Happy new year, and welcome to the quarterfinals of the World Juniors, where we begin the games that get us to the gold are but a scant few hours!
Let’s go through each game, and how we got there.
Quarterfinal Game One – Russia vs. Germany – 12pm
Russia being here is no big deal. Getting stunned by the Czechs early on hurt pretty bad, but otherwise the Russians showed up exactly who we thought they’d be. Fun, fast, a little sloppy, but otherwise a very fun team who plays their guts out no matter who their opponent is.
Germany on the other hand. Germany should not have been here.
They had almost 9 players test positive for COVID just before the tournament began, and had a frontloaded schedule of burners that lead to one of the most openly hellacious beatdowns in a 16-2 demolition at the hands of Canada. Any team could’ve just tapped out and farted around for the rest of the tournament, and come back in 2021 a better, perhaps more humble team. Germany on the other hand, showed up ready to prove something. They took Slovakia to the cleaners, and then had a better-than-the-score-suggests game against the Swiss, getting them to their first quarterfinals ever, all with a depleted roster and starting the tournament without their main goalie.
That does mean however, if they even want to consider contending, they’re going to have to play like it’s already the gold medal round, as that’s the kind of effort a severely undermanned squad like Germany is gonna need to play and beat a well-oiled machine in Russia.
Quarterfinal Game Two – Sweden vs. Finland – 1:30pm
Look, you don’t need to know much about how this tournament went to know that both of these teams are going to bring the heat. These scandinavian rivals will always bring out the best and worst of each other, and have rosters seemingly designed to do that. Both teams have gotten rude awakenings from the US and Canada on where supposedly they stand, and now it’s up to both sides to make it clear who’s currently in charge of the european prospect development kingdom; be it Leijonat or Tre Kronor.
All you need to know is that, if you watch no other quarterfinal games, please make it this one.
…I mean, what else are you going to be doing with the first saturday of the new year? Shoveling?
Quarterfinal Game Three – Canada vs. Czech Republic – 5:00pm
Canada is an absolute menace who demolished all their foes in seconds. There is no story to Canada except how hard they’ve been winning. Which is absolutely a credit to the talent they’ve sent in their (very, very good) sweater this year; they’re designed, perhaps more than any other team, to win hockey games as lopsidedly as possible.
The Czechs on the other hand, have had a very interesting, roller-coaster of a tournament: They started getting blown out by Sweden, got a surprise win against Russia, then blown out again by the USA, then blew out Austria (as you do). We have seen bits and pieces of this team suddenly coalesce in very interesting ways, and frankly I think that’s really interesting and fun to watch!
…Unfortunately, now it has to end as brutally as humanly possible. Jako Lev, boys. Even in defeat.
Quarterfinal Game Four – USA vs. Slovakia – 10:30pm
Your late slate game was two teams that have a bit of history with each other. USA started the tourney with a loss to Russia, which woke them up so hard they spent the next three games on their schedule burying their opponents in shots and goals and unleashed Trevor Zegras to his full, horrifying potential, and left little but bodies in their wake. They are a wagon right now, and that’ll be what their opponent has to expect coming at them.
Especially given that, even if the Slovaks have nothing else, they have an absolutely solid defense, and Sam Hlavaj (Hlah-Vai, if you’re curious on pronunciation) is playing like a shot at bronze medal would be the greatest thing on-hand for him. That said, the Slovak offense has been putrid even in games they should’ve won handily, and while defense may win championships, eventually you gotta score to get there.
This is probably going to be a very short game, if you’re worried on losing sleep.