Category: World Junior Championships (Page 2 of 14)

France fit for promotion

The French players pose for a team photo after winning the gold-medal trophy at the 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey U20 World Championship Division I Group B in Tallinn.

By Chapin Landvogt – IIHF.com

As if a crystal ball had been made use of by the schedulers of the 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey U20 World Championship Division I Group B, the final day of tournament play featured a winner-take-all match-up of France against Slovenia. Coming in, Slovenia was undefeated in four games, outscoring opponents 26-10, while France had only lost one game, a wild one that came to a conclusion in favour of Ukraine in overtime. 

Adding seasoning to this fiery stew, France’s Tomas Simonsen entered the contest as the tournament’s clear-cut top scorer with seven goals and 13 points while Slovenia’s Marcel Mahkovec was tied for second overall with three goals and 10 points, while being tied for first overall with a +10 rating. In short, the two most prevalent offensive weapons were going up head to head for promotion.

And the game proved to be every bit the thriller a match of this magnitude should be.

France was able to get on the board fairly early in the first period when Jordan Herve, battling in front of the Slovenian net, tapped in a beautiful pass from Theo Gueref after he had gotten the puck from Simonsen. That was at the 5:25 mark and was followed up by France’s second goal of the period in the ninth minute of play, when Herve was once again Johnny on the spot, rifling in the rebound of a quick wrister from the blueline by Antoine Fermine. Slovenia reacted like a team stunned and concentrated on stopping the bleeding for the rest of the first period.

Whatever words of motivation Slovenian coach Lovro Bajc was able to find in the first intermission, they eventually bore fruit. The team came out of the gates looking like men on a mission and were able to cut the lead to one already in the third minute when Jure Povse broke through the French defence and saw his flailing shot attempt, interrupted by a French defenceman’s stick in the last second, nonetheless slip by French goaltender Antoine Keller.

The game continued to see chances created by both teams until Miha Bercic tied things up in the fourth minute of the third period, knocking in a centre-slot rebound of a shot from the right circle while on the power play. Despite this new lease on life, Slovenia joined France in playing a careful game from there on out, as neither team appeared ready to make what could prove to be a fatal mistake.

Alas, one was ultimately made.

Maintaining puck control in the Slovenian zone, France’s Gueref received a sly pass from the blueline and found defenceman Maxime Corvez all alone at the blueline. Corvez made use of the traffic created by Simonsen in front of the net, who managed to attract the ire of two Slovenian defenders and rocketed a perfectly placed wrister over the shoulder of Slovenian netminder Luca Kolin, whose view was clearly blocked. With just a little over six minutes to play, the intensity picked up across the board with France in the pole position.

Slovenia created several chances but couldn’t get the puck in the net right on up to the last minute of play. They continued giving their all to create pressure, but a French forward got hold of the puck with more than enough time to skate it to centre ice and at least dump it in to eat away the final seconds. Instead, he attempted to hit the empty net from France’s half of the ice, hitting the post and leading to a crucial face-off in France’s zone with 10 seconds to go. With everything on the line, France won the face-off and the final 10 seconds were pushed and shoved away below France’s goal line, leading to an ensuing rush of the team from the bench once the siren roared, with sticks and gloves and helmets being tossed all over the place.

By the slightest of margins, France had gained promotion in a most fitting manner, in the tournament’s most fitting match-up.

With two goals and some clutch defensive play to wrap things up, Herve was named the player of the game for France, his line with Gueref and Simonsen proving to be the most potent in the tournament.

The road to final

Thanks to a four-goal outburst in the 3rd period of the team’s opening-day game against an upstart Japanese squad, Slovenia won its first game 7-3 and then edged out Poland with a tight 3-1 win, which entered the final day of play at the bottom of the standings. The Slovenes had obviously enjoyed the taste of victory and would go on to roll over its next two opponents.

Despite a 2-2 score after 20 minutes of play, Slovenia knocked off host Estonia 8-2 and then barrelled over a potent Ukrainian attack 8-4, doing so primarily on the strength of four first period goals. That had the team rolling on all cylinders heading into the final.

France’s route to the final was more arduous, despite dominating Poland in Game 1 to the tune of a 6-2 final. That was followed by a labouring 2-0 victory over Estonia and a wild 7-6 overtime loss to Ukraine, one that had seen Les Bleus come back from a 5-1 deficit to take a 6-5 lead in the third period, only to allow the 6-6 equalizer with over two minutes left in regulation time. By the third minute of overtime Ukraine had snuck away with a second point. 

This led to an extremely important match-up against the similarly successful Japanese side, one it would go on to take 6-4. Interestingly, France scored four times in the second and entered the third period with a 4-0 lead only to allow four goals against in the third, making that period the second one in the tournament in which France would open up the floodgates. Fortunately, it too was able to pop in a few goals in the third as well, allowing it to play for promotion on the tournament’s final day.

Relegation and returnees

Despite many periods of solid hockey, even against France and Slovenia, Estonia and Poland entered the last day of play both within reach of relegation. This was due in part to the 4-3 overtime victory for Estonia against Poland the day before, allowing each team to collect at least a point and stay within striking distance of maintaining the class. On the final game day, both teams would have an uphill battle, with Poland having to face neighbour Ukraine while Estonia would go up against Japan. Both Ukraine and Japan had a solid tournament, with Japan having lost only to Slovenia and France, even having beaten Ukraine in their direct match-up.

The top players

Simonsen, who takes a regular shift for Amiens in France’s top circuit Ligue Magnus, where he has 17 points in 17 games, would go on to lead the tournament in scoring with seven goals and 15 points in five games. After that, a trio of Ukrainians dominated the scoresheets, with forwards Danylo Korzhyletsky (14 points), Mykhailo Simchuk (13), and Denys Honcharenko (10) coming in 2nd-4th. Slovenes Mahkovec and Luka Gomboc came in 5th and 6th in scoring with 10 and nine points respectively, but both were held off the scoresheet when it mattered most against France. 

Herve, Gueref and the NHL-drafted Artur Cholach of Ukraine, playing defence, also had fine tournaments with eight points in five games apiece. Likewise, Japanese forwards Yu Sato and Kotaro Murase each collected points at over a point-per-game pace.

Looking forward

France will now head back up into the Division I Group A, replacing Hungary, which is on its way down after losing to Denmark in an all-decisive final day match-up pitting two teams that had yet to register  a point. It’s been a few years since current Columbus Blue Jacket Alexandre Texier was making music for France in the Division IA, but that is where the program sees itself, with the proof now in the pudding after this tournament. Slovenia was not able to completely live up to its billing as the group favourite heading in but should maintain that status heading into next year’s contest, despite Hungary joining the ranks. Both Japan and Ukraine showed that they clearly belong at this level and have much to build on after this year’s tournament experience.

For Poland, this year’s tournament ends with a demotion into the Division II Group A, and it’ll surely come with the disappointment of knowing that they were able to skate and perform against just about all opponents at this level for periods at a time but ended up being one overtime goal away from maintaining the class. Thanks to some convincing play in Brasov, Romania, Italy will replace Poland in the Division IB, meaning next year’s tournament will feature this year’s host Estonia, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Slovenia, and Ukraine.

Belarus promoted to World Juniors

Belarusian players celebrate after the win in the deciding game against Norway.

By Henrik Manninen – IIHF.com

Following a five-year absence Belarus will be back competing among the top-ten nations at the 2023 IIHF World Junior Championship in Novosibirsk and Omsk, Russia.

Five straight victories, including a final-day rally against Norway, sees Belarus win promotion from the 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey U20 World Championship Division I Group A with 15 points out of a possible 15.

But despite a perfect record, Belarus’s procession to promotion in Denmark´s Horsholm wasn´t as straightforward as the final standings might suggest. During a pulsating final day encounter against fellow promotion hopefuls Norway, the Belarusian promotion campaign briefly looked in danger of derailing.

With Norway leading 2-0 midway through the second frame, the Scandinavians went dangerously close to further stretch their lead.

Only seconds later, Yegor Chezganov pulled a goal back for Belarus kickstarting their fightback. Alexander Suvorov then scored the game-tying goal at 8:17 of the third period, which guaranteed promotion for Belarus. Valentin Demchenko sealed their victory and perfect record with an empty netter with 42 seconds left in regulation time.

“When the score became 0-2 everyone understood that there was no turning back. They all had to give the best, leave everything on the ice,” said Belarusian forward Alexander Palchik. “In the third period we started to play more aggressively, to forecheck and Sanya Suvorov scored a great goal.”

Team captain Suvorov of Dynamo Minsk led by example and finished as top scorer of the tournament notching 4+7 in 5 games. Latvia’s Raivis Ansons tallied 4+5 to finish second, followed by another Belarusian, Vitali Pinchuk on 2+7 in third.

Belarus returns to the top division of the World Juniors for the first time since 2018. Eight players from the gold-winning Division 1A roster will be eligible to defend the Belarusian colours in Russia next year. The triumph in Denmark also marks a winning start for new head coach Sergei Stas.

“It turned out to be a difficult game. We beat one of the best teams. It was not easy, we endured it, withstood the pressure and showed character. The emotions are indescribable and they will be unforgettable,” said Stas.

Latvia finished second in the standings. They won silver following four victories and a narrow 2-1 defeat against Belarus. Norway ended up with the bronze medals. But heading into the final round of games, all three teams still harboured hopes to strike gold at the Bitcoin Arena.

For Norway to finish top, the Scandinavians needed to beat Belarus with a four-goal margin or more. Latvia on the other hand kept their fingers crossed for a Norwegian win against Belarus but with no more than three goals. Latvia would then be required to do their job by beating Kazakhstan in regular time in their final game sneak past and finish top on a better head-to-head record.

Despite Norway emphatically outshooting Belarus 15-5 in the first frame, the game was still goalless at the first intermission. The Scandinavians were finally rewarded for their offensive endeavour during a high-octane second frame. Mikkel Oby-Olsen outmuscled Pinchuk in the corner, found Sander Engebraten who fed it along the blue line to Ole Julian Holm. The Norwegian captain’s one timer was tipped past Alexei Kolosov by Martin Johnsen as Norway went in front at 9:21 of the middle frame.

Having finally managed to find a chink in Kolosov’s armour, the Norwegians doubled their lead 65 seconds later thanks to a lighting quick move. Jonas Haughom won the puck behind his own net, fed Patrick Elvsveen who hit a pin-point pass to Eskild Bakke Olsen, who raced past Arseni Sazanovich and one-on-one deked Kolosov to finish in style.

With the Belarusians momentarily struggling to find their composure, pesky Norwegian attackers surged ahead in their hunt for more goals. Elvsveen missed a fine opportunity to increase Norway’s lead as Belarus only seconds later got back into the game. Demchenko picked up the puck, backhanded it to the burly Artyom Levshunov, who barrelled down centre ice towards the Norwegian net. Surrounded by four Norwegians the puck dropped to an unmarked Chezganov in the slot, who ripped a wrister past Markus Stensrud at 13:46 of the second period.

The pulsating see-saw battle of offensive hockey continued in the third frame as both teams needed to score. The speed and skill from Norway´s Philip Granath and Sander Wold caused visible problems for the Belarusian rearguard. But as Norway failed to capitalize on their chances, Belarus tied the game with a fine move at 8:17. Instigated by the influential Pinchuk, his cross-ice puck found Suvorov on the left flank. On a two-on-one rush, the Belarusian captain tried to pass it across to Sergei Kuznetsov, but hit Norway´s blueliner Haughom before reacting quickest on the rebound to tie the game at 2-2.

With 2:15 left of the game, Norway called a time-out with head coach Tobias Johansson pulling Stensrud from the net in a final effort to grab a winner and salvage a silver medal. Instead, Demchenko with 42 seconds from the end scored an empty netter and the game-winning goal for Belarus.

En route to the gold triumph, Belarus had gotten off to a flying start in Division IA. Nine different players scored as hosts Denmark was mauled 9-1 in their opener. Belarus continued their free-scoring form in their next game against newly-promoted Hungary. 5-1 up after the first frame in a game they eventually won 8-2. Pinchuk enjoying a fine afternoon tallying 1+4. Another fine individual display came against Kazakhstan with Chezganov tallying 2+2 in a disciplined 4-2 victory.

But as was on display in their final game against Norway, this crop of Belarusian players was also capable to grind out results. Against second-placed Latvia, Belarus was outshot but narrowly toppled its neighbours in a 2-1 win. Metallurg Zhlobin’s Ilya Spat scored with a close-range backhand at 13:33 of the middle frame to put Belarus ahead. On a two-on-one rush Suvorov finished high past Latvia’s netminder Bruno Bruveris at 12:52 of the last period. Latvia’s top scorer in the tournament, Ansons, pulled a goal back with 4:43 left of the third period. Despite Latvia going for bust pulling Bruveris from the net with two minutes left of regular time, Belarus withstood the storm.

Kazakhstan who came down from the top division, finished fourth under new head coach Alexander Istomin. At the bottom end, hosts Denmark got their first three points on board when it mattered the most. Blanking Hungary 4-0 in the relegation decider keeps the Danes in the group, while Hungary heads straight back to Division IB following five straight defeats.

Italy bounces back

The Italian players during the national anthem after the deciding win against Korea for first place in the 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey U20 World Championship Division II Group B.

