Ice Hockey Weekend with many new players but also some who were national team players many years earlier.
In the meantime, Estonia has again a women’s ice hockey championship and will this year also have a team that will compete against Latvian and Lithuanian club teams as the three countries join forces with a Baltic League.
With a growing program and a national championship in place, the Estonians were ready for their international comeback and had the first national team camp in August. The women’s national team would have played in the lowest tier of the IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship, not far from home in Kaunas against host Lithuania, Ukraine, Belgium, Romania, Bulgaria, Hong Kong and Bosnia & Herzegovina.
While their comeback in an official IIHF tournament will have to wait a bit longer than expected due to the pandemic, the team continues to work on its comeback and on a documentary “On Silver Heels” about the story of the national team’s comeback.
When the topic is international hockey, Team Sweden is almost always in the middle of the conversation. One of the top teams to watch year in and year out, the Swedes have earned a medal in 5 out of the last 10 World Junior Championships. Last year’s tournament saw themfinish with a bronze medal, with Vancouver Canucks prospect Nils Hoglander, LA Kings prospect Samuel Fagemo, and Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Rasmus Sandin leading the way.
The third-winningest nation in World Junior history, Sweden will look to compete for their 20th medal this year. While none of the above names will be returning this year, the Swedes have a plethora of young talent that will make them an interesting group to keep an eye on heading into this year’s tourney. They haven’t won a gold medal since 2012, and even though medals in two of the last three tournaments are impressive, it’s obviously not the end goal for the young guns representing their country.
The Swedes will have a tough division this year, competing with Russia, the United States, and the Czech Republic for ground in Group B. With a division as stacked as this one, it’s really going to be a matter of who gets hot at the right time and who keeps the momentum the longest. With that being said, let’s have a look at who could potentially make up Sweden’s roster.
The Swedes might have the easiest decision of all the teams when it comes to who will be in between the pipes. Tampa Bay Lightning prospect and 2020 WJC standout Hugo Alnefelt will be returning to the team a year older this year. He made a name for himself at last year’s tournament, starting in all six games and finishing with a record of 5-1-0, a goals against average of 2.12, and a save percentage of .921.
Hugo Alnefelt with an incredible stop!
Vasily Podkolzin set up Kirill Marchenko for a gimme but the Swedish netminder had other ideas. #WorldJuniors
He isn’t off to a great start this year, mustering a record of 4-6-0 with a GAA of 3.04 and a SV% of .904 through 10 games for HV71 of the SHL. But either way, he was a crucial part of last year’s team so there’s no reason they should give the job to anybody else.
If the Swedes’ starting goalie is a shoo-in, then it’s probably worth mentioning that their backup is as well. 2021 NHL Draft prospect Jesper Wallstedt is having a monster start to the 2020-21 SHL season, putting up a record of 4-2-0 with a GAA of 1.93 and a SV% of .924 through six games.
The 18 year-old may find himself in the same conversation as goalies like Ilya Samsonov, Spencer Knight, and Yaroslav Askarov, all of whom were taken in the first round of their respective drafts. The only reason he’ll likely back up Alnefelt is because of his age and what Alnefelt did for the team last year. But at the very least, this will give Wallstedt a chance to learn and step into that starting role next year. And if the elder goalie falters, he’ll have an opportunity to step up and shine.
Behind Alnefelt and Wallstedt, the Swedes will likely opt for Penguins prospect Calle Clang (what a name) to man the third-string position, which is really too bad, because he’s putting together a pretty solid season himself. Clang has a record of 3-4-0 with a GAA of 1.95 and a SV% of .935 through seven games with Kristianstads IK of the Allsvenskan league. If he were representing any other nation, he may have a chance to have a backup or even a starting gig. Either way, goaltending appears to be an area of strength for Sweden.
While the Swedes will miss Rasmus Sandin, who took home defenseman of the tournament honours, and Rangers prospect Nils Lundkvist this year, they’ve got returnees who will look to step into bigger roles. Right off the bat, Sweden has three returning names on the back end that will jump right out at you.Philip Broberg, Victor Soderstrom, and Tobias Bjornfot. They were drafted ninth, 11th, and 22nd overall in 2019 by the Edmonton Oilers, Arizona Coyotes, and Kings respectively.
Philip Broberg vs Finland at the 2019 World Juniors
They have a number of options to round out the top four. One of them is Detroit Red Wings prospect Albert Johansson, who was drafted in the second round of the 2019 draft. He recently emerged as one of the Wings’ top prospects and is off to a solid start with Farjestad BK of the SHL, putting up seven points in 19 games thus far.
Another is Philadelphia Flyers’ second rounder Emil Andrae, who is a short but tough offensive defenseman who is teammates with Hugo Alnefelt. An additional option for the top four is Kings’ second rounder Helge Grans, who stands at 6-foot-3 and shoots right. He has six points in 13 games for the Malmo Redhawks of the SHL so far.
Assuming these three round out the top six, other options I have for the Swedes’ back end include Red Wings prospect William Wallinder, who’s 6-foot-4 and may be one of the better skaters in the group. Then there’s another Red Wings prospect in Gustav Berglund, who was taken in the sixth round of the 2019 draft.
Other options include Columbus Blue Jackets prospect Eric Hjorth, who’s naturally right-handed, and Winnipeg Jets prospect Anton Johannesson, who’s smooth but has missed much of the past two seasons with an injury. They could also consider Simon Edvinsson, a 6-foot-4 17-year-old who’s projected to go in the first round of the 2021 NHL Draft.
In my mind, the top three defensemen are guaranteed, and the bottom three are all but guaranteed. Any of the guys I listed could make the team barring an impressive selection camp, which is why camp exists in the first place.
The Swedes will be losing two of their top goal scorers from last year, as Samuel Fagemo and Nils Hoglander are both too old to return this year. It would appear as though they’re passing the torch to one particular line from last year.New Jersey Devils seventh overall pick Alexander Holtz, New York Rangers second-rounder Karl Henriksson, and Red Wings fourth overall pick Lucas Raymond will all be returning from last year and will likely be relied upon for the bulk of the Swedes’ offense.
Alexander Holtz with Djurgardens IF
After those three, there are a lot of new faces. You can probably expect to see New York Islanders’ first-rounder Simon Holmstrom and Carolina Hurricanes’ second-rounder Noel Gunler make up the wings on the second line.Holmstrom’s development has been rocky to start, spending last season in the AHL as an 18-year-old and returning to Sweden to play in their second-tier league this year.
His numbers in the Allsvenskan league aren’t eye-popping, mustering two points through 11 games with HC Vita Hasten. A World Junior campaign in the presence of players his age could be just what he needs to get going. Meanwhile, Gunler’s split time between Lulea HF and Brynas IF of the SHL, posting a combined five points through 16 games.
While we’re on the topic of Hurricanes prospects, Zion Nybeck is another name to keep an eye on. The 5-foot-8 forward has spent this year between the SHL and the J20 league. Then there’s also Elmer Soderblom, another Red Wings prospect who towers at 6-foot-7 and 227 pounds. You can expect to see him in the top nine if Sweden’s brass likes the idea of having that imposing frame to compliment Nybeck.
Another couple of names you can expect to see up the middle include Canucks prospect Arvid Costmar and Red Wings prospect Theodor Niederbach. Both have been relatively quiet to start their respective SHL seasons, Costmar with Linkoping HC and Niederbach with Frolunda HC. Both of these prospects have thrived in the time they’ve spent in the J20 league, which could be a telling tale to how they perform against guys their own age.
Then there’s Red Wings prospect Albin Grewe, who could fill a fourth-line role due to the edge to his game. Another player you could expect to see suit up is William Eklund, a 2021 draft prospect who’s off to a sizzling start in the SHL. He has 12 points in 16 games for Djurgardens IF thus far. And rounding out the rest of the players I have competing for a bottom-six role include Anaheim Ducks prospect Albin Sundsvik, Florida Panthers prospect Emil Heineman, and Washington Capitals prospect Oskar Magnusson.
The Swedes have a very young team that will, as per usual, be built from the net out. Goaltending is clearly their strength, and while guys like Alexander Holtz and Lucas Raymond will likely lead the way up front, there are lots of players who have never seen World Junior hockey before.
The defense looks to be strong as well, with three returning players and three NHL prospects likely to round out the top six. Sharing a division with the U.S., Russia, and Czech Republic won’t be an easy task, but their top dogs have a chance to break out and help Sweden take home a medal for the second year in a row and the third time in four years.
