Category: World Junior Championships (Page 1 of 13)

Resilient Romania wins gold

By Henrik Manninen –

Romania has won the 2024 IIHF U20 World Championship Division II Group B in Belgrade, Serbia. Dropping just one point from five games seals the tournament top-seeds a straight return to Division IIA.
Despite going undefeated while scoring 25 goals and conceding just five in the process, this was far from a procession for the Romanians in Belgrade´s Pionir Ice Rink. But when the chips were down, they managed to roar back and grind out victories in impressive fashion against Serbia and Iceland.
Romania´s key win came in their opener versus next-door neighbours Serbia. Trailing 0-2 the Romanians left it late before prevailing 3-2 in a memorable shootout win.
Following a spirited start by Romania, the balance of the game tilted in the favour of the Serbs when Roland Ordog went to sit out a kneeing minor. The hosts’ top line needed just 20 seconds to capitalize as Petar Simic scored on a rebound from close range at 4:21.
Serbia doubled their lead five minutes later. Careless defensive build-up play by Romania saw Minja Ivanovic snap up the puck and race through on Romania´s net to zip a wrister that went in off the post.
The two neighbouring rivals’ most recent encounter on Serbian ice at this level was played back in 2016. Romania then took two points in a feisty overtime win in Novi Sad en route to gold.
Eight years on, Romania got back into the game at 37:34 thanks to a brilliant piece of individual skill. Selected as the tournament´s best forward, Csongor Antal won a battle with Filip Lazic in the neutral zone and got up to speed while marching through the Serbian rearguard to finish high past Filip Korenic.
Romania charged ahead searching for that equalizing goal as desperation crept in with time quickly running out. Netminder Nandor Biro had already been pulled twice from the Romanian cage before the third time became the charm.
Akos Nyisztor won the face-off to the right of Serbia´s net, Robert Gyorgy fired a wrister from the point deflecting into the path of Antal who netted his second of the night from the slot to tie the game with just 15 seconds to go.
Following a goal-less overtime penalty shots ensued. Matija Dinic scored Serbia´s lone penalty, while influential team captain Antal and Calin Lupascu both converted for the jubilant Romanians.
Buoyed by their morale-boosting start to the tournament, Romania once again had to dig deep to edge Iceland in the next game. Being a goal down Romania finally got their reward on a one-man advantage at 51:49 when Elod Kovacs tied the game. Benjamin Barabas then netted Romania´s 2-1 winner with 2:58 remaining.
The Romanians then found goals easier to come by. 12-1 versus Chinese Taipei was followed by a Nyisztor hat-trick as newly promoted Australia was downed 4-1. In their final game, the fifth-placed Belgians were blanked 4-0.
Victory in Belgrade marks a winning start for Romania´s Swedish head coach Per Lundell. The win is hoped to herald a new dawn for Romania´s junior national team program which has been unable to keep up with the recent success of its men´s national team. Heading into this season, three levels of World Championship play separated Romania´s U20 national team from that of its men´s team competing in Division 1A.
Hosts finish second, Iceland writes history
Having recovered from their devastating opening-day shootout loss, Serbia took full points from their remaining four games to finish second in Marko Sretovic’s debut as head coach for the U20s. 17-year-old debutant netminder Korenic was selected as the tournament´s top netminder, stopping 97.22% of shots for a GAA of 0.71, while forward Ivanovic led the tournament in scoring with 10 (6+4) points. The duo are among the 15 members on Serbia´s U20 roster eligible to play at this level come next year.
Belgrade´s Pionir Ice Rink remains a happy hunting ground for Iceland. It was right here Iceland´s men´s team celebrated its greatest success winning bronze at the 2014 World Championship Division IIA. Ten years on, the Icelandic U20 crop coached by Vladimir Kolek enjoys its finest achievement to date in the Serbian capital. The youngest team of the tournament beat relegated Chinese Taipei 9-4 in their final game to win bronze. Arnar Helgi Kristjansson led Iceland in scoring with 9 (2+7) points and was also selected as the tournament´s best defender.

Lethal U.S. wins 6th gold

By Andrew Podnieks –

The United States made the most of their chances and skated to an almost flawless 6-2 victory over Sweden to capture their sixth all-time gold medal. They won their first in 2004 and most recent one in 2021, and have won those six in a 21-year span.

For Sweden, heartbreak on home ice. In this their seventh hosting of the tournament, they have yet to win gold.

The Americans won with penetrating counter-attacks and a lethal touch around the Sweden goal. They finished the tournament with seven wins in as many games, and time might show this to be one of the greatest American teams of all time.

“It’s awesome! It’s the best feeling in the world!” said forward Gabe Perreault, who had a goal and two assists for the victors. “They got that one at the end of the second, but we were still feeling confident. We didn’t change our game, and then we got one early in the third and kept going. We scored on our chances.”

“It’s a great feeling,” added goalie Trey Augustine. “We just stuck to our game plan, and things worked out for us. I think the turning point was early in the third when we got that goal from Buium. That settled us down. It was a great game for us. We wanted to make them make a perfect shot.”

“In the first two periods, we had them where we wanted,” offered Swedish defender Mattias Havelid. “In the third, they had a one-goal lead, but we felt good. Then they scored, and things didn’t go our way. When we play relaxed, we can beat pretty much any team. But when we took that double minor in the third, they got the momentum back, and it was pretty tough after that.”

The game started cautiously, but Sweden started to assert itself and had the puck in the U.S. end for several extended stretches, but they misfired too often and ended up not testing Augustine to any great degree. Their best player was Noah Ostlund, who had three terrific chances. But he fired high and wide on the first, didn’t get much wood on a backhand between his legs on the second, and was stopped by Augustine after a great move on the third.

At the other end, Quinn Finley split the defence and went in alone, but as Havelid tried to pokecheck him, Finley moved wide only to run out of room. The Americans struck for the opening goal at 16:56 on a great play by defender Will Smith. From the point, he took a slap-pass to Perreault to the side of the goal, and Perreault redirected the puck past the outstretched pad of the goalie, sending the small but loud contingent of American fans into a frenzy.

The Swedes got just the start they needed in the second, tying the game at 2:13 on a play we’ve seen before. Mattias Havelid took a simple point shot that was beautifully tipped in front by Otto Stenberg. The Swedes continued to press and had the better of play, but time after time they fired wide on a good scoring opportunity.

The Americans were utterly brilliant on the counter-attack, springing a man as soon as they got possession in their own end. Will Smith created a partial breakaway through speed and hard work, but he shot wide. But on another counter, Isaac Howard corralled a clearing along the boards when a Swedish defender had turned the wrong way. Howard went in alone and slid the puck between Havelid’s pads at 9:24 to restore the Americans’ lead.

Worse for the home fans, the U.S. double their lead five minutes later. Howard came out from behind the goal and faked a pass in front, putting the puck on goal instead. It went off the goalie’s back skate and in, silencing the crowd and giving the visitors a 3-1 lead.

Sweden got a desperately needed goal before the end of the period, though. Working the power play, Jonathan Lekkerimaki blasted a high point shot past Augustine with only 5.2 seconds left on the clock, a motivating goal if ever there was one.

But the Americans responded just 1:19 into the third after Sweden iced the puck unnecessarily. The U.S. won the ensuing faceoff back to the point, and Zeev Buium wired a shot that Havelid probably should have stopped. 4-2 U.S..

Making matters worse, Ostlund took a double minor for high sticking midway through the period, and although the Swedish penalty killers were flawless, it killed four more minutes off the clock for the U.S. Soon after he came out, Ostlund hit the post, and then he was beaten in his own end to the puck by Ryan Leonard, who converted the play with a nice shot at 16:12, more or less sealing the victory.

Rutger McGroarty sealed the win with an empty netter at 16:50.

Remarkable comeback gives Czechs bronze

By Andrew Podnieks –

Czechia overcame a 5-2 Finland lead and scored the only five goals of the third period to defeat Finland 8-5 and win the bronze medal, their second medal in as many years.

Tomas Hamara scored the winner at 18:19 off a faceoff win just 15 seconds after they had tied the score with the extra attacker. They then added two empty netters. It was a shocking collapse from Finland which looked dominant in the last half of the second period.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been in a game like this,” Hamara said, medal around his neck. “It was pretty crazy. To be honest, I was really down when they scored the fifth goal because it was my fault, a big mistake. But my teammates helped me a lot. They were cheering on the bench to pick me up. I knew I had to do something special, so I’m so glad I scored that goal, and so happy that we won. It means so much for us.”

That wild third period produced two records. The Czechs scored four goals in a span of just 50 seconds, obliterating the previous record of 68 seconds set by Canada in 1983. They also scored two goals in two seconds, both empty netters. The previous record was six seconds, set three times.

It was a game that featured two teams with very different records in bronze-medal games. The Finns had won five of seven games for third place while Czechia had won just one of seven. The pattern proved the opposite today.

“Our coaches did a great job preparing us,” Hamara added. “Even right after the game yesterday they were telling us we have no time to be sad or disappointed. Just focus on tomorrow because it’s a game for the bronze medal.”

Ondrej Becher had a hat trick and two assists while Jiri Kulich had two goals and two assists. Hamara had a goal and two helpers.

Finland got the early jump on the medals with two goals just 90 seconds apart. The first came at 6:13 when Rasmus Kumpulainen moved into the slot and fired a shot past the weak glove of Michael Hrabal, who has given up many a goal to the trapper side.

The Finns made it 2-0 off a turnover behind the Czechia net. Jani Nyman had a good look at the goal before shooting, netting his second goal of the tournament. After Hrabal surrendered this goal coach Patrik Augusta made a change, putting in Jakub Vondras, who was seeing his first action of the tournament. 

The Czechs got back into the game on a late power play. Just seven seconds after Emil Pieniniemi was whistled for tripping, Matyas Melovsky made a perfect cross-ice pass back to door to captain Kulich, and his one-timer found the short side at 16:16.

As so often happens in the bronze game, a relatively tame opening period gave way to a wide-open second, and today that meant an explosion of goals, including three in just 34 seconds. The fun began on a Czech power play when Jakub Stancl’s shot from the middle of the ice slithered through the pads of Miklas Kokko, tying the game at 8:37.

But while that goal was being announced Finland struck twice on two similar plays. First Jani Nyman beat his man along the boards and fed Konsta Helenius with a nice pass to the back side, which he converted at 8:52. Then, 19 seconds later, Lenni Hameenaho took a similar pass from the other side from Oiva Keskinen and wired it in to give the Finns a 4-2 lead.

They added another on the power play five minutes later, a highlight-reel goal, to be sure. Hameenaho flew down the right side, beat Hamara with a gorgeous move, and backhanded the puck to the far side. Top-3 goal of the tournament.

Czechia, however, gave themselves a ray of hope with a short-handed goal in the final minute. Becher kept a tricky pass onside and went in alone, beating Kokko with a shot to the blocker side to make it 5-3.

“It was a huge goal for us, short-handed,” Hamara noted. “It makes such a big difference coming into the third being down two goals instead of three.”

Indeed, early in the third, they made life a little awkward for Finland, scoring on another power play at 4:41 to make it a one-goal game again. Kulich, with another brilliant one-timer, was the scorer.

That awkwardness became something worse for Finland–a tie game–late in the third with Vondras on the bench for a sixth attacker. Becher poppped home a loose puck at 18:04 to make it a 5-5 game. That comfortable 5-2 lead for Suomi was a thing of the distant past now.

And 15 seconds later, the game was decided when Hamara snapped a long shot in after a faceoff win. The Czechs added two empty netters to claim their second medal in as many years, and a stunned Finland skated off the ice finishing in fourth place.

Australia U20 wins in Istanbul

The Australian team celebrates after beating Israel for gold at the 2023 IIHF Ice Hockey U20 World Championship Division III.

By Ivan Tchechankov –

For the third time in the history of the event Australia won gold medals in a tournament of the IIHF Ice Hockey U20 World Championship program. As in the previous occasions (2004 & 2010) that happened in the Division III. The 2023 IIHF Ice Hockey U20 World Championship Division III was held at the Zeytinburnu Ice Rink in Istanbul, Türkiye, from 26 January to 2 February. Hoping to get back to the Division II where they played from 2011 to 2017, the Australians beat Israel 4-1 in the gold medal game.

In the first period Australia had a strong hold of their opponents and a big advantage on shots on goal (16-6). Both teams had an opportunity on a power play, but to no avail. In the start of the second, again they exchange penalties and play with man advantage. Less than a minute after Sacha Rapchuk served the Australian team’s penalty for too many players, Dmitri Kuleshov passed the puck to Justin Dixon. His first shot was saved by Israeli goalkeeper Itamar Melzer, but he got his second chance on a rebound and this time the puck redirected from Kuleshov and went into the net. Ori Segal was in the penalty box for boarding, when Lachlan Clifford scored on his second try in close range of Melzer after getting the puck from Rapchuk – 2-0 with three minutes to go in the period.

Australia captain Dixon scored 27 second into the third period to make it 3-0. He got a great backhand pass from Riley Langille, fired the puck from the slot and it found its way between the goalie’s pads. Segal cut the deficit to two goals five minutes later, but Kuleshov tallied an empty net goal for the final score 4-1.

“We really played our best game when it counted the most – in the gold medal match. I’m really happy about that. The key against Israel was that we stuck to our structure – to play simple hockey, chipped it out, got it deep in their zone, attack the net, score on our chances. It’s defence first, the priority was on all good defensive habits and we were able to shut them down. The only goal that they got was because we didn’t pummel him to the boards when we should have,” said David Ruck, the 53-year-old Canada-born head coach of Australia. He was on this position in the team’s last three U20 World Championships, where the Australians finished in second place two times (2019, 2020) and once third (2022). Last year the Division III was staged at the end of July in Queretaro, Mexico, and Australia was first in the preliminary-round Group B, won its quarter-final against Kyrgyzstan, but was upset by the host Mexico in the semis. For the bronze medal Australia beat Israel 1-0.

“We had almost the same team as in Mexico and we tried to save some money, so we only had a four-day camp before Istanbul. Short camp, but we were already half prepared from Mexico and we kept improving as we played each game,” explained Ruck.

Australia had unexpected strong opposition from Bulgaria in the semi-finals. Kuleshov scored their first goal on a power play in the end of the first period. He found the net again with a man advantage after just 41 seconds from the second and the score became 3-0 only in the middle of the third. Bulgaria responded with a goal after a clear face-off win and a shot through traffic, but Rapchuk put the stamp on the game just a minute later – 4:1.

“Bulgaria battled really hard and never gave up. They competed very well, were strong on the board battles, played super hard and we learned our lesson, which was good for us. We brought this experience with us for the final against Israel,” Ruck praised the semi-final opponent.

The format for this championship was the same as last year in Queretaro. Eight teams were divided in two groups (A – Australia, Kyrgyzstan, New Zealand and Bosna and Herzegovina; B – Israel, Bulgaria, Türkiye and South Africa) and after a round robin stage all the teams went into the playoffs.

Australia was the best team in Group A with three wins and a 28-6 goal difference after beating Kyrgyzstan, 12-4, New Zealand, 6:2, and Bosnia and Herzegovina, 10-0. In Group B, Israel was Number 1 with even better stats (30-4 goal record) defeating South Africa, 16-1, Bulgaria, 8-0, and Türkiye, 6-3. In the first quarter-final, Australia had the biggest win in its 24th participation in the U20 World Championships – 28-0 over South Africa. Bulgaria defeated convincingly New Zealand, 6-2, Israel overpowered Bosnia and Herzegovina, 10-0 and the most equal quarter-final was the last one as Türkiye beat Kyrgyzstan, 3-1. In the second semi-final Israel won for the second time in four days against Türkiye. The host team tied the score two times – 1-1 and 2-2 – but then the Israelis opened a two-goal advantage and led 4-2 and 6-3 before eventually winning 6-4.

“It’s about youth. We are a young team that is developing. We have some players born in 2007 and 2006 on this team. Next year we will have much better results, because it will be almost the same roster besides the goalies. I see a good future for the team. In the final the guys gave it all. They did everything what they could on the ice. Australia is a good, strong and fast team. We had a plan, which was good, but we missed some chances and gave them few also and they scored. In my opinion a series between these two teams would be even, for example in ten games, we will win five, but unfortunately this was just one game,” said Itay Ben Tov, Israel’s assistant coach.

Speaking about youth, the biggest surprise of the tournament was Bulgaria with a roster that featured just three players, which won’t be available for the U18 World Championship in spring, and an average age of just 16.4 years. There were pessimistic opinions in the Bulgarian hockey community about the participation in Istanbul because of the lack of experience. Martin Raynov was the only one, who played in an U20 World Championship before, as Bulgaria withdrew from the event in Queretaro last July.

“We used that as kind of motivation in the locker room, for sure. Because twenty people that work together for a common goal will achieve a lot. I don’t think anyone of them overstepped the boundaries of their job and their responsibility. It was a group effort,” said Derek Eisler, who is coaching Bulgaria’s U18 and U20 national teams for a second season. On the roster for Istanbul there were five players born in 2007, six each born in 2006 and 2005.

“When you build a squad, you hopefully build it around people first and then the ability to play hockey. We just happen to find good people that can play and want to buy in what’s going on. It’s a long, long road ahead of them. This is a good thing for them to win a bronze medal in their first real championship. But if you want to win a gold medal, you got to put a little more time and effort. We believe as a staff there is still a long way to go. This is a good first step, a good start,” Eisler continued.

Bulgarian won an emotional first game with Türkiye, 5-3, and in the Bronze Medal Game had another victory against the host, 8:3. “We ran a camp in the summer time in August and we identified some core people that we want to build this kind of process around. Those core people just happened to be of younger birth years, that can play both in U18 and U20. Some of them will be able to play four to six U20 World Championships. We just have to continue to build the pieces and process around that core,” explained Eisler.

Chinese juniors make winning return

The Chinese players celebrate after receiving the gold medals and trophy at the 2023 IIHF Ice Hockey U20 World Championship Division II Group A.

By Andy Potts –

China’s U20s national team returned to the ice after a two-year absence – and duly secured gold for the first time since 2019. Next year the team could play at its highest level since relegation to Division III in 2011.

The People’s Republic arrived in Reykjavik, Iceland, for this Division IIB tournament as something of an unknown quantity. The competition was cancelled in 2021 due to the pandemic and the Chinese team was unable to compete in last year’s edition as the country continued with strict travel restrictions. As a result, none of the 2023 roster had previous experience of U20 competition. However, on its return to the international stage, the team started out with a battling overtime win over Belgium and went on to defeat all opponents on its way to gold.

After that nerve-jangling start, China went from strength to strength. Game two brought a 4-0 win over Mexico, then came an 8-2 thrashing of top-seeded Serbia. Host nation Iceland could not capitalize on home advantage and the final game on Sunday ended in another 8-2 scoreline against Chinese Taipei.

Wei Ziyao, China’s ‘Mr. Versatile’ in Iceland, reflected on the tournament for the IIHF’s Weibo broadcast. “We got better and better throughout the five games,” he said. “When we first arrived, we were nervous in the first game. Through our constant discussions with each other and communication with the coach, the whole team gradually got better. We are excited about the result.”

His captain, Chen Kailin, paid tribute to his colleagues’ adaptability and willingness to learn – game to game, period to period and shift to shift. The players responded well to the input of head coach Aleksandrs Macijevskis. The 47-year-old Latvian, a much-travelled forward in a playing career that criss-crossed the Baltic, previously coached his homeland’s women’s national team and won a Latvian championship with Kurbads in 2018.

Wei was a great example of that. After arriving in Iceland expecting to play on the blue line, he found himself moved to the other end of the rink after a couple of games. He responded with 5 (3+2) points in the concluding games.

“I started playing defence,” Wei added. “Our coach thought we needed more power on the offensive side and changed my position to forward. I was a bit nervous at first, but then I realized that as long as I focused on my own game, it was actually a bit less difficult than I expected. If I just concentrate on my own game, I can play better and better. It’s a process.”

A Belgian battle

That opening win against eventual runner-up Belgium proved decisive for the entire tournament. It was the only game the Belgians lost, and they came within five minutes of winning it in regulation. The European team led three times in the game. A second-minute tally from Lowie Verys, assisted by his brother Tijs, was cancelled out by China’s captain Kailin Chen in the first period. The second session saw Tobi Gentry and Tenghe Huang exchange markers, then Huang turned provider in the third as Rong Luan replied to Enrique de Meyere’s effort.

China got its tying goal on 55:00, having previously survived a three-on-five penalty kill with the score at 2-3. Overtime saw the Chinese produce some of their best hockey of the game, and Zhiyi Lyu potted the winner 33 seconds before the need for a shoot-out.

Lyu, the game-winner in that opener, is one of a clutch of players currently based in North America. His eight points placed him among the team’s leading scorers, just behind captain Chen (who plays in the OJHL) and Li Mingshenhao, another OJHL prospect. They both had nine points.

Netminder Chen Shifeng got the directorate prize for the best goalie in the tournament. His 95.32% save ratio was the best in the competition, while his colleague Tian Boyan was second for that metric with 92.65%. Those figures also speak to the solid defence that guided China through the competition.

Chen Kailin talked up the value of his previous tournament with China, a pre-Covid U18 championship in 2019. “Everyone was a bit nervous in the first two games,” he added. “There were players who were playing at a World Championship for the first time. It was my second time playing for a junior national team and as a senior player I should lead the team, lighten up the dressing room and cheer the players up when we were behind. The result is good. I feel very happy.”

Silver for Belgium, another bronze for Serbia

With China unbeaten, the battle for silver and bronze was settled on the final day when Serbia faced Belgium. The Serbs, who finished third on home ice last season, peppered Belgian goalie Stijn Raeymaekers with 56 shots, but only managed three goals. At the other end, Lowie Vreys produced a 5-point game to lead the Red Devils to a 6-3 win. His contribution also took the defender to the top of the tournament scoring charts, beating his brother Tijs. Lowie was named best D-man for the competition, with Serbia’s Matija Dinic named best forward after finishing with 11 (4+7) points to help his team to a second successive bronze.

At the other end of the standings, the relegation battle went to the final game. Mexico, promoted from Division III last season, lost its opening four games but still had a shot at salvation if it could defeat Iceland and force a three-way tie that would also involve Chinese Taipei. However, backed by the home crowd, Iceland was in no mood to jeopardize its status at this level. The home team romped to a 7-0 victory, finishing in fourth and sending the Mexicans back to the level they came from. Chinese Taipei, one of two promoted teams last season, preserved its status thanks to victory over Mexico.

Guenther’s golden goal in OT helps Canada down Czech Republic, capturing 2nd straight WJHC title

Canada’s Dylan Guenther, center, celebrates his power-play goal with teammates during the first period of the gold-medal game against the Czech Republic at the world junior hockey championship on Thursday in Halifax.

Source: The Canadian Press

Canada got the revenge it desperately craved — and is golden again at the world junior hockey championship.

Dylan Guenther scored his second goal of the night at 6:22 of overtime as the tournament hosts survived a blown 2-0 lead in the third period to defeat the Czech Republic 3-2 in the final of the world junior hockey championship Thursday in Halifax.

The Arizona Coyotes forward took a pass from Joshua Roy on a 2-on-1 to give his country its 20th title at the men’s under-20 event.

Shane Wright, on his 19th birthday, had the other goal for Canada. Thomas Milic made 24 saves.

Canada is the first team to repeat since the country won five straight gold medals between 2005 and 2009 after Connor Bedard and seven other returnees also topped the pandemic-delayed summer showcase in Edmonton.

Bedard was named tournament MVP.

Jiri Kulich and Jakub Kos replied for the Czech Republic. Tomas Suchanek stopped 35 shots.

The Czechs beat a disjointed Canada for the first time in 3,285 days when they picked up what was at the time a stunning 5-2 victory on December. 26th, and appeared in the final for the first time since their only gold-medal triumphs in 2000 and 2001.

The Czech Republic finished fourth in the summer and earned its first medal since 2005. The United States picked up a wild 8-7 overtime victory against Sweden to take bronze earlier on Thursday.

Bedard, the Canadian phenom who rewrote page after page of both tournament and national records book in Halifax, was held off the scoresheet Thursday.

It didn’t matter.

The Czechs came close inside an ear-splitting Scotiabank Centre midway through the first period when Gabriel Szturc hit the crossbar.

Unhappy with the Czech Republic’s exuberant celebrations following its Boxing Day victory, the Canadians made good on their first power play.

Guenther, one of three NHLers loaned to the national team for the tournament along with Wright and Brandt Clarke, blasted a shot bar down for his sixth of the tournament at 12:41 before the familiar strains of “Heave Away” by The Fables rang around the rink washed in red and white.

Milic, who made 43 saves in a 6-2 semifinal victory over the Americans, was excellent again as the period wore on with stops on Kulich and Martin Rysavy.

Caedan Bankier nearly made it 2-0 for Canada early in the second on a short-handed breakaway, but the goal was waved off for goalie interference after he crashed into Suchanek.

The Czech netminder then made big stops on Zack Ostapchuk and Logan Stankoven on separate one-on-one sequences before Wright struck.

The No. 4 pick in last summer’s NHL draft, who had an up-and-down tournament until Thursday, grabbed the puck in the neutral zone and fought off a defender before stepping past two more and roofing a backhand upstairs on the shortside for his fourth at 4:35.

Wright watched every world junior final on his birthday growing up, and the crowd responded after his goal by singing “Happy Birthday” for the Canadian captain.

Brennan Othmann, who turned 20 on Thursday, nearly made it 3-0, but Suchanek made to massive pad stops on a man advantage.

Wright nearly scored on a 2-on-1 midway through the third on a chance that would have sealed it, but the Czechs finally got on the board with 7:30 seconds left in regulation when Kulich pop a rebound off the post home.

Jakub Kos then tied it to stun the Canadians and the partisan crowd just 54 seconds later after Clarke couldn’t clear the puck twice from his own zone to force the extra period.

Guenther then etched his name in world junior lore.

Projected to go No. 1 at the 2023 NHL draft, Bedard set a boatload of records in the Maritimes.

The scintillating 17-year-old from North Vancouver, B.C., Bedard owns the national record with 23 all-time points and 17 all-time goals at the world juniors.

Bedard also established a new mark for the most points by a Canadian in a single tournament with 23, owns the national record with 14 assists at one event, and registered the most points by a player aged 18 or younger.

Bedard’s 19 assists all-time are one short of the national mark held by Ryan Ellis, while he was a point shy of tying Markus Naslund and Raimo Helminen for the second-most by a player from any country at a tournament.

He’s also the first player in history to score four goals twice — doing it against Austria this summer and again in Halifax.

Canada beat Slovakia 4-3 in overtime in the quarterfinals on Bedard’s jaw-dropping solo effort before roaring back from a two-goal deficit to defeat the United States in the semis.

The Czechs walloped Switzerland in the quarters and scored late in regulation to set up a 2-1 OT victory against Sweden before falling to the pre-tournament favorite’s in the final.

Lucius completes hat trick in OT as U.S. beats Sweden for world junior bronze

The American team poses with their bronze medals following their overtime win over Sweden on Thursday at the world junior hockey championship in Halifax.

Source: The Canadian Press

Chaz Lucius completed a hat trick in overtime as the United States beat Sweden 8-7 in a wild bronze-medal game Thursday at the world junior hockey championship in Halifax.

The Winnipeg Jets prospect scored in the three-on-three sudden-death period when he flipped a backhand over Swedish goaltender Carl Lindbom.

Lindbom had stopped an initial chance from Lane Hutson, but the rebound went unclaimed until Lucius swept in and clinched a game that saw the U.S., which was coming off a 6-2 loss to Canada in a semifinal on Wednesday, give up multiple leads before finally prevailing.

“We were not really happy with losing Canada. But it is what it is and right when we got out of the locker room [Wednesday], we said, ‘You know what? We’ve have you got a medal [on the line],” U.S. captain Luke Hughes said.

“It’s really important for USA Hockey. It’s really important for us as a team. We all came together and just focused on playing 60 minutes and just leaving it all out there.”

Cutter Gauthier had two goals for the Americans, who have won a medal in six of the last eight world juniors. Logan Cooley, Ryan Ufko and Hughes also scored.

“It’s not the game we want to be in,” Lucius said. “But overall it’s a really memorable experience.”

Filip Bystedt scored twice, including a tying goal with 21 seconds remaining in regulation, and added an assist for Sweden. Oskar Pettersson, Leo Carlsson, Milton Oscarson, Liam Ohgren and Noah Ostlund had the other goals for Sweden.

It was a second heartbreaking overtime loss for the Swedes in as many days in Halifax after dropping a 2-1 semifinal decision to the Czech Republic on Wednesday.

Kaidan Mbereko picked up the win in goal for the U.S. after stopping 14 of 16 shots in the third period and overtime. He replaced Trey Augustine, who gave up five goals on 20 shots over the first 40 minutes.

Lindbom made 28 saves on 36 shots.

Cooley opened the scoring just under three minutes into the game. It was the seventh goal of the tournament for the third-overall selection by the Arizona Coyotes at the 2022 NHL draft.

A low-scoring first period gave way to a chaotic second that saw the United States build a two-goal lead three times only to come out of the period tied 5-5.

Ufko put the Americans up 2-0 with a power-play goal in the first two minutes of the period before Bystedt got Sweden on the board less than two minutes later.

Lucius, with his first of the game, restored the Americans’ two-goal lead until Sweden tied it with goals just over two minutes apart from Pettersson and Carlsson.

Once again, the Americans surged ahead on goals from Gauthier and Lucius. But the Swedes replied with another quick pair as Oscarson and Ohgren scored in the final seconds of the period.

Ostlund scored four minutes into the third to put Sweden up 6-5, but the Swedes’ only lead of the game lasted just four minutes 17 seconds. After being knocked to the ice, Hughes shovelled the puck at the net on his knees and beat a surprised Lindbom.

“We’re not losing this game,” Hughes yelled at the players on the U.S. bench while celebrating the goal.

Gauthier appeared to have won the game with a power-play goal 97 seconds from the end of regulation as he tucked the puck under a sprawling Lindbom.

The goal survived a lengthy review, much to the relief of the Americans. The U.S. had two goals disallowed in a 6-2 semifinal loss to Canada on Wednesday.

The Swedes would not go quietly. Bystedt snapped the puck past Mbereko with 21 second left as the U.S. surrendered a lead for the third time in the game.

American forward Tyler Boucher missed the game with an injury and was replaced by Noah Laba.

IIHF World Junior Championship 2023: What you need to know

2023 World Junior Championship

By Kristen Shilton –

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 ultimately restaged 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 selecting Juraj Slafkovsky in 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 of Connor McDavidJohn Tavares and Aaron 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 NHLers Jack Hughes and Quinn 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 by Arizona in 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 Kaprizov was 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 Lambert starts 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 by David Jiricek. The Columbus Blue Jacketsprospect 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’s Buffalo Sabresprospect Jiri Kulich — who has 16 points in 24 AHL games this season — and New York Rangersselection 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. The Detroit Red Wings prospect 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.

Croatia’s juniors win again

Croatia national Junior team

The Croatian men’s U20 national team celebrates after winning the 2023 IIHF Ice Hockey U20 World Championship Division II Group A.

By Henrik Manninen –

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 claims WM20IB gold

Japan national junior Team

The Japanese players celebrate after receiving their gold medals and trophy at the 2023 IIHF Ice Hockey U20 World Championship Division I Group B.

By Andy Potts –

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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