Category: World Junior Championships (Page 1 of 19)

Perfect Knight for U.S. gold

Arthur Kaliyev and Alex Turcotte celebrate a Team USA goal in the gold-medal-game win against the U.S.

By Andrew Podnieks –

Trevor Zegras had a goal and assist and Spencer Knight was terrific in goal for the Americans as they won their fifth all-time gold medal with a flawless 2-0 win over Canada. It was a game of tight checking and stifling defence, blocked shots, great saves, and few great scoring chances.

This was the fifth time the North Americans have met for gold, and after losing the first one the U.S. has now won the last four.

Knight was particularly sensational in the third period as Canada tried everything to get a goal. Shots were 15-1 in the last 20 minutes, and 34-21 overall for Canada, but Knight stopped them all.

With his two points,  Zegras wins the scoring title with 18 points to go with being named tournament MVP.

This game was also the 12th shutout of the tournament, surpassing 2004 for the most in one U20 event. And, it was the lowest-scoring game between the two countries since a 1-1 tie in Winnipeg in 1999.

It was clear from the early going that Canada was going to continue its game of puck pressure, but equally clear that the Americans could handle the strategy by moving the puck quickly. Canada controlled the early going in this way, but unlike all previous games when it got an early goal to create some forward momentum, the U.S. held the fort and slowly but surely wrested control from the hosts.

This change of pressure from Canada to the United States resulted in a period of sustained pressure inside the Canada end, and as the defensive players wore down the Americans forced the issue. Zegras got the puck back to the point where Drew Helleson took a quick shot that was tipped in front by Alex Turcotte, beating Levi at 13:25.

That goal alone ended Levi’s bid for a record fourth shutout, another bid for the longest shutout sequence, and Canada’s bid for going through the tournament without trailing.

More important, the goal energized the U.S., and they came right back with another great shift. That momentum was dulled by a tripping penalty, the first to either side in a period in which the referees let the players play. On the ensuing power play Canada was all over the Americans, but Knight stood tall in goal and Canada misfired when it mattered most. 

It was still a 1-0 game after 20 minutes, but Canada went to the dressing room feeling better while the U.S. was very happy with its period.

It was the Americans, though, who started the second firing on all cylinders, and just 32 seconds in they made it 2-0. Canada failed to get the puck out, and a quick shot by Arthur Kailyev went wide. But Levi thought the puck was coming out to his left, and instead it came out the other side where Zegras flipped it into the empty cage.

Canada dominated the rest of the period, but it encountered two problems it hadn’t previously. One, the players started to miss great chances they usually buried. Two, Knight was playing flawlessly in the blue ice.

Bo Byram joined the rush on a short-handed odd-man rush, and his shot off the deke hit the post. Quinton Byfield had a great chance in front but shot wide, and Braden Schneider was stopped from in close by the glove of Knight.

In all, Canada couldn’t buy a goal despite leading the tournament with 41 through six games.

In the third, Knight was the difference, to be sure, but the Americans gave Canada the puck but little time to do anything. The result was plenty of puck possession but not many bona fide chances. 

Lundell leads Finns to bronze

Finland celebrates after captain Anton Lundell (#15) opens the scoring in the 4-1 bronze medal win over Russia

By Lucas Aykroyd –

In a tight battle, captain Anton Lundell scored twice as the Finns beat Russia 4-1 to win the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship bronze medal game.

It was Finland’s first bronze medal since star goalie Tuukka Rask backstopped his nation to third place in Vancouver in 2006. In the 2010’s, the Finns won either gold (2014, 2016, 2019) or nothing. All-time, this is Finland’s seventh bronze, with five wins and two losses.

Coach Antti Pennanen’s boys, who trailed 1-0 after the first period, staged comebacks in all three of their medal-round games, including the 3-2 quarter-final win over the Swedes and the 4-3 defeat against the Americans.

