Whