Day: January 2, 2021

Canada eliminates Czechs

Goalie Nick Malik fails to stop a breakaway by Dylan Cozens, who opened the scoring for Canada in the first

By Andrew Podnieks –

Canada scored two goals in the first period en route to a disciplined 3-0 win over the Czech Republic to advance to the semi-finals on Monday. The loss eliminates the Czechs, who last won a medal at the U20 in 2005 (bronze).

Canada will now play Russia on Monday if the United States beats Slovakia in the late game (in which case, the U.S. would play Finland in the other semi), but if Slovakia wins then Canada will play the Slovaks (and Russia will play Finland).

Again it was Canada’s tenacity on the puck that was the difference, as well as some fine goaltending from Devon Levi, who was forced to turn in his best game of the tournament so far. He made 29 saves for his second shutout and has now allowed just two goals in his last four games.

Each team incurred just one minor penalty in a close-checking game in which open ice was scarce.

“I’m not sure if the game was close or not,” said Czech coach Karel Mlejnek. “The game turned in the first period when we allowed two quick goals which put us on the wrong side of the score. But we were strong mentally and kept fighting. We don’t only play defence, and we do try to score goals, but Canada played really well and didn’t give us many chances. We played to our strengths.”

Canada opened the scoring at 8:22 courtesy of an imaginative long-bomb flip pass from Connor McMichael. He lobbed the puck over three Czechs out to centre, where Dylan Cozens skated under it and went in alone. His show was stopped by Nick Malik, but it dribbled behind the goalie and over the line. For Cozens it was his tournament-leading 7th goal.

The Canadians made it 2-0 three minutes later on a similar play. This time acting captain Bo Byram held onto the puck as he moved laterally through the slot, and his shot also was initially stopped by Malik but trickled over the line. The goal came just as a Czech penalty expired, but it will go into the books as an even-strength marker.

Levi was unusually busy at the other end, making several fine stops during brief moments when the Czechs had some puck possession in the Canadian zone.

The Czechs, though, came out for the second determined to do what they do best—slow the game down, clog the area in front of their goal, and wait. They had plenty of waiting to do, though, because Canada played perfect defence. The middle 20 was plodding and replete with whistles, and truly each side had but one good scoring chance.

For Canada, Byram whizzed a shot off the crossbar midway through. And, for the Czechs, Martin Land skated hard down the right wing and nearly beat Levi to the far side, but the goalie squeezed his blocker arm and pad just in time.

The Czechs tried unsuccessfully to penetrate the Canadian end in the third. They got so desperate that coach Karel Mlejnek pulled Malik with five and a half minutes to go, hoping the man advantage would create some scoring. It didn’t.

Canada’s defence was more determined, and Connor McMichael created a turnover at centre ice to score the empty netter with under three minutes left. That sealed the Czechs’ fate once aod for all.

Hirvonen the hero as Finns advance

Finland’s Juuso Parssinen squeezes past Sweden’s Elmer Soderblom during the 3-2 Finnish quarter-final win at the 2021 World Juniors in Edmonton

By Lucas Aykroyd –

Roni Hirvonen scored the third-period winner with 25 seconds left as Finland advanced to the 2021 World Junior semi-finals with a dramatic 3-2 comeback win over archival Sweden.

Hirvonen jammed in a wraparound for his second goal of the tournament, and the Finns, who trailed 2-0 after the first period, celebrated their quarter-final victory wildly. It was a genuine heart-breaker for the Juniorkronorna.

Henri Nikkanen and Anton Lundell also scored for Finland.

Lucas Raymond had a goal and an assist for Sweden, and Elmer Soderblom added a single.

Goalie-wise, Swedish coach Joel Ronnmark went with starter Hugo Alnefelt and Finnish coach Antti Pennanen stuck with Kari Piiroinen. Finland outshot Sweden 31-24.

Finland, which has five gold medals (1987, 1998, 2014, 2016, 2019), interestingly hasn’t won a medal of another shade since 2006’s bronze. The disappointed Swedes, who beat Finland 3-2 in last year’s bronze medal game, remain stuck at two golds all-time (1981, 2012).

Finland entered this classic Nordic clash with the tournament’s second-best power play (34.6 percent), while Sweden had the second-worst penalty kill (60 percent). Noel Gunler, Sweden’s leading goal-scorer (4), took a penalty at 1:26 when he batted a puck over the glass in his own end, but Finland couldn’t generate anything.

Early on, the Finns looked dialed in, compared to their 3-1 loss to defending champion Canada to close out Group A. They denied Sweden a shot on goal for more than eight minutes. But then the tide turned Sweden’s way.

Raymond, the 2020 #4 overall pick of the Detroit Red Wings, opened the scoring at 14:28 with a great shot from the left faceoff circle. He glanced right toward Albert Johansson as if he was going to pass and then pulled the trigger, surprising Piiroinen with a high short-side wrister.

Just 1:37 later, Raymond set up a snazzy power-play goal by Soderblom for a 2-0 lead. He stepped off the half-wall and fed the 202-cm winger – a fellow Frolunda product and Detroit pick – down low. Soderblom pulled the puck between his legs and fooled the Finnish goalie on the stick side. 

In the second period, the Finns began their push. They outshot Sweden 12-6 and played more aggressively. At 2:26, a forechecking Samuel Helenius got a minor and a 10-minute misconduct for a hit to the head of Swedish defenceman Ludvig Hedstrom.

At 5:28, Henri Nikkinen cut the deficit to 2-1 on a brilliant rush, converting Eemil Viro’s backhanded pass.

Less than a minute later, the Finns thought they had the tying goal after Ville Heinola spectacularly danced in over the blue line and Aku Raty put the puck in the net, but the Swedes challenged the play and it was ruled offside.

Showing their trademark “sisu” (“guts”), the Finns kept coming, and Lundell finally notched the power-play equalizer at 11:05. Heinola pivoted at the blue line to send a backhanded pass to the Finnish captain, who sniped a high one from the right faceoff circle for his team-leading fourth goal in Edmonton.

The Swedes dealt with adversity throughout this tournament, including a 4-3 overtime loss to Russia that snapped their record 54-game preliminary-round winning streak.

A spate of positive COVID-19 tests hit the team in Sweden. That obliged head coach Tomas Monten and three members of his staff, plus players including William Eklund, Karl Henriksson, William Wallinder and Albin Grewe, to miss the World Juniors.

Finland last lost a quarter-final in 2018 (4-3 to the Czech Republic in a shootout). Sweden last lost a quarter-final in 2019 (2-0 to Switzerland). 

Sweden had won its previous four World Junior games against Finland. Finland last defeated Sweden on 4 January 2016, prevailing 2-1 in the semi-finals in Helsinki.

The result leaves Sweden with an all-time record versus Finland of 20 wins, two ties, and 17 losses.

Russia qualifies early

Vasili Ponomaryov scores the opening goal on a short-handed breakaway

By Andrew Podnieks –

Vasili Ponomaryov caught the Germans napping midway through the opening period, scoring a beautiful short-handed goal and leading Russia to a 2-1 win over Germany.

The result puts Russia in the semi-finals, to face the winner of the Finland-Sweden game while Germany now goes home after a valiant effort in the face of quarantine troubles.

Russia is now 8-0 all time against Germany in U20 play, with a 43-5 goals differential.

The Germans played a solid defensive game and had some quality scoring chances but just couldn’t capitalize. Despite entering the game with the most power-play goals in the tournament (8), they also failed to take advantage of four power plays in the first 40 minutes.

Ponomaryov scored his goal at 9:15, taking a breakaway pass from Semyon Chistyakov and beating Florian Bugl with a nice deke to the forehand.

It was a tough pill for the Germans to swallow as they had a bit of bad luck a few minutes earlier when Tim Stutzle beat Yaroslav Askarov with a shot glove side, only to see the puck clang off the post and ricochet into the corner.

Stutzle had another first-rate chance early in the second. Florian Elias made a fantastic, diving pass off a faceoff to Stutzle in the slot, but his quick shot was stopped by Askarov.

The Russians made it 2-0 at 8:27, capitalizing on a giveaway by the Germans behind their own goal line. Yegor Afansiev got the puck along the boards and made a perfect pass to Danil Bashkirov in front, and his quick shot beat Bugl to the stick side.

Joshua Samanski had another great scoring chance from in front, but again Askarov was that much better with the save.

Ther Germans got on the board early in the third thanks to two great plays by Florian Elias.First, he stripped Rodion Amirov of the puck as Amirov was turning to exit the zone. Then, in one motion he rifled a shot past Askarov at 3:24 to make it a 2-1 game.

That got the team going, and moments later J-J Peterka had a nice chance, followed by Jan Munzenberger. A game which Russia seemed in control was now very much up in the air. Peterka then snapped a nice pass to Elias, whose quick deflection went off the crossbar and out of play, mere inches from tying the game.

Elias got one final chance while his team was short-handed, but again Askarov was solid to the play and preserved the win.

2021 WJC Quarterfinals Preview

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.

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