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World Juniors Recap Day 1: Hat tricks, penalty shots, and 2-1 finals

USA escaped with a win, Canada destroyed Denmark, and Sweden vs. Finland was kind of a snooze (though it might have been the time difference).

United States v Slovakia - 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship Photo by Kevin Light/Getty Images

Boxing Day has come and gone, and there were a lot of things we learned from the eight teams that played. Namely, that I should never make predictions again, because I don’t know anything. There were some surprises, some worries, and some wild things that we saw unfold on the first day of the 2019 World Junior Championships. Let’s dive into what happened yesterday.

Game 1: Czech Republic 2, Switzerland 1 (OT)

SOG: CZE - 31, SUI - 27
PP: CZE - 0/7, SUI - 1/2
Players of the Game: CZE - Luca Hollenstein, SUI - Lukas Dostal (ANA)

Let’s just get this out in the open: I predicted a Czech bronze, but that’s not going to happen if they continue to play as undiscplined as they did yesterday. Seven penalties (including a 1:30 five-on-three) is far too many. The Czechs were lucky they were playing Switzerland and not Canada.

The Czech Republic dominated the first period, led by Filip Zadina (Detroit). They outshot Switzerland 16-4, and had it not been for the heroics of goalie Luca Hollenstein, the Czechs would have taken a commanding lead. Switzerland got back into the game in the second, largely in part due to the Czechs handing them five powerplays. Captain Nando Eggenberger put Switzerland up 1-0 on their second powerplay of the period, but the Czechs would kill off the remaining four powerplays. Czech Republic tied the game when a shot from Martin Kaut (Colorado) squeaked through Hollenstein’s short side, and they cleaned up their game in the third.

The last period solved nothing, so we saw our first 3-on-3 overtime of the tournament, which only lasted about five minutes when David Kvasnicka fired a shot past Hollenstein to give the Czechs the win (and a crucial two points). Martin Necas led the way for the Czechs with 5 shots on goal (although their dynamite line from last year with him, Zadina, and Martin Kaut was split up for this game). The Czechs defense looked rough. Switzerland did a great job exposing their weaknesses and pressuring the blueline into turnovers. Obviously, the Czechs realized they needed their forwards to step up, and it was evident in the time on ice distribution:

The Czechs will want to clean up their game before their next outing against Russia on Friday. While the Swiss could not, Russia will make them regret being undisciplined. Switzerland, meanwhile, has a date with Canada today, and should take every bit of their performance yesterday into the game tonight.

Game 2: United States 2, Slovakia 1

SOG: USA - 41, SVK - 13
PP: USA - 0/3, SVK - 0/2
Players of the Game: USA - Evan Barratt (CHI), SVK - Samuel Hlavaj (2019)

Man, this was a fun one. For most of the game, Slovakia looked like they were on their way to a second straight victory over the United States. They had a ton of chances and did a great job of shutting down the American offense (although they did allow a ton of shots by the end of the game). Martin Fehervary (Washington) took down Jason Robertson (Dallas) as he drove to the net, and the refs awarded Robertson with a penalty shot (he missed). Slovakia would go on a 3-on-1 later, but Quinn Hughes (Vancouver) make a great stick check to deflect the shot aside.

Slovakia opened the scoring off a great shot from Marek Korencik late in the second period, and they would take a 1-0 lead into second intermission. But the lead wouldn’t last long. Mikey Anderson scored 1:18 into the third to tie the game with a seeing-eye shot from the point. The United States would take the lead for good four minutes later on a great individual effort by Barratt, who was all over the ice and controlling the play before whipping a backhand shot over Hlavaj’s glove. Slovakia had a great chance to tie it on a penalty shot after Oliver Wahlstrom (Islanders) tripped up Adam Liska, but Kyle Keyser (Boston) turned him away.

On paper, it looked like USA steamrolled Slovakia (especially if you look at the shot clock). But a lot of their passes weren’t clean, they struggled to get anything going offensively until Anderson’s goal in the third, and they allowed the Slovaks far too much time with the puck in the American end. Their next game is against Kazahkstan, so even though they can afford the odd mistake here and there, they really shouldn’t replicate their performance against Slovakia. They have a night off to figure out what went wrong and we should expect a much better American team on Friday. Slovakia looked solid until the third period, and they’ll need another game like yesterday’s against Sweden today.

Game 3: Canada 14, Denmark 0

SOG: CAN - 42, DEN - 12
PP: CAN 2/3, DEN - 0/4
Players of the Game: CAN - Morgan Frost, DEN - Phillipp Schultz

All I have to say is this: on behalf of all Canadians, I would like to apologize to the Danish junior national team, Mads Sogaard and William Rorth specifically, for yesterday. I did not anticipate or enjoy the ass-kicking that I witnessed, and I’m sure I’m not the only Canadian who felt that way. Only two Canadians finished without a point (Noah Dobson and Alexis Lafreniere) and even goalie Michael DiPietro got on the board. Denmark did get awarded a penalty shot (is this the tournament of the penalty shot?). We wish you the best against Russia tomorrow and hope sincerely hope you find a way to avoid playing in the relegation round, as we have grown fond of your five straight appearances at the World Juniors.

Goal scorers (because I don’t want to break down every goal): Comtois (4), Frost (3), Tippett (2), Leason, Anderson-Dolan, Studnicka, Entwistle

Game 4: Sweden 2, Finland 1

SOG: SWE - 34, FIN - 28
PP: SWE - 2/7, FIN - 0/3
Players of the Game: SWE - Erik Brannstrom (VEG), FIN - Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen (BUF)

There sure were a lot of 2-1 final scores today (damn, Canada, you had to be extra about it, didn’t you?), and this game was no different. Sweden defeated Finland and, in doing so, extended their preliminary round winning streak at the World Juniors to 45 games. It may be difficult to go undefeated this year, but anything is possible.

Erik Brannstrom starred for the Swedes, scoring two powerplay goals — a wrist shot from the point in the first period, and one-timer off of a 5-on-3 in the second. Sweden put pressure on the Finns early, and despite allowing two goals, Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen needed to be sharp to keep the game close.

Draft eligible players Kaapo Kakko and Ville Heinola had a couple of nice plays, setting up scoring chances, drawing penalties, and showing their skill. Kakko got his first World Juniors point off captain Aarne Talvitie’s goal in the third, which made it 2-1. Unfortunately, Finland only really came alive in the third period, and it was a little too late for a comeback. Both teams will play tonight — Sweden will take on the always-feisty Slovaks, and Finland will get an opportunity to start on time in the late game against Kazahkstan.

Today’s Games:

  • Denmark vs. Russia (4pm EST/1pm PST)
    Players to Watch: DEN - Malte Setkov (DET), RUS - Vitaly Kravtsov (NYR)
  • Sweden vs. Slovakia (6:30pm EST/3:30pm PST)
    Players to Watch: SWE - Erik Brannstrom (VEG), SVK - Adam Liska
  • Canada vs. Switzerland (8pm EST/5pm PST)
    Players to Watch: CAN - Maxime Comtois (ANA), SUI - Philipp Kurashev (CHI)
  • Kazahkstan vs. Finland (10:30pm EST/7:30pm PST)
    Players to Watch: KAZ - Artur Gatiyatov, FIN - Urho Vaakanainen (BOS)