Russia lost a bronze medal game for the first time in nine tries and finished out of the medals for just the second time in the last 11 years (fifth in 2018). The Russians, who took silver in 2020 with a 4-3 final loss to Canada, have one gold in their last 18 World Juniors (2011).

Both Pennanen and Russian head coach Igor Larionov gave their starting goalies a vote of confidence for the bronze medal game. Kari Piiroinen and Yaroslav Askarov each made their sixth appearance. Finland outshot Russia 32-29. Askarov performed markedly better after a rough outing in the 5-0 semi-final loss to Canada.

The Russians stormed out of the gate, firing seven shots on goal before Finland got one. Piiroinen was forced to stop Yegor Chinakhov with his blocker on a clear break. Minutes later, Russian captain Vasili Podkolzin barged to the net and just tipped a cross-crease pass off the post.

Ilya Safonov made it 1-0 at 6:03. The AK Bars Kazan winger capitalized on some spadework by Maxim Groshev, who stickhandled to the middle before launching a backhander on goal. Safonov converted the rebound for his second goal of the tournament.

To open the second period, Finnish defenceman Ville Heinola inadvertently clipped Chinakhov in the face. However, the Finns killed the penalty off with ease, and at 5:05, they got the equalizer.

Topi Niemela, who leads all World Junior blueliners with eight points, wristed a shot that Lundell tipped in. Lundell and Heinola are the only two returnees from the golden 2019 team.

Late in the period, with Finland pressing, Lundell pivoted to make a marvelous cross-crease feed to Eemil Viro, but the puck bounced off Viro’s stick and he was shaken up after going hard into the end boards.

In the third period, Mikko Petman made it 2-1 Finland at 1:13, getting his stick on Viro’s left point shot to deflect it past Askarov. It was a great time for the 19-year-old Lukko winger to notch his first World Junior goal.

At the Russian bench, Podkolzin urged his team to keep giving it their all. Unfortunately, he bumped into teammate Shakir Mukhamadullin in the neutral zone and his stick then hit Mantykivi in the face.

Taking a double minor for high-sticking with under seven minutes to play was a tough blow for the trailing Russians. The Finns, whose PP came in clicking at 40 percent (8-for-20), couldn’t get a shot here, but it killed valuable time.

Larionov called his timeout and yanked Askarov for the extra attacker with 1:55 left and a faceoff in the Finnish end. The Russians stormed Piiroinen’s crease, but couldn’t jam one in. Time ran out as Lundell, with his team-leading sixth goal, and Juuso Parssinen added empty-netters to round out the scoring.

The Finns, not as talented on paper as in previous years, did well with their relentless five-man commitment to two-way hockey. The jury is still out on whether Larionov’s vision of resurrecting a more creative, Soviet style of Russian hockey will spawn gold someday.

After not suiting up against Canada, forward Vladislav Firtsov slotted into Larionov’s lineup here in place of the injured Arseni Gritsyuk. Finland, meanwhile, replaced forward Petteri Puhakka with Roby Jarventie.

Both Finland and Russia will be looking to top the podium when the IIHF World Junior Championship returns to Edmonton and Red Deer in 2022.

U.S. edges Finns to make final

Matthew Boldy scores Team USA’s third goal in a tight 4-3 win over Finland

By Lucas Aykroyd –

In a hard-fought semi-final, Arthur Kaliyev scored the winner with 1:16 left as the U.S. defeated Finland 4-3 on Monday to advance to the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship gold medal game against host Canada.

“It’s something that you dream about, USA and Canada in a gold medal game,” said John Farinacci, who also scored for the Americans. “It’s gonna be a fun game, and we’ve got to play a full 60 minutes if we want to get that gold medal.”

Versus Finland, Kaliyev, set up by Alex Turcotte, fired a laser over goalie Kari Piiroinen’s glove to give coach Nate Leaman’s team the victory.

“My eyes lit up and I just ripped it to him and he had an unbelievable shot,” said Turcotte.

The Finns rallied from a two-goal second period deficit to make it 3-3 in the third, but couldn’t pull off another sensational comeback like their 3-2 quarter-final win over Sweden. Finland will face Russia for the bronze medal.

“It’s gonna be tough for sure,” said Finnish head coach Antti Pennanen. “But of course, it’s our last game. So I hope we bring the team effort tomorrow.”

Tuesday will mark the fifth Canada-USA final in World Junior history (1997, 2004, 2010, 2017). Surprisingly, given Canada’s overall dominance at this tournament, the U.S. has won the last three gold-medal clashes.

This semi-final provided revenge for the Americans after two consecutive medal-round losses to Finland. The Finns edged the U.S. 3-2 in the 2019 gold medal game in Vancouver. Finland also won the 2020 quarter-final 1-0 in Trinec.

“It was a hump we had to get over, and I’m really proud of the guys,” said Leaman.

U.S. goalie Spencer Knight, who has recorded two shutouts in Edmonton, and Finland’s Piiroinen, who has one, both got their fifth starts of the tournament. Finland outshot the U.S. 36-26.

Like Kaliyev, Turcotte had a goal and an assist for the U.S., and Matthew Boldy had the other goal. Kasper Simontaival scored twice and Roni Hirvonen added a single for the Finns, while Ville Heinola chipped in two assists.

The Americans are looking for their fifth all-time gold medal (2004, 2010, 2013, 2017). Meanwhile, the Finns will try to win bronze for the first time since 2006 in Vancouver.

“It’s been a really awesome trip with these guys to be here in the bubble,” said Finland’s Kasper Puutio. “We still want to get a medal and be proud of this team. So we’re still definitely going to be giving the best that we have tomorrow and trying to get the bronze medal.”

The Finns carried the early play territorially, hounding the Americans around the rink. U.S. scoring leader Trevor Zegras (16 points, tied with Canada’s Dylan Cozens) unsuccessfully attempted the lacrosse move that Carolina’s Andrei Svechnikov used to score twice last season.

Turcotte opened the scoring at 12:39 with his second goal of the tournament. Kaliyev fired a shot that bounced off Turcotte’s leg at the side of the net, and he banged the puck past Piiroinen’s right skate.

This semi-final pitted the tournament’s two top power-play teams against each other. The U.S. came in clicking at 42.1 per cent, while the Finns were at 40 per cent (6-for-15).

At 14:06, Simontaival tied it up on Finland’s first man advantage. Heinola took a centre-point shot that Kasper Puutio directed to a wide-open Simontaival in front for his third of these World Juniors.

“There were points in the game where we really played good hockey and were on our toes, but there were points where we were just falling back too much and letting the Finns dictate,” said Leaman.

In the second period, Finland’s hustle continued to frustrate the more talented Americans. A stretch pass from Turcotte to Zegras looked promising, but Eemil Viro was there to intercept it.

On a mid-game Finnish man advantage, the offensive pressure was relentless. Knight came up big to deny Puutio on a dangerous one-timer. And then the Americans’ quick-strike attack shifted the momentum.

An opportunistic Farinacci took a beautiful stretch pass from Jackson LaCombe when the Finns were completing a line change, and he beat Piiroinen on a breakaway to make it 2-1 at 15:53.

“I love the fact that Jackson LaCombe made that great play today to send Farinacci in,” said Leaman.

Less than a minute later, life got tougher for Finland as Aku Raty took a double-minor for high-sticking Boldy, giving the Americans their first power play. And Boldy, although slightly bloodied, went straight to the net to tip in Zegras’s heads-up pass from the high slot at 17:00 for a 3-1 lead.

Early in the third, Finland got a tremendous opportunity when Cole Caufield got dinged for delay of game after flipping the puck over the glass while exiting the U.S. zone. But it came to naught, and the blue-and-white team simply had to take more chances offensively.

At 11:38, Simontaival cut the U.S. lead to 3-2 on a play similar to his first goal, rushing to the net and converting Puutio’s smooth cross-ice pass as Knight lunged with his glove fruitlessly.

