Ambri-Piotta wins the 94th Spengler Cup 3-2 against Sparta Prague. After Prague tied the game at 2-2 in the third period, the game advanced to become an overtime and shootout thriller!
With that, HC Ambri-Piotta wins the Spengler Cup for the first time. Inti Pestoni scored on the decisive shootout attempt.
After a cautious start on both sides, the final really took off with the first penalty. Alex Formenton used the powerplay to give Ambri the lead. Spengler Cup top scorer Spacek registered his fifth assist on that goal. Sparta Prague reacted to the deficit immediately. Only 50 seconds later David Tomasek finished his solo effort with a smooth, well-placed wrist shot for the equalizer. Thereafter, the game was controlled by both defenses for the rest of the first period. The Czechs dominated the second period early on. But the Swiss found success in ice-cold counterattacks. On the first penalty kill, Tim Heed found Formenton, who hesitated long enough on the breakaway to leave Sparta keeper Jakub Kovar no chance. With the Ticinesi’s renewed lead, the game was spectacularly launched to the delight of the 6,287 spectators in the sold-out ice palace. From that point on Prague pushed the offense, while Ambri remained dangerous on the counterattack.
The third period continually developed into one-way hockey directed at Ambri’s goal. And the Czechs were rewarded for their offensive efforts in the 54th minute. Roman Horak scored on a pass by Erik Thorell to make it 2-2. Because Formenton and Spacek in all alone both failed to beat Kovar, the result was a final shootout. There, Dario Burgler scored for the Swiss and Thorell for the Czechs before Inti Pestoni secured Ambri the victory on the tenth shootout attempt overall. For the Ticinesi this Spengler Cup win is the most prestigious success in club history.
Head of the organizing committee Marc Gianola spoke of the “best Spengler Cup of all time” in his closing statement. Overall, the on-ice performances were very good. Eight of eleven games in the completely renovated Eisstadion were played in front of a sell-out crowd.
Sparta Prague, with a 4-3 win over Orebro, and HC Ambri-Piotta, winning 5-0 against HC Davos, have qualified for the final of the 94th Spengler Cup.
30 minutes into the game, the Czechs trailed the Swedes 3-0, then scored four consecutive goals before the second intermission.
Orebro had the better start to the game. The logical consequence was an early 1-0 lead through Mathias Brome. Contrary to their quarterfinal against Team Canada, when the Scandinavians retreated deep into their own zone and defended their lead with patience and a cement wall after scoring the go-ahead goal, they resorted to consistent forechecking to break down the play already in the offensive zone.
In the second period Sparta Prague managed to increase the pressure on the Swedish net. A spectacular game developed. Kristian Nakyva and Rasmus Nissanen added to the lead for a seemingly decisive 3-0 advantage with fine, lightning-like long-range markers. Only 31 seconds later, David Dvoracek’s goal brought back the suspense with Sparta Prague’s first goal. Following that, the Czechs showed impressive efficiency on the finish. In the middle period they scored four goals on eleven shots – within nine minutes.
Sparta Prague can now become the first Czech team since 1984 to win the Spengler Cup.
HC Ambri-Piotta may have a word to say about that. The Ticinesi are in the Spengler Cup for the first time. Ambri appeared fresher and livelier in the semi-final game against HCD. Not surprisingly. The Ticinesi were playing their third Spengler Cup game in five days, while it was the fourth matchup in 72 hours for Davos. Nonetheless, the team from Grisons had their chances – but could not get by Ambri’s goalie Janne Juvonen. The guests, on the other hand, struck during a two-man advantage. Dario Burgler’s shot from the slot left HCD goaltender Sandro Aeschlimann no chance. Davos was misfortunate twice before the intermission. First Aleksi Saarela hit the post on the powerplay, and shortly thereafter Andres Ambuhl hit the crossbar on a penalty shot.
The play was even in the middle period. The guests had an 18-17 shots-on-net advantage after 40 minutes. Strength-wise Davos was at its limit. This was exemplified on the third goal, when the puck was coughed up on the powerplay – Filip Chlapik took advantage and beat Anschlimann on the breakaway.
Davos had a chance to get on the scoreboard when they had a two-man advantage 100 seconds into the final period. Saarela hit the post, but no goal resulted. On the other side, Ambri forward Nando Eggenberger’s 4-0 marker in the 48th minute sealed the deal. Ambri’s 5th goal came on an empty-netter by Inti Pestoni.
Defending champion Team Canada was already stopped in the quarterfinals by Orebro. Tactically exceptional and strong one-on-one, the Swedes cruised to a 3-1 victory. In the second pre-semifinal game, HC Davos narrowly got past Helsinki.
After falling behind early in its first two games, Team Canada started more cautiously against Orebro. Still, the Canadians got themselves in trouble early when Radek Muzik took a major penalty and game misconduct. The Swedes had many shots on net during the man-advantage. But Canada’s goaltender Michael Hutchinson was only beaten on the 18th shot, when Filip Berglund scored exactly twelve minutes into the game. The reaction of the team from overseas was surprisingly tame. Optically, the Canadians may have had an advantage, but were unable to create dangerous scoring opportunities against the Swedes, who were playing disciplined and strong to the man. Orebro’s goalkeeper Jonas Arntzen also exuded confidence and certainty with his exceptional positioning. The deciding goal came 21 second into the final period: on the powerplay, Linus Oberg took the puck across practically the entire ice and successfully finished. Subsequently, the Swedes focused primarily on controlling the game. Some suspense only returned to the game six and a half minutes before the end, when Chris DiDomenico cut the lead in half. But that ended up being mere aesthetics for the Canadians. In the final minute, Mathias Brome’s empty-net goal sealed the final score. For the first time since its debut at the Spengler Cup in 1984, the Canadians are going home with three losses and without a win. Also, it is only the second time they were eliminated in the quarterfinals.
In the second pre-semifinal game, HC Davos qualified for tomorrow’s semifinal matchup against Ambri-Piotta with a 3-2 win over IFK Helsinki. In the 54th minute Marc Wieser scored the game-winner on the powerplay in this high-level, balanced game. With its resolute, aggressive engagement in one-on-one matchups, Davos was visibly determined to make up for the shameful 9-2 loss against Sparta Prague. That was to be expected, though. Surprising, however, was the tempo the Finns put forward. They controlled the game in the first period with their quick, determined attacks (16-5 shots on net).
Davos was more prepared for its opponent in the second period. They interrupted the Finns more effectively with earlier forechecking, bringing the Helsinki-Express to a stutter. At the same time the hosts became more dangerous on the offense (15 shots on net in the second period). Their persistence paid off. Andres Ambuhl buried the rebound after a shot by Klas Dahlbeck for a 2-1 lead. The 6,275 spectators in the sold out Eisstadion witnessed an attractive game, also because the Finns remained a constant threat on the counterattack but failed to get past the secure HCD goaltender Sandro Aeschlimann. The suspense reached its maximum when Eetu Koivistoinen tied it at 2-2 64 seconds into the third period. The game-winner was scored during a 4-minute penalty to Roni Hirvonen for high-sticking Aleksi Saarela in the face. Marc Wieser finished an accurate pass from Corvi in the 54th minute. With great discipline, the hosts then took care of business.
With a 7-3 win over IFK Helsinki, HC Ambri-Piotta secured the top spot in Group Torriani and as such the berth in Friday’s semifinals. The second Wednesday game, too, ended in a blowout – 9-2 for Sparta Prague over HC Davos.
The Ticinesi already had a 3-0 lead after 23 minutes. The Finns punished themselves with individual mistakes. An errant pass by an IFK defenseman set up scorer Inti Pestoni for Ambri’s go-ahead goal. The third goal, finished by Filip Chlapik, was the result of a disorganized defense. Two long-range goals by Johan Motin and Otso Rantakari brought IFK Helsinki, which held a 21-17 shots-on-net advantage, back into the game. On the scoreboard, however, it trailed 4-2. The offensive fireworks on both sides of the ice continued in the final period as well to the delight of the spectators. The result was the highest-scoring game of the 94th Spengler Cup so far: 7-3 – a blowout victory for Ambri.
Instead of qualifying for the semifinals, HC Davos suffered a 9-2 fiasco at the hands of the high-performing Sparta Prague. Davos was chasing a deficit already 83 seconds into the game. Michal Kempny took advantage of complete disorder in the hosts’ defense to score from long range. After that, Davos had trouble against the feisty, headstrong, and confident Czechs, who played assertively and increased their lead on a redirect by Ostap Safin. A hard pass by Michael Fora set up Matej Stransky who cut the lead to 2-1 shortly before the first intermission. But that marker did not lead to the hoped relief for Davos. Instead, they conceded a short-hander by Kempny on the first powerplay. In the 33rd minute, the Czechs then exploited the lack of orientation in Davos’ defense to score twice within 43 seconds. Prague continued their power display in the final period. Davos’ second goal by Andres Ambuhl 20 seconds before the final buzzer was no more than a bitter consolation prize. Sparta Prague served Davos the highest Spengler Cup loss in 38 years. On December 30, 1984, Davos suffered a 13-2 rout against Dukla Jihlava.
Örebro HC clinched their first win in their second game in Spengler Cup history. The Swedes defeated IFK Helsinki 5-2 on Tuesday afternoon.
The two Scandinavian teams, who are actually known for their puck control and patience in attacking play, delivered a surprisingly offensive exchange of blows – much to the delight of the spectators. This resulted in four goals and 24 shots on goal (13:11 for IFK Helsinki) in the first third alone. Örebro got off to a better start and used the first two powerplay opportunities thanks to his precise passing game to take a 2-0 lead. Elias Ekström opened the scoring with a precise Hocheck long-range shot (6th). The Swedes combined to make it 2-0 so long and so quickly that Filip Berglund was able to shoot in from the side (12th). However, Örebro’s third power play failed. Micke Aston reduced the deficit with a man down (14′). And 135 seconds later Kasper Halttunen equalized for IFK.
The Finns dominated the game in the middle third. However, they were not cool enough and precise in the end, or they failed because of the excellent Örebro goalie Jonas Arntzen. It took revenge: Oliver Eklind completed an exemplary counterattack with the 3:2 for the Swedes (32,). And with only the fifth shot on the Finnish goal in the middle section, Örebro’s captain Rodrigo Abols even increased the advantage with a man down (39′). Despite total commitment, the Finns were unable to turn the tide in the last third. Instead, William Wikman made it 5-2 with an Emtpy Netter 93 seconds before the end of the game.
While Örebro is without a game on Wednesday, IFK Helsinki meets HC Ambri-Piotta in the afternoon game. The Swiss can even lose against the Finns by two goals and still win their group.
HC Davos defeated Team Canada 2-1 at the 94th Spengler Cup in its first tournament on Tuesday evening. After 115 seconds, he was already 2-0 up thanks to goals from Andrew Rowe and Leon Bristedt. HCD goalie Sandro Aeschlimann then became the match winner with several big saves.
How much Team Canada was looking for reparation after their surprising 2:3 defeat against Sparta Prague and how the Canadians still wanted to seize their last chance to win the group was revealed in the goalie selection. Your goal against HC Davos was guarded by Canadian-Swiss dual citizen Connor Hughes of Fribourg-Gottéron. Only ten days ago he made his debut for the Swiss national team against the Czech Republic. Hughes supposedly only traveled to the Spengler Cup as a replacement because Michael DiPietro’s goalkeeper equipment had not yet arrived in Switzerland due to flights being canceled due to the winter storms.
The game started badly for Hughes though. Before he held the first puck, his team was already 2-0 down. After 51 seconds of the game, “Rappi’s” loanee Andrew Rowe converted an ideal pass from Enzo Corvi to make it 1-0. And 84 seconds later Leon Bristedt doubled up after preparatory work by Dennis Rasmussen. It took the Canadians some time to recover from that false start. They really put HCD goalkeeper Sandro Aeschlimann to the test shortly before the first break with their first power play. Otherwise, the hosts had the game under control in the first third.
In the middle section, too, the Davosers managed to prevent the opponent from launching an orderly attack with speed and aggressive forechecking. At halftime, the hosts even missed the third goal during a period of pressure. But then the guests got into the game better and better. HCD goalie Aeschlimann took center stage. 164 seconds before the second break, however, he was no longer able to prevent the goal when his view was blocked. Brett Connolly hit the target with a long shot.
In the final third, the tension was palpable in the sold-out Davos Ice Stadium. HCD missed the redeeming third goal with two power play opportunities. Hughes miraculously cleared against Marc Wieser (50th), Matej Stransky (55th) and Andres Ambühl (56th). However, his opponent advanced to the match winner. Aeschlimann kept his calm and overview, even in the last two minutes of the game, when the Canadians with six field players vehemently aimed for an equalizer. The HCD goalie saved 28 shots throughout the game. He deservedly received an award as HCD’s best player after the end of the game.
Davos now has it in their own hands or on their own sticks to win the group. That requires a win against Sparta Prague on Wednesday night. The Canadians, on the other hand, have to go to the quarter-finals as the last in their group. But she shouldn’t write off for a long time. From the same starting position, Team Canada still secured group victory in 2016.
HC Ambri-Piotta opened the 94th Spengler Cup with a 5-2 win over tournament newbie Orebro. The Ticinesi decided the game in the middle period, scoring twice within 28 seconds to make it 3-1.
Sellout crowd, attractive game, many scoring opportunities Orebro HK illustrated the famous Swedish ice hockey qualities: good organization and strong puck control. However, it was vulnerable to counterattacks. Alex Formenton, beautifully assisted by Tim Heed, moved past the last Swedish defenseman and left Jhonas Enroth no chance to make it 1-0. Josh Jooris finished a counterattack set up by Dominik Zwerger and Inti Pestoni in the second period making it 2-1. Only 28 seconds later, Brandon McMillan increased the lead.
33-26 shots on goal in favour of the Swedes Christopher Mastomaki scored Orebro’s first goal, levelling it at 1-1 with a precise shot. The Swedes also had some bad luck, hitting the post before the end of each the first and second periods, before Linus Oberg moved the Scandinavians within one. Darion Burgler re-established Ambri’s two-goal lead on yet another counterattack. Burgler won the Spengler Cup with HC Davos in 2011. Already nearly 3 minutes before the final buzzer, Orebro pulled its goaltender and Ambri made it 5-2 with an empty netter for the final score – for the many Ambri fans this was the cue to sing their victory hymn “La Montanara”. Already on Tuesday afternoon Orebro’s players will already have their next appearance when they face IFK Helsinki.
Sensational Sparta Prague downs Team Canada Upset in the evening game: Sparta Prague beat defending champion and tournament favourite 3-2. Sparta Prague and Team Canada engaged in a spectacular battle of attrition. The Czechs were in no way inferior to the Canadians, known and liked for their great spirit. Its confidence showed in the calm defensive work. Although the team from overseas optically seemed to have a slight advantage in the first period, it was Sparta Prague that went into the intermission with a 2-0 lead. Michal Repik on a counterattack and Daniel Pribyl scored within 40 seconds in the 19th minute of play. Repik further extended the lead with the first power play goal of the 94th Spengler Cup. The Canadians, hurt in their pride, increased the tempo and offensive pressure massively, encouraged in part by Brett Connolly, who scored for Team Canada a mere 80 seconds after conceding the 3-0 goal. In the middle period alone, the Canadians fired twelve shots on net. Team Canada largely remained the dominant team in the third period as well. The Czechs missed their fourth goal on their brief, few chances. With the biggest save of the night, Korenar prevented the equalizer 188 seconds before the final buzzer, denying Carr on a breakaway. With its win, Sparta Prague earned itself a day off on Tuesday.
The long awaited moment has finally come. Almost three years later (that was December 2019), the Spengler Cup will actually return on Monday. In the festive atmosphere of Davos, obscured in the last two editions due to the pandemic, the oldest international hockey tournament has returned and for this occasion, Umbro is also back, who played there for the first time in 2019. Inserted biancoblù, who will be able to count on reinforcements Josh Jooris (Geneva) , Nando Eggenberger (Rapperswil) and Vili Saarijärvi (Langnau), are in Torriani’s group and aim to do better than last year, when he gave up in the semifinals. IFK Helsinki and Örebrö are in the same group.
Also shining is the Catini group, which will see hosts Davos, Sparta Prague and of course Team Canada take part. In the national maple leaf team there will be 14 elements of the Swiss championship, including three players from Lugano: Daniel Carr, Chris Bennett and Brett Connolly. The start is scheduled for Monday with Ambrì-Örebrö at 15.10 and with Sparta Prague-Team Canada at 20.15.
The tournament will be broadcast on RSI LA2 eflow.
The IIHF World Junior Championship has become ubiquitous — in hockey circles at least — with the Christmas holiday season. And the tournament returns this year to its usual place of honor.
That’s after the 2022 championship was shuttered in December 2021 amid a spike of COVID-19 cases within the Edmonton “bubble,” which was serving as the tournament’s venue. The event was ultimatelyrestaged there in August, with Team Canada beating Team Finland 3-2 in overtime to claim gold.
So, if you’re feeling some déjà vu — “wait, didn’t they just crown a World Junior champion?” — you’re not wrong; Canada hasn’t had long to lord its victory over others. Them’s the breaks.
Because Canada — along with nine other nations — is back to battling for another WJC top prize. Pre-tournament action was underway earlier this week and gives way to preliminary round games starting Monday.
The 10 participating teams exist in two groups at two different locations: Group A features Canada, Sweden, Czechia, Germany and Austria playing at Scotiabank Center in Halifax, Nova Scotia, while Group B has the United States, Finland, Switzerland, Slovakia and Latvia at Avenir Center in Moncton, New Brunswick.
Organizers didn’t intend for Canadian cities to host the tournament again so soon after Edmonton’s back-to-back turn. In 2018, the IIHF announced Novosibirsk, Russia (for Group A), and Omsk, Russia (for Group B), would share duties for 2023. But those plans changed in February because of the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine, which the IIHF condemned by not only stripping Russia of its hosting rights but suspending teams from Russia and Belarus from international hockey indefinitely.
And so, the World Juniors return to Canada for a third consecutive year. Once the playing field has been whittled down in separate locations, the top four teams from each group move onto the quarterfinals, starting Jan. 2. The semifinals follow on Jan. 4, and the bronze and gold medal games pop up on Jan. 5. The bottom-ranked teams from each group will play a best-of-three series in relegation.
Before all that fun begins, let’s go over major storylines to monitor and highlight key players to keep an eye on. If history has taught us anything, there’s always something unexpected ahead when the game’s best young talent squares off.
Can Adam Fantilli outshine Connor Bedard?
There are no guarantees when it comes to the NHL draft rankings and results. Just ask Shane Wright.
This time last year, there was zero question — or so it seemed — that Wright would be the No. 1 overall pick in July. Instead, Montreal went way off script by selectingJuraj Slafkovskyin the top spot and Wright fell to Seattle at No. 4.
Now, it’s Canada’s Connor Bedard who’s on track to be taken first in June. His teammate Adam Fantilli would like to be the Slafkovsky-like spoiler.
But it won’t be easy.
Bedard has an impeccable résumé. In 2020, he became just the seventh player (after the likes ofConnor McDavid, John TavaresandAaron Ekblad) to be granted “exceptional status” by Hockey Canada to appear in the Western Hockey League at just 15 years old. The pandemic interrupted Bedard’s debut campaign with the WHL’s Regina Pats, but the center finished 2021-22 with 100 points in 62 games. He leads the WHL this season with 64 points in 28 games.
Bedard, 17, is more than just a scoring threat, though. The North Vancouver, British Columbia, native is also an enviable playmaker and silky skater, possessing an incomparably wicked shot and mind for the game that moves so quick, he’s constantly one step ahead on the ice. He could be the total package.