As time has gone on, Finland has continually shown that it is one of the premier hockey countries. Regularly producing NHL talent such as Miro Heiskanen, Aleksander Barkov, Pekka Rinne, Patrik Laine and so on, Finland has always been one to watch at the World Juniors.
Since competing in their first World Junior Hockey Championship back in 1974, Finland has gone on to win five gold medals, four silver medals and six bronze medals for a total of 15 medals. With their most recent gold coming in 2019 after beating the United States in the finals, the Finns will be looking for redemption after a disappointing finish at last year’s tournament.
They had a decent start to the tournament and ended up finishing third in Group A behind Canada and Sweden. They advanced to the quarterfinals where they pulled off the massive upset over the United States with the only goal in the game being scored by winger Joonas Oden and advanced to the quarterfinals where they went up against a dominant Canada squad. They were outplayed and ended up losing 5-2. Fans were optimistic that they could win the bronze against Sweden but ended up going home without a medal.
The Finns find themselves in Group A this year, where they will be going up against the likes of Canada, Switzerland, Germany and Slovakia in round-robin action. Compared to Group B, Group A has a lot less firepower when it comes to potentially upsetting the top teams such as Finland and Canada. I expect Finland to have a great tournament this year and see them making a long run as they have some serious talent again this year.
Finland will have to rely on a new goalie this year. Two of the three goalies on last year’s roster (Justus Annunen and Jasper Partikainen) will not be returning and this will hurt the Finns a lot. Last year, Colorado Avalanche prospect Annunen was one of thebest goalies in the tournament. While his 2-4-0 record may be deceiving, he managed to put up a .916 save percentage (SV%) and a 2.65 goals-against average (GAA). His best game, in my opinion, was against the United States where he stood on his head numerous times.
This year, the starting role for Finland will most likely go to Pittsburgh Penguins 2020 second-round draft pick Joel Blomqvist. Drafted 52nd overall, he has spent this season playing for Karpat of the Liiga and Hermes of the Mestis. In eight games for Hermes, he has put together a record of 2-3-3 to go along with a 2.87 GAA and a .896 SV%. In two games for Karpat, he has gone 2-0-0 with a 1.50 GAA and a .914 SV%.
While Blomqvist may be younger than some of the other options in net for Finland, it ishis athletic abilitythat has some people giving him the nod to start for the Finns in net this year. He is rarely caught out of position and is outstanding at tracking pucks through traffic. He moves well in his net and can make acrobatic saves look easy when needed.
The backup role will most likely go to former Windsor Spitfires goaltender Kari Piiroinen. The 19-year old has been playing for TUTO Hockey in the Mestis on loan from Tappara of the Liiga. In 13 games this season, he has put together a 6-2-5 record to go with a 2.28 GAA and a .924 SV%. Piiroinen moves really well in his net as well. He is very good at not letting out rebounds and while he may not be the biggest goalie at 6-foot-1, he is more than capable of making up for it with his athletic ability. If Blomqvist falters even one bit, I would not be surprised to see Piiroinen given the reins.
The third goalie that could make the roster is 18-year old Rasmus Korhonen who has been playing for Assat U20 of the U20 SM-sarja. He has been impressive this season, putting up a 1.89 GAA and a .934 SV% in nine games. He is massive, standing at 6-foot-5 and is very fluid in his net. While he probably won’t see playing time this year, he could make some noise in the coming years.
Finland will be losing some big names such as Lassi Thomson and Anttoni Honka but will be more than capable to fill their roles with returning players and new faces ready for their shot. One returning player who will make a big impact is Winnipeg Jets prospect Ville Heinola. A great puck mover andoffensive player, Heinola has been on loan to Lukko of the Liiga where he put one goal and 12 assists for 13 points in 16 points.
Ville Heinola, Winnipeg Jets
Another player that could see big minutes for Finland is Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Topi Niemala. He didn’t make the team last year but will get a great opportunity to see a lot of playing time this time around. A great puck-moving defenseman who sees the ice really well, he has collected three assists in eight games for Karpat of the Liiga and four points in six games for Karpat U20 in the U20 SM-sarja.
The other defensemen that could round out the roster will be Mikko Kokkonen (TOR), Antti Tuomisto (DET), Eemil Viro (DET) and Kalle Loponen (TOR). Kokkonen, athird-round pickby the Maple Leafs in 2019, has always been a great skater. He moves the puck really well and is able to skate himself out of danger when need be. Some people expect him to see a lot of power-play time this year and he has proven that he is able to be trusted with that responsibility this season.