By Henrik Manninen – IIHF.com

Getting off to a flyer and never looking back, Italy needed only four games to secure a top-place finish at the 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey U20 World Championship Division II Group A in Brasov, Romania.

Securing promotion in emphatic style, Italy took maximum points from its first four games to open up an unassailable advantage over the rest of the chasing pack ahead of Sunday’s concluding game against Great Britain.

Italy’s gold medal triumph was confirmed while lounging in the stands of Brasov’s Olympic Ice Hall. They had looked on as their only remaining contender for the top spot, Great Britain, suffered a second-period meltdown as Romania hit four unanswered goals to record a memorable 4-3 victory.

Competing at the 2023 IIHF Ice Hockey U20 World Championship Division I Group B, Italy will be able to call up 10 players from their gold medal-winning roster from Brasov to skate at the higher level next year.

Thomas Galimberti led in scoring for the Italians tallying 4+2 points in four games. He was closely followed by 17-year-old debutant Tommy Purdeller of the Red Bull Hockey Academy from Austria, who notched a couple of goals and three helpers. But Italy’s recipe for success was not down to individual efforts, but to a team full of attacking options. Head coach Giorgio de Bettin witnessed 12 different players net Italy’s 19 goals en route to winning promotion.

While the Italians enjoyed versatility going forward, they were rock solid at the opposite end. 71:07 minutes of play was required before conceding their first goal in Brasov. Carlo Muraro and Damian Clara shared goaltending duties with almost identical save percentages. With Italy only conceding four goals in as many games, their two goaltenders both enjoyed two wins and a shutout each with a GAA of 0.50. 16-year-old goalie prospect Clara enjoyed a shutout at his U20 Worlds debut for Italy and still has three more years left to shine at this level. Clara wrote history earlier this year by being named to the World Championship roster of the senior national team at his young age.

As Italy celebrates gold, the surprise package of the tournament was undoubtedly newly promoted Korea. They showed few signs of any jet lag seeing off Romania 4-1 in their opener. Woojae Kim’s team followed it up by edging Spain 2-1 in overtime, before rallying back from a two-goal deficit to beat Great Britain 5-4 after penalty shots. In the end, it wasn’t enough to deny Italy, though, when the two teams clashed in a key game between the two only undefeated teams on Friday night.

An interference penalty against Johannes Gschnitzer gave Korea the first power play of the game, which they took full advantage of as Heegon Jang converted at 11:24. But with 20 seconds left of the first frame, Italy was level. Leonhard Ludwig Hasler and Purdeller combined for Jakob Prast to tie the game at one apiece.

16 out of 22 Italian players on their roster skate in their home country. One of those, Hasler currently on loan at Sterzing-Vipiteno in the AlpsHL, enjoyed a particularly fine afternoon against Korea. He provided his second assist of the game as Enrico Larcher put Italy ahead at 8:40 of the middle frame. With Korea’s Minjae Park sitting out a holding minor, Hasler himself converted on the powerplay at 13:35 to stretch the lead to 3-1.

Italy powered on in the third frame. At 2:28, the red-hot Hasler notched his fourth point when providing the assist for Marco Zanetti to hit home 4-1. With the Koreans chasing a goal and running out of steam, Galimberti, who plays his hockey at Pelicans Lahti’s U20 team in Finland, closed the scoring for Italy on the powerplay with 1:27 left to record a fine 5-1 win.

The event was played in Brasov’s Olympic Ice Rink, a venue named at a time when the Transylvanian city hosted the European Youth Olympic Festival (EYOF) in 2013. Then future NHL stars such as Finland’s Sebastian Aho and Kevin Fiala of Switzerland both skated in Brasov at the EYOF hockey tournament. Perhaps a new generation of future Italian stars now saw the light at the very same venue hosting the U20 Division IIA tournament almost nine years later.

Earlier in the tournament, Italy had ruthlessly blanked both Lithuania and Romania 7-0 and 5-0 respectively in their opening two games. The Azzurri then rallied back from a goal down to edge Spain 2-1 during game three, with Italy’s top scorer Galimberti netting Italy’s winner midway through the contest.

The competition concludes Sunday, and there’s still plenty to play for during the final round of games. Korea and Great Britain, level on points are both in contention for silver or bronze. At the bottom end of the table, Romania, Lithuania and Spain will all be fighting to avoid relegation to Division IIB.

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 – IIHF.com

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 – IIHF.com

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 – IIHF.com

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 – IIHF.com

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 – IIHF.com

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 – IIHF.com

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 – IIHF.com

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.

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