Quarterfinal day at the World Juniors went according to plan with Russia, Sweden, the United States and Canada all advancing to the medal round. How they advanced however, did not go as smoothly as Team USA and Canada would have hoped, both having to overcome tough opponents to reach the next phase of the tournament.
- Finland defeated Latvia 2-1 in their first of three relegation games. They are looking to finish off a terrible tournament where they did not make the quarterfinals after winning the gold a year ago, resulting in the firing their coaching staff mid-event. Luckily, the Finns will likely avoid relegation, needing one more win in the next two games to confirm their spot in next year’s tournament.
- Russia cruised past upstart Denmark 4-0 in Toronto, with Ilya Samsonov (Capitals) recording an easy 14-save shutout. Kirill Kaprizov (Wild) added two goals to his tournament leading number of seven in a game that was quite choppy, as the teams combined for a total of 24 penalty minutes. In the end, the Russian depth was too much for the Danes, who have to be pleased with their tournament effort as a whole after winning two games in the group stage for the first time. The Russian win sets up a group stage rematch with Team USA in the semi-finals.
- Sweden continued to roll offensively with an 8-3 victory over Slovakia. After leading 5-0 halfway through the game, the Swedes took their foot off the gas a bit and allowed the Slovaks back into the game with three unanswered goals. They took back control in the third period however, finishing off another impressive performance. Swedish goals were scored by Joel Eriksson Ek (3 - Wild), Tim Söderlund (2), Alex Nylander, Lias Andersson (2017 eligible) and Carl Grundström (Maple Leafs). If there is a place where Sweden appears to be vulnerable it’s when they’re shorthanded, as four of their seven goals allowed have come while down a man - music to the ears of Russia, Canada and the United States, who have a total of 23 combined power-play goals. 2017 draft eligible Adam Rusicka was a bright spot for the Slovaks, as the Sarnia Sting product was active throughout, resulting in his first goal of the tournament. Sweden will face Canada in the semi-finals, in what could be one of the games of the tournament.
- Everyone take a deep breath. Team USA, who finished group play 4-0, struggled against the upstart Swiss, but were able to battle through with an eventual 3-2 win. Nico Hischier (2017 draft eligible), who I profiled in my tournament preview, was a thorn in the USA’s side all night and was easily the best player on the ice with two goals and three shots on goal. He also could have added a couple assists if his teammates would have finished several plays he created. Hischier is continuing to help his draft stock with a strong tournament. The Americans were lucky to outlast the plucky Swiss despite taking a 2-0 lead after the first period. They were a step slow all night, and failed to control the pace of play against a less talented but hardworking opponent. Jordan Greenway (Wild), who has been one of the USA’s most consistent players throughout the tournament, notched the game winner six minutes into the third period and the Americans held on for the win.
- The late game was another exciting affair with the Czech Republic giving Canada all they could handle through two periods. Canada was down 1-0 after one, as David Kase (Flyers) put the Czechs on the board first with three minutes left in the period. Goals from Blake Speers (Devils) and Mitchell Stephens (Lightning) put Canada in the lead, but were quickly answered by an unassisted effort from Tomas Soustal. However, a late second period goal from Thomas Chabot (Senators) - who was terrific all night - put Canada up 3-2 after two. Julien Gauthier (Hurricanes) capped off an impressive evening with two third period markers, the first of which ended up being the game winner in a 5-3 Canada win. Gauthier was selected as Canada’s Player of the Game.
In my opinion, Gauthier was one of Canada’s best forwards on an uncharacteristic off night from their “top” line. He constantly pushed pace and created scoring opportunities off the rush and continuously went to the net hard when in the offensive zone. If he can continue to learn to play with that pace night in and night out, he can be a dominant player. He has the raw ability, and it’s just more about finding consistency at this point.
Tomorrow at the WJHC
- Finland vs. Latvia (relegation game 2): 5:30 p.m. ET, Bell Centre
That’s it. Save up your energy to watch the two terrific semi-final games on Wednesday, January 4th.
- Russia vs. United States (semi-final game 1): 3:00 p.m. ET, Bell Centre
- Sweden vs. Canada (semi-final game 2): 7:30 p.m. ET, Bell Centre
All games available on NHL Network in the United States.