Tuomisto, a second-round pick of the Red Wings in 2019, is another player who could be relied upon toplay big minutesand see some power-play time. While he has not suited up in a game during the 2020-21 season with the University of Denver, he had a great 2018-19 season where he collected 49 points in 48 games with Assat U20 of the Jr. A SM-liiga.
Eemil Viro of Team Finland
Viro and Loponen, a possible third pairing, are two players who may not see a boatload of ice time but will see very relied upon to make an impact. Viro, a 2020 third-round pick of the Red Wings, has three assists in 14 games for TPS of the Liiga. He skates well and really turns the puck over, averaging only one giveaway a game. Loponen, a seventh-round pick of the Leafs in 2019, has gotten off to a great start for Karpat U20 as he has 15 points in 20 games from the backend. He has a hard, accurate shot and certainly knows how to use it.
The offense this year is really going to be where team Finland shines. With top eligible players in this upcoming draft and high-end NHL prospects ready to go, this team is going to very deep and dangerous. One of the top players for them is going to be2020 first-round pickAnton Lundell who has gotten off to a blazing start with HIFK in the Liiga where he has scored 11 goals and eight assists for 19 points in 15 games. Pair him with two talented players like Patrik Puistola (CAR) and Kasper Simontaival (LAK) and that is a deadly top line.
Anton Lundell of IFK Helsinki
Another storyline that will be interesting to watch for is how much of an impact the younger players, more specifically the 2021 NHL Draft eligibles, can make for this team. One of the top players eligible for the draft is Aatu Raty. Although his stock has taken a hit since the start of the season, he will still be relied upon to play a big role for the Finns and he could slot in as the second-line center.
Two other names to keep an eye on is Samuel Helenius and Samu Tuomaala. Helenius is a behemoth, standing at 6-foot-6 and is great at using his size to his advantage. He is perfectly suited to battle for pucks in the corners and stand in front of the net to screen the opposition. Tuomaala is a very skilled player who has excellent vision. He is able to thread a pass to his teammates with ease and is a marvel to watch with the puck on his stick. He is only going to get better as time progresses.
Going into the tournament this year, a lot of people will be expecting Finland to make a deep run. They are in the easier of the two groups in the round-robin stage and their only stiff competition should be Canada. Although last year they got superb goaltending, they have a lot of talent this year that should make them a dangerous team on a nightly basis.
Yes, the goalies on this team have little experience playing on this big of a stage but the team in front of them should be able to hold the ship down. Blomqvist is immensely talented and Piiroinen has shown glimpses of great play when he is called upon like last year when he managed to get into one game and posted a 1.00 GAA and a .955 SV% so if they do falter, I don’t imagine it will be for long.
Finland should place first or second in Group A this year and will most likely get an easier matchup than last year in the quarterfinals. A lot of eyes will be watching them this year and it will be exciting to see how they perform as a whole.
Up 3-1 on Canada with just under 12 minutes remaining in last year’s championship game, it looked all but certain that Team Russia would claim their first gold medal at the World Juniors since 2011. That was before an inspired Canadian team led by captain Barrett Hayton stormed back to win 4-3, leaving Russia to settle for silver once again.
With that bitter taste of defeat still fresh, the Russians will look to bounce back in this year’s tournament with an overhauled lineup both on the ice and behind the bench.
Of the team’s 28 players named to thepreliminary roster, only two forwards and one goaltender are returning from last year. Meanwhile, head coach Valeri Bragin has moved on from the U20 team after leading Russia to seven World Junior medals in eight years since 2011. Stepping in as his replacement is Hall of Famer and three-time Stanley Cup winnerIgor Larionov, whose leadership will be key for a relatively inexperienced Russian squad.
Forwards: Good Blend of Size and Skill
With only two returning forwards in Maxim Groshev (TB) and Vasili Podkolzin (VAN), Team Russia will see an influx of new talent in this year’s tournament. Leading that group will be 2020 first-round draft picksRodion Amirov (TOR)and Yegor Chinakhov (CBJ), who have both impressed in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) as 19-year-olds this season.
Amirov is coming off an excellent showing at the Karjala Cup in early November where he tallied three goals in three games en route to being named the best forward of the tournament. The slick two-way winger will need to carry that momentum forward as he’ll be relied on as an offensive catalyst for Russia.