Fantilli forged a different path than Bedard through his junior career. The Toronto-area product spent two seasons with the USHL’s Chicago Steel from 2020 to 2022, where he produced 110 points in 103 games. Fantilli graduated from there to the University of Michigan, and is midway through a successful freshman campaign (26 points in 16 games).
So, where might Fantilli have an edge over Bedard? In size, for one. The 18-year-old comes in at 6-foot-2 to Bedard’s 5-foot-10. Fantilli has potential as a power forward who’s tenacious on the forecheck and can outduel opponents in front of the net. He’s fast and skilled and could be an eventual No. 1 center for an NHL team.
Scouts will see Fantilli and Bedard sharing a sheet for the next few weeks. It’s an opportunity for both players to showcase the best they have to offer. Could one tournament make or break a franchise-altering decision? Likely not. But Team Canada’s stars will draw a spotlight regardless. What they do with that attention? We’ll be watching to find out.
Can Team USA get back on top?
Team USA entered the 2022 tournament as reigning gold medal winners following a triumph over Canada the previous winter. They wound up leaving Edmonton (Part II) with a disappointing fifth-place finish. Two years ago, the USA came in sixth.
Overall, the Americans have enjoyed ample success at past World Juniors though, capturing four gold, one silver and three bronze medals since 2010. And they’ve already gone 2-0 in pre-tournament action to date.
If Team USA wants to add more hardware, it will need continued performances from its veteran skaters.
Enter Luke Hughes.
Team USA’s captain and defensive scoring leader had six points in five games at the 2022 WJC and has put together a nice season so far at Michigan (18 points in 20 games). The 19-year-old — brother to NHLersJack HughesandQuinn Hughes— will be looked to for leadership on and off the ice, to anchor the American blue line and to bolster special team units. Hughes is a terrific skater who was impressive in pre-tournament action scoring a game-opening goal for the U.S. He’ll likely be at the forefront of any American success to come.
Then there’s the forward group, headed by Logan Cooley and Jimmy Snuggerud. Cooley was just drafted third overall byArizonain July and wields a sharp two-way game and blistering wrist shot. Getting some experience during his freshman season at the University of Minnesota (25 points in 19 games) should only have helped Cooley mature and make him reliable and dangerous in every situation.
Snuggerud is Cooley’s teammate at Minnesota (second in NCAA scoring, with 27 points in 20 games thus far). While this is his WJC debut, Snuggerud appears unfazed by a big stage. He was strong in the early games, boasting a size (6-foot-2) and skill that can complement anyone he’s playing with.
Cutter Gauthier — already on Team USA’s top line with Cooley and Snuggerud — is another player to watch. Ditto for Sean Behrens on the back end and Kenny Connors in the bottom six rotation. What should set Team USA apart is its depth. On paper — and by the looks of those two games in the books — there’s potential for this to be a multifaceted foe any opponent would fear.
If the Americans can avoid hurting themselves via unforced errors and careless penalties, and there’s solid goaltending ahead from Kaidan Mbereko, especially, Team USA has to like its chances of being in the top-three mix again in January.
Can a certain Swede raise his stock?
You know Bedard. And Fantilli. And how they are likely to be the top two prospects in this year’s draft (as of now).
Now say hello to Leo Carlsson.
The Swedish forward is a projected top-five choice in 2023 who could push his way up a few draft boards with a successful World Juniors showing. What could that look like for the 17-year-old? It starts from the foundation he’s already built.
Carlsson’s been honing his skills the past two years with Orebro HK of the Swedish Hockey League, facing high-end competition that’s helped rapidly mature his game. The center has consistently produced points this season — 14 in 25 tilts to date — but Carlsson’s impact goes beyond scoring goals. He’s a play-driving forward, is good in transition and gets to the net and creates for linemates. An October video of Carlsson deftly stickhandling through a crowd quickly turned heads and showcased what sets him apart from other skaters his age.
Another defining Carlsson quality is his preternatural calm that leads to confidence. The teenager appears unaffected by added pressure, which bodes well for Carlsson’s potential to pierce the NHL ranks sooner than later once he is drafted.
Sweden took home bronze at last season’s WJC and earned five other medals — including one gold and three silver — since 2012. It is a motivated bunch again this year, and it’s the ultimate opportunity for Carlsson to make his case as a top-three selection come June.
It’s worth noting that another player gunning for similar consideration won’t be on display the next couple weeks — at least not in this tournament. Matvei Michkov would be highlighting a roster for Team Russia if there was one. Some have already anointed the 18-year-old forward a future face of Russian hockey. But instead of representing his country right now in Canada, Michkov has inked a deal to suit up for SKA St. Petersburg in the KHL through 2025-26.
Michkov’s draft potential is complicated. Given the talent and high hockey IQ Michkov flaunts, NHL clubs will still be interested in securing his rights for down the line —Kirill Kaprizovwas drafted in 2015, but didn’t make his NHL debut until the 2020-21 season. But will Michkov come off the board before or after Carlsson? And if the Swedish standout does enough at World Juniors, can he gain the inside track on Michkov? Oh, the drama.
Can an underdog contender emerge?
Now, “underdog” is a relative term here, used mostly to describe “not Canada or the United States.”
We already know those North American squads are expected to excel and are routinely considered the ones to beat. So, who might be up to the task?
Only Canada, the U.S. and Finland have won gold at the past 10 World Juniors. And Finland was one overtime marker away from topping Canada on the podium in August. Months later, Finland is primed to make another strong push in the tournament.
Finland’s team philosophy works from the defense out, so Aleksi Heimosalmi and Otto Salin should be setting a tone on the blue line that extends everywhere else. Even though skaters like Joakim Kemell and Niko Huuhtanen can score (and the Finns are hopeful Brad Lambertstarts showing up on the scoresheet, too), defense is Finland’s first priority. If it can stick to its script, Finland has a good chance of getting a medal.
The plucky group finished fourth in last season’s tournament, a wild ride that included losing to Latvia and then eliminating the undefeated Americans. It was Tomas Suchanek’s incredible performance in net that delivered the latter outcome, and Suchanek has returned to backstop Czechia. He might not be an elite netminder, but Suchanek works hard and plays behind a defense led byDavid Jiricek. TheColumbus Blue Jackets‘ prospect has had a terrific season in the AHL, averaging a point per game and is supported by Tomas Hamara and Stanislav Svozil.
Up front, it’sBuffalo Sabres‘ prospect Jiri Kulich — who has 16 points in 24 AHL games this season — andNew York Rangers‘ selection Jaroslav Chmelar — a standout freshman at Providence College — challenging opponents. All in all, Czechia’s got real potential to surprise.
Recently, Sweden has failed to turn excellent preliminary round performances into gold-medal game appearances; it hasn’t been to that stage since 2018. The Swedes’ mission to return starts with the previously mentioned Carlsson and extends to several key players showing up.
Goaltender Carl Lindblom takes over for Jesper Wallstedt, and there’s high hopes for what the Golden Knights’ prospect can bring given the great season he’s having in the Swedish professional league, HockeyAllsvenskan. Sweden’s biggest weakness might be its lack of top-tier defensemen, so the forward group will be relied on even more to drive Sweden’s success. It has Carlsson there, along with Filip Bystedt (a first-round choice by San Jose in 2022) and Fabian Lysell (a 2021 first-round choice by Boston).
The question mark is Vancouver prospect Jonathan Lekkerimäki, who hasn’t produced a point in the SHL since November, but has game-changing potential when he’s going. He’ll have something to prove at this tournament and that could be a huge boost for Sweden.
Can Austria sidestep relegation?
What is relegation? Glad you asked!
At the end of the WJC’s round-robin, the two last-placed teams will play a best-of-three series. Whichever team wins will be allowed back at next year’s tournament; the loser is relegated to Division 1 Group A.
How does Austria avoid this fate? Another good question!
Austria has injected some fun into the WJC since reaching top-tier status in 2021. That hasn’t resulted in further success. The IIHF removed relegation the past two seasons, so Austria didn’t have to worry about slipping back there (and given Austria was 0-4 and outscored 28-1 in no-relegation 2020, it truly dodged a bullet). But there’s no such luck this time around.
Unfortunately, Austria won’t have its biggest name in Marco Kasper. TheDetroit Red Wingsprospect opted to continue working on his game with the SHL’s Rogle BK. Bummer for Austria. Also not around is goaltender Sebastian Wraneschitz, who made 119 saves in two games during the 2021 tournament that might have actually resulted in a win if he’d gotten any goal support.
There’s still hope for Austria, though. Forward Vinzenz Rohrer has been lighting up the OHL with 32 points in 26 games for the Ottawa 67’s, and 2023 draft-eligible Ian Scherzer can build off a strong showing in last summer’s tournament with another two-way performance here. On the back end, keep your eyes peeled for David Reinbacher. He had two assists through four games at the last WJC, and has collected 14 points in 28 games with the Swiss league’s Kloten HC this season. A dual threat like Reinbacher immediately improves his country’s odds.
It’ll be tough, though. Austria has Sweden, Czechia and Canada to face. It’s Austria’s final game against Germany that could tell the tale. If Austria hasn’t earned any points and neither has Germany, there’s a chance Austria doesn’t slide into a relegation matchup that likely pits it against Latvia. Stars will need to align for Austria, but otherworldly showings from Scherzer, Reinbacher and Rohrer could help get them there.
Newly promoted Croatia continued their rise to win the 2023 IIHF Ice Hockey U20 World Championship Division II Group A in Kaunas, Lithuania.
With only a few minor tweaks to their roster, Croatia’s U20 national team has now jumped two levels of World Championship play within the space of just three months. In September this year they celebrated promotion from Division IIB in Belgrade, Serbia in a tournament pushed ahead due to Covid-19. Now competing at a higher level in Kaunas, Lithuania and with momentum clearly on their side, they continued their winning ways. Croatia finished top of Division II Group A with 12 points in Kaunas. They were level on points with Great Britain whom the Croats had beaten 7-4 during day two to squeeze past their main rival to grab top spot.
“We have more or less the same team as from the previous World Championship in Belgrade. They know each other well and the chemistry is very good among the players. But I think this win is a miracle. We have one ice rink in Zagreb, so we are very happy,” said head coach Marko Sertic.
Croatia’s second Olympic-sized indoor rink in the entire country is in Sisak, 55 kilometers south of Croatia’s capital Zagreb. Despite conditions being far from ideal, Croatia’s U20 national team upset the odds at the Kaunas Ice Palace.
Their recipe for success combines a strong team spirit and sending players abroad to push ahead in their development. Half of their gold-winning roster skates for clubs outside of their home country. One of them is 16-year-old Bruno Idzan, the youngest skater on the Croatian team. Playing for HV71 Jonkoping’s junior program in Sweden, Bruno Idzan was Croatia’s leading scorer in Kaunas and was also selected as the best forward of the tournament by the directorate.
“It was nice to win. We didn’t start the tournament very well, but got better as the tournament got on. But we are very strong collectively as a team. We work for each other and that´s what makes us good,” said Bruno Idzan.
Forming a formidable partnership with his older brother of two years and seven months, Vito Idzan, Croatia’s lethal duo possessed special offensive skills that could turn a game in Croatia’s favour out of the blue.
“We know each other’s game very well, but we are also pretty different as players: He is more physical and stronger but also a more all-round player. I am more offensively focused than him, but together we make a good line,” said Bruno Idzan.
But it was far from plain sailing for the Croats en route to winning gold. Following their late arrival and with no ice practice in Kaunas ahead of their first game, the Croats had to settle for a sole point in their opening 2-3 overtime defeat against the Netherlands. In their third game, the Croats long trailed against hosts Lithuania in a tight contest before Vito Idzan tied the game in the third period. With the game decided on penalty shots, Vito Idzan, Fran Zavrski and Ante Bebek all converted to grab Croatia two valuable points. After having brushed aside Spain 9-5 on day four, they lost a four-goal cushion against winless Romania in a nail-biter of a closing game. Vito Idzan came to the rescue once again when powering through with his game-winning 5-4 goal 5:11 from the end.
“The Idzan brothers are special to us. Two very, very good individual players,” said Croatia’s head coach Sertic.
Croatia’s most clinical performance came against their main rival Great Britain on day two. Thanks to a fine piece of individual skill, GB’s Bayley Harewood left Croatia’s Karlo Marinkovic in his wake at the right face-off circle to get GB in front on a one-man advantage. But when the same Harewood sat out an interference call, Niksa Juric levelled the game after tipping home a Tin Alic wrister at 6:29. When Jonathan McBean became the next Brit to sit out a two-minute minor at 7:34, Croatia needed just 12 seconds to go in front. Team captain Vito Idzan one-timed a cross ice pass from Zavrski past Daniel Crowe. Zavrski once again was the provider at 15:18 when winning the face-off from which Niko Cavlovic stretched Croatia’s lead to 3-1. 54 seconds before the first intermission and once again on a power play, Marinkovic picked out Bebek in the slot for a clinical 4-1 strike.
“The level is quite high over here. It’s quite fast and a change of pace from back home. But we were in the penalty box so much and they capitalized on that a lot,” said Great Britain’s Juha Lindgren.
Great Britain’s penalty worries continued to cost dearly during the middle frame. Jacob White-Sey was sitting out for a tripping call as Croatia scored their fourth goal on a one-man advantage. Juric reacted ahead of GB blueliner Liam Steele to score his second of the afternoon at 29:00. The influential Vito Idzan then scored his second of the afternoon as the Croats celebrated their six unanswered goal to run away with a 6-1 lead at 31:02. Crowe was then replaced by Benjamin Norton in the GB net who held out throughout the rest of the middle frame.
“I tried to play hard and give everything I could and see what I could do out there. It’s my last U20 tournament, but hopefully, I can make it for the GB men’s team later on in life. I also try to take what I have learnt here to impact on my game back home,” said GB’s Lindgren, who scored on a rebound to pull one back for the British on the power play at 42:59. They got another consolation in Archie Hazeldine’s goal at 47:08. Speedy Bruno Idzan scored Croatia’s seventh with an empty netter with 36 seconds left to play. 16 seconds before the end Great Britain’s Oliver Endicott closed the scoring, 7-4.
Defensively solid Lithuania finished with the bronze medals in front of their home crowd with Kazimieras Jukna selected as the best goalkeeper of the tournament by the directorate. Spain ended up fourth at this level for a second consecutive season with influential Jaime de Bonilla standing out and being picked as the tournament’s best defender.
Romania finished without a point and will need to regroup in Division II Group B next season. Croatia on the other hand will now get their credentials severely tested at the 2024 IIHF Ice Hockey U20 World Championship Division I Group B. They return to a level they most recently skated at in 2013. There they will play the likes of Slovenia, Ukraine, Italy, Poland and Estonia in a year.
“Four to five players will change for next year. We have won gold here in Lithuania with the junior national team and in Qatar our football national team won bronze at the World Cup, so for now we will just celebrate,” said Croatia head coach Sertic.
Japan’s juniors are back in the second tier of international competition after taking gold in the 2023 IIHF Ice Hockey U20 World Championship Division I Group B in Bytom, Poland. A final-day win over Ukraine saw the team jump into top spot and secure its place in next season’s Division IA competition.
Now the Japanese are just one promotion away from the elite for the first time since 2010/11. That was the last season before the Division I was split into A and B groups.
Ukraine suffered its first loss of the competition in that game despite a four-point game from forward Mykyta Sydorenko and had to be content with silver. Italy took bronze, despite a surprise loss to Estonia on the last day.
Gold medal decider
Going into Saturday’s deciding game, Ukraine had the advantage. Olexander Bobkin’s team won each of its four games with a 19-5 goal difference. Japan, meanwhile, dropped an overtime verdict against Italy and knew that only victory in regulation would be good enough for gold.
And the Japanese flew out of the blocks in the first period, swarming around the Ukrainian net from the opening faceoff. The game was barely a minute old when Savva Serdiuk was forced to make a big stop to deny Fuji Suzuki’s backhand effort after Shiryu Koiwa sliced through the defence.
Japan’s head coach, Perry Pearn, wanted his players to make the most of their mobility and they certainly did so.
“We’re not a big team but our speed and quickness is really noticeable,” Pearn said. “We’re much better skaters overall than most of the teams in this tournament. That has to be our strength and what we have to rely on.
“The flip side of it is that we are not so big as some of the teams – Ukraine would be a good example – so we have to be really smart in terms of winning battles by playing a different way than probably a team like Ukraine is able to play.”
Ukraine’s physical strength played a part in the opening goal, with Sydorenko holding off the attentions of Ichiro Takahashi before his reverse pass set up Illia Dubsky. However, that 10th-minute marker was against the run of play and Japan was soon level thanks to Rukia Morita.
Much of Japan’s success was down to the work of the coaching staff in the buildup to the game, according to Ukraine’s forward Olexi Dakhnovskyi.
“They were the best team because they were so prepared for us,” he said after the game. “They were the most disciplined team we faced. They were ready and it was like they knew what we were going to do on every centimetre of the rink.”
In the second period, Japan converted that preparation into a commanding lead. During a passage of four-on-four play, that extra mobility paid off when Junya Owa released Suzuki to make it 2-1. Another 68 seconds went by and Yutaka Toko made it 3-1, chasing Serdiuk from the net. Ukraine’s incoming goalie Hlib Artsatbanov lasted less than four minutes before allowing a goal from Kotaro Murase, and Taisetsu Ushio made it 5-1 before the second intermission.
Ukraine’s golden dream was almost over, but the impressive Sydorenko battled hard to keep his team in contention. The 18-year-old from Donetsk missed the previous game against Korea due to injury but demonstrated a full recovery. He scored a hat-trick in the third period, but it was not enough to salvage the game. A flurry of penalties brough two quick power play goals for the Japanese as the game finished at 7-4.
For head coach Bobkin, the disappointment of missing out on promotion was tempered by the enthusiasm his young players showed for representing their country. Ukraine’s young players are dispersed throughout the world, with only two currently based in their homeland. But that did not prevent them from answering the call.
“The most important thing is that it was not hard to get everybody to our team, to our training camp,” Bobkin said. “Everybody on the team understands the importance of playing at the World Championship, especially at this hard time for our country. They are really proud to represent us at the tournament.”
Japan’s juniors on the rise
For Japan, gold here represents another step up the junior hockey ladder. The team won promotion to this level in 2020 and is moving up again at the second attempt (the 2021 tournament was cancelled during the pandemic). Head coach Pearn believes that Japan’s youngsters can acquit themselves well at a higher level.
“Before this tournament we played Hungary, who are in Division IA,” he said. “We won one game 4-3 and lost the other 3-5 so I think the top teams in this group are going to be very competitive with the teams in the next group as well. I think it speaks volumes for junior hockey, that this is strong in many countries.”
Last day heartache for Korea
That strength resulted in a competitive tournament, with most games in the balance until the closing moments. Poland bucked the trend on the final day, thrashing Korea 11-2 to finish its tournament in style. That result was vital for the host, which needed the victory to escape relegation. It also proved costly for the Koreans, who dropped into sixth place after Estonia edged Italy 2-1 to secure its survival at this level. Despite that loss, Italy still had enough to claim bronze behind Japan and Ukraine.
Victory in Bytom is the first success for veteran coach Pearn following his move to Japan. The 71-year-old will remain active in the Far East as he looks to mastermind a promotion push for the men’s team, which also competes in Division IB. Pearn brings a wealth of experience to the role: two decades of experience as a bench coach in the NHL, plus taking charge of Team Canada at the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship.
The tournament directorate nominated Italy’s Damian Clara as the top goalkeeper. He played every minute for his country, stopping 91.67% of shots for a GAA of 2.58. Japan’s Junya Owa, whose three helpers against Ukraine saw him finish the competition with 6 (1+5) points, was named best defender. Danylo Korzhyletsky of Ukraine was selected as the best forward. Poland’s Krzysztof Macias led the competition in scoring with 10 (7+3) points. Kotaro Murase of Japan also had 10 (2+8) from his five games.
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