“We showed that character that we had in the previous games against Sweden,” said Puutio. “So we knew what we can do. And we were just believing and trusting the process and trying to find a way to come back in the game.”

Incredibly, the Americans took a second delay-of-game minor with 4:42 left, with Henry Thrun the culprit this time. With 3:43 remaining, Hirvonen was right at the crease to bang in the rebound from Finnish captain Anton Lundell’s bad-angle shot.

The Finnish bench went wild. Hirvonen also potted the game-winner with 25 seconds left against Sweden in the 3-2 quarter-final comeback win. But against the U.S., this was as close as Pennanen’s boys would get, despite some late pressure.

“Obviously, that was probably the craziest period of hockey I’ve ever played in,” Farinacci said.

The result gives Finland an all-time World Junior record against the U.S. of 18 wins, one tie, and 17 losses.

Canada rolls into gold

By Andrew Podnieks –

As it has every game this tournament, Canada roared out to an early lead and never looked back. Tonight, Russia was the victim, and the 5-0 score was richly deserved by the more determined and aggressive Canadians.

The win vaults Canada into the gold-medal game tomorrow night and puts the Russians in the bronze-medal game earlier in the day.

Devon Levi stopped 28 shots for his third shutout, tying Justin Pogge for the U20 record for one tournament. For Russia, it was their most one-sided loss in the semi-finals since the playoff format was introduced in 1996.And, it was Canada’s first shutout over Russia since 2006 (14 games).

Canada now has scored 40 goals and allowed just 4 in six games.

Dyman Cozens led Canada with a goal and two assists. He now leads the tournament in both goals (8) and points (16).

“That’s hockey,” Russian captain Vasili Podkolzin said. “It’s a game, and these things happen. Congrats to team Canada. They did a great job and deserved the win. We should have played better.”

The fun started early and in the strangest way imaginable. Alex Newhook had a great opening shift, culminating with a quick shot in front after he picked up a loose puck to the side of the net that Zakhar Bardakov tried to bat out of harm’s way.

Newhook whipped a shot that went in and out so quickly even he didn’t realize it. Play continued for 30 seconds and then the official timekeeper blew his horn to stop play, a most unusual occurrence. The referees then reviewed the play and quickly ruled it a goal, the official time being 0:59.

“I actually had no idea it went in,” he acknowledged. “I thought it hit the crossbar, but when you get an early chance like that and put it away, it’s great for the team.”

The Canadians increased their lead midway through the period thanks to a great pass by Jacob Pelletier to Connor McMichael to the back side of the play. He fought off defenceman Yan Kuznetsov and snapped the puck into the open cage.

Canada’s sensational period continued with a third goal, this from Cole Perfetti during a four-minute power play. He came off the point and from the top of the circle wired a shot under the glove of Askarov to the far side at 15:05, and the Russians left the ice after 20 minutes in a state of shock.

Nothing changed after the intermission, and Canada’s incredible puck pressure led to its fourth goal at 4:09. This time Askarov lost his stick and whole he was trying to get it from Semyon Chistyakov the Canadians moved the puck around, setting up Braden Schneider. His shot beat the goalie to the glove side again.

The Russians finally got their first power play of the night late in the period and scored after some good puck movement, but no sooner was it in the net than Canada challenged the play for offside. After a lengthy review, it was clear the puck entered the Canadian zone ahead of the play, and the goal was cancelled.

Captain Dylan Cozens was awarded a penalty shot with 29.4 seconds remaining after a determined effort in centre ice created a breakaway, but he was slashed on the play from behind. Askarov made a nice right-toe save, though, keeping the score at 4-0.

Canada stifled every Russain attempt in the third period to rush the puck, pinch, create offence. The closest they came to getting back into the game was a his post off a drifting point shot by Shakir Mkhamadullin with about seven minutes remaining.

Levi brought a moment of excitement to the game when he fielded the puck behind his own goal and took aim at the empty cage at the other end. His shot, however, hit a teammate in the back.

Cozens scored an empty netter at 18:31 to finish the scoring.

U.S. defeats Slovaks, will face Finns

The U.S. celebrates after John Farinacci’s second-period goal in a 5-2 quarter-final win over Slovakia at the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championships

By Lucas Aykroyd –

With patience, skill, and a balanced attack, the Americans defeated gutsy Slovakia 5-2 in Saturday’s last quarter-final at Edmonton’s Rogers Place. The U.S. will take on Finland in the semi-finals on Monday, while host Canada battles Russia.

“I think both teams have progressed,” said the U.S.’s Ryan Johnson about facing the Finns. “Watching Finland, they look a lot better. Same with us as well. I think it’ll be a good matchup.”

John Farinacci stepped up with two goals, and Arthur Kaliyev, Cole Caufield, and Matthew Beniers also scored for the Americans. Tournament scoring leader Trevor Zegras and Bobby Brink each chipped in a pair of assists.

U.S. coach Nate Leaman’s team set a World Junior record with a shutout streak of 218:53. It ended when Slovakia’s Matej Kaslik scored late in the second period. The last goal the Americans had surrendered was Yegor Chinakhov’s empty-netter with 21 seconds left in the 5-3 opening loss to Russia.

Dominik Sojka had the other goal for Slovakia, which finished eighth for the third straight year.

It was a goaltending duel between American starter Spencer Knight and Slovakia’s Simon Latkoczky, who kept his team in it as shots favored the U.S. 43-18. Slovak coach Robert Petrovicky opted for the 18-year-old World Junior rookie Latkoczy, who entered with a 1.94 GAA and 93.3 save percentage, over three-time tournament participant Samuel Hlavaj.

“I think he played well all the time,” said Slovak captain Samuel Knazko. “The goalies are the best players in our team at this tournament. So I think he did a great job today.”

With four all-time gold medals (2004, 2010, 2013, 2017), the Americans now have their sights set on another title. They have a history with their semi-final opponent. They lost the 2019 final to Finland and finished fifth last year with a quarter-final loss to the Finns.

“I watched all the other games today,” said Leaman. “Russia had to go through it. Finland found a way to come back, and Canada got in too. This is a tough round, the quarter-finals, a very tough round. You’ve got to knock somebody out of the tournament. We’re going to refocus and get ready for Finland. It’ll be a big game. Obviously that’s the team that knocked us out of the tournament last year.”

Meanwhile, the Slovaks have a total of two bronze medals (1999, 2015) in World Junior history.

Petrovicky expressed optimism about the future of Slovak hockey: “We brought lots of young, talented players with us. They showed lots of potential. And we have a few more young players coming out. We just have to work with them and believe they can develop into players. We are not afraid to give them a chance if they work hard and want to get better every day.”

The Americans came in dominating on special teams, with their power play clicking at 40 percent (6-for-15) and their penalty kill functioning perfectly (0 goals allowed on 5 disadvantages). Their discipline wasn’t as impeccable against Slovakia, but they still found a way to prevail.

After killing off an early Slovak man advantage, the U.S. made it 1-0 on the power play at 10:44 with precision puck movement. From the goal line, Matthew Boldy found Kaliyev cross-crease with a no-look pass. It was the second goal of the tournament for the longtime star of the OHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs.

Late in the first, Zegras looked shaken up on an open-ice hit by Slovakia’s Oliver Turan, a 196-cm, 96-kg defenceman. However, the future Anaheim Ducks forward was right back out there to start the second period.

Early in the middle frame, Caufield, who turned 20 on Saturday, was denied by Latkoczy on a breakaway and couldn’t convert his rebound. A few minutes later, the Slovak goalie was equal to the challenge when Alex Turcotte broke in alone.

Even though the Slovaks strove to slow the pace, patience paid off for the Americans. Johnson’s wrist shot from the left point deflected off Farinacci at 11:55 to make it 2-0.

With 3:07 left in the middle frame, Caufield got his birthday present with a 5-on-3 man advantage, as he rifled a shot bar down for a 3-0 lead and his second goal of the tournament. Caufield, a top Montreal Canadiens prospect who was named the Big Ten Freshman of the Year with the University of Wisconsin last year, tied Alexander Ovechkin’s single-tournament U18 Worlds goal record (14) in 2019.

Kaslik finally got Slovakia on the board at 18:32, hammering home a slap shot after a U.S. defensive breakdown in the high slot.

“I think we started well in the third period,” said Latkoczy. “We played like a team. We said a couple of things in the locker room during the intermission, that these were probably our last 20 minutes and we wanted to do our best in the tournament.”

At 9:50 of the third, Sojka scored the first power-play goal the U.S. penalty-killers have allowed in Edmonton, tipping in Knazko’s left point shot.

However, that was as close as the underdog Slovaks would get. Farinacci stepped out from behind Latkoczy’s cage and scored on a backhanded wraparound at 15:46 to restore the U.S.’s two-goal gap.

“I kind of got caught behind the net there,” Farinacci said. “I saw the D leave the net front and I just tried to wrap it around. Fortunately it went in.”

Petrovicky pulled Latkoczky for the extra attacker, but Beniers scored an empty-netter with 1:24 remaining to seal the 5-2 victory.

This game was a revenge of sorts for Leaman. At his last World Juniors in 2009 in Ottawa, he was an assistant to Ron Rolston when Slovakia eliminated the U.S. with a 5-3 quarter-final upset. That was the only previous quarter-final meeting between these nations.

All that matters now for America, though, is winning Monday’s semi-final against the never-say-die Finns, who rallied to defeat Sweden 3-2 in their quarter-final

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.

U.S. blanks Sweden to top Group B

Alex Turcotte (#15) scores the U.S.’s fourth goal in the 4-0 New Year’s Eve victory over Sweden to win Group B

By Lucas Aykroyd –

The U.S. blanked Sweden 4-0 on New Year’s Eve at Rogers Place to earn first place in Group B. In Tuesday’s quarter-finals, the U.S. will face Slovakia, while third-place Sweden battles archrival Finland.

Tournament scoring leader Trevor Zegras (6+7=13) set the pace for the U.S. with a goal and two assists. Goalie Spencer Knight recorded his second World Junior shutout.

“The strength of this group is that they care about each other and they’re playing for each other,” said U.S. head coach Nate Leaman. “I think we’ve got a lot of leaders that will lead at different times in different ways.”

At the 2021 World Juniors in Edmonton, the U.S. is looking for its first gold medal since 2017 and fifth all-time. Sweden, which won bronze last year, has just two golds to its credit (1981, 2012).

The Juniorkronorna had a nightmare start, surrendering two goals on the U.S.’s first five shots, and they couldn’t bounce back. The U.S. outshot Sweden 37-27.

“They got two pretty much [bad] goals there in the beginning,” said Swedish defenceman Victor Soderstrom. “They threw the puck on the net and scored. So I think that was a pretty tough start. And then we didn’t really come back after that. I think we tried. But if you go back and look at the game, I think we needed to shoot a little bit more on the net and be more hungry.”

In goal, Swedish head coach Joel Ronnmark went back to returning starter Hugo Alnefelt, who played in the 7-1 win over the Czechs and 4-0 win over Austria. Unfortunately, the 19-year-old HV71 netminder allowed four goals on 21 shots and was pulled in favour of Jesper Wallstedt early in the second period.

“[Alnefelt] had a bit of a tough start during the game, but sometimes that happens,” said Ronnmark. “And he’s really been standing on his head for us a lot of times too. It was a no-brainer for me to put him in for tonight’s game.”

With Wallstedt recording 31 saves, the Swedes had their record 54-game preliminary-round winning streak snapped with a 4-3 overtime loss to Russia on Wednesday.

Knight, who was pulled in the opening 5-3 loss to Russia and earned a 7-0 shutout against the Czechs, looked good in his third World Junior appearance this year under coach Nate Leaman.

The U.S. drew first blood at 1:09, as Alnefelt misplayed John Farrnacci’s long shot off his glove and Drew Helleson’s bad-angle shot from the corner surprised the goalie.

At 3:58, Zegras, the 2019 first-round pick of the Anaheim Ducks (ninth overall), golfed a shot from the side boards that flew over Alnefelt’s right shoulder on the short side.

“I think I’m shooting the puck more,” said Zegras. “I think I have a little more confidence in those areas. And I’m playing with two great players, Arthur Kaliyev and Alex Turcotte. They’re putting me in some really good spots.”

Meanwhile, Knight denied sniper Lucas Raymond on a glorious chance from the slot. And Alexander Holtz misfired on a dangerous-looking mid-period 2-on-1 rush with Raymond.

“He’s always been really mentally tough,” said York of Knight. “Whenever he comes off a tough game, he always seems to rebound.”

Sweden needed a momentum-changer. Defenceman Tobias Bjornfot hit U.S. sniper Cole Caufield in front of the Swedish bench, and Ronnmark’s troops killed off Emil Andrae’s high-sticking penalty late in the first period. But it wasn’t enough.

At 2:00 of the second period, Ryan Johnson got the puck from Zegras after a faceoff in the Swedish zone, skated into the left faceoff circle, and beat Alnefelt high to the glove side for a 3-0 lead.

At 3:34, Swedish forward Arvid Costmar broke into the clear and was hooked by Jackson LaCombe, leading to a penalty shot. Assistant captain Victor Soderstrom was chosen to take the attempt. The top Arizona Coyotes prospect skated in and tried to deke Knight, but the puck drifted off his stick. It was that kind of night for the boys in blue and yellow.

“The coach asked me if I wanted to take it and I didn’t hesitate,” said Soderstrom. “I can’t remember the last time that happened, but it happens, and it happens to everyone.”

Just 21 seconds later, Turcotte got loose in front of Alnefelt and pivoted to bury his first goal of the tournament. At last, Ronnmark mercifully put Wallstedt in, and the highly touted 18-year-old wouldn’t allow a goal the rest of the way.

Knight was lucky as well as good. Near the 13-minute mark, Albin Sundsvik had a marvelous chance to convert a wraparound, but Knight, who had missed the initial U.S. shot, stuck out his right pad to foil the Swedish forward. On a power play late in the second, Elmer Soderblom had the goalie beaten, but rang it off the post.

In the scoreless third period, Sweden’s rough night continued. On an offside at the U.S. blue line, Tyler Kleven thumped Swedish captain Philip Broberg, who seemed to be labouring for the second straight game, with a late hit.

“The start tonight was huge,” said York. “I thought it really got our whole group going. But at the end of the day, our focus is winning a gold medal. And today was a big step in that direction.”

This was Sweden’s first regulation-time defeat in the preliminary round since losing 2-0 to Canada on 26 December 2006 in Leksand. Luc Bourdon and Brad Marchand scored for the Canadians and Carey Price had a 31-save shutout.

The last time Sweden lost two consecutive round-robin games at a World Juniors was at the 2005 tournament in Grand Forks, North Dakota and Thief River Falls, Minnesota. Sweden lost 8-1 to Canada on 27 December and 5-4 to Finland on 29 December.

With this win, the U.S.’s all-time record against Sweden improved to 16 wins, one tie, and 18 losses. The last time these nations faced off at the World Juniors was on 29 December 2018, when Adam Boqvist scored the 5-4 overtime winner in Victoria. In their lone gold-medal game meeting, the U.S. defeated Sweden 3-1 in 2013 in Ufa, Russia.

Zegras now has 22 career World Junior points. That ties him with James van Riemsdyk (2007-09) for third place among Americans, and puts him within striking range of all-time U.S. leader Jordan Schroeder (27 points, 2008-10). Yet right now, team goals take precedence over individual achievements, and that goes for all eight quarter-final teams.

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