Maple Leafs 2020 first-rounder Rodion Amirov is carrying a ton of momentum into this year’s World Junior Championships
The team’s top-six is pretty well balanced with plenty of size in 6-foot-4 Podkolzin and 6-foot-3 Yegor Afanasyev (NSH), combined with the finesse and playmaking touch of Amirov, Chinakhov, and Mikhail Abramov (TOR). The powerful Podkolzin has struggled at times in the KHL, with just two goals and six points in 24 games, but his professional and international experience should make him a key producer at this year’s tournament.
Russian captain Vasili Podkolzin will be a crucial part of the team’s offence
The bottom-six will likely see more of a battle for roster spots between players like Vasili Ponomaryov (CAR), Vladislav Firstov (MIN), and Ilya Safonov among others. With nine points in as many games for the Shawinigan Cataractes of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL), Ponomaryov is a rare non-homegrown player on this Russian squad. His relentless work ethic and two-way presence are hard to ignore, making him a lock for a role in the top-nine.
Although Russia’s forward group should have no trouble finding the back of the net, it’s worth mentioning that there were a couple of notable snubs left off the team’s preliminary roster in Danil Guschin (SJ) and Alexander Pashin (CAR).
At 5-foot-8 and 5-foot-7 respectively, the choice doesn’t come as much of a surprise given Russia’s history of bringing a bigger lineup to the tournament, but you’ve got to wonder if they’ll regret leaving out two of the more skilled players available to them.
Defence: Changing of the Guard
With an even more drastic changing of the guard than the forward group, Russia’s defence will see an all-new contingent as last year’s crop of 2000-born players is phased out. The loss of their defensive stalwart, Alexander Romanov (MTL), will definitely hurt as Russia doesn’t have a clear successor going into this year’s World Juniors.
The closest thing to a No. 1 defenceman for Russia will likely be New Jersey Devils 2020 first-rounder Shakir Mukhamadullin. The 6-foot-4 defender has a rare combination of physicality and mobility, collecting two goals and nine points through 30 games for Salavat Yulaev Ufa of the KHL this season while boasting a passing accuracy of 93 percent. The 18-year-old will be relied on to munch a fair amount of minutes on a Russian defence that lacks experience at this tournament.
New Jersey Devils 2020 first-rounder Shakir Mukhamadullin will likely play significant minutes for Russia
Behind Mukhamadullin, other notable names on the preliminary roster include Semyon Chistyakov (NSH), Roman Bychkov (BOS), and Yan Kuznetsov (CGY). Although Chistyakov will likely play further down in the lineup, Scott Wheeler of The Athletic rates the 5-foot-10 blueliner as Russia’s best defenceman right now thanks to his well-rounded 200-foot game. We’ll see if he can truly live up to that title at this year’s tournament.
The inexperienced defence may be Russia’s weak spot, meaning their goaltenders will be asked to do a lot of the heavy lifting. Luckily they’ve got the right guy between the pipes for the job.
Goaltending: Askarov Returns
Hyped up as one of the next great Russian goaltenders, 18-year-old Yaroslav Askarov will be back in the crease for the second consecutive World Junior Championships. He featured in five games at last year’s tournament as a 17-year-old, posting a 2.71 goals against average (GAA) and .877 save percentage (SV%) – poor numbers by his lofty standards. The Nashville first-rounder seems to have taken another step forward this season, putting up a ridiculous 0.96 GAA and .962 SV% through seven games for SKA St. Petersburg of the KHL.
Yaroslav Askarov will be Russia’s starter at this year’s World Juniors
If Russia is going to medal at this year’s event, it will likely be on the back of a stellar performance from the 6-foot-4 netminder, who may face a lot of rubber behind that inexperienced defence.
As a hockey powerhouse, Russia will have their eyes on another medal at the 2021 World Junior Championships, though it certainly won’t be an easy task given the competition. Drawn into Group B, Russia will face off against fellow powerhouses in the United States and Sweden as well as the Czech Republic and Austria.
Scoring and goaltending shouldn’t be a problem for the Russians, but there will be questions surrounding their defence as well as a general lack of experience throughout the roster. And while Larionov is a hockey legend, you have to consider his inexperience behind the bench as this will be just his second year coaching at this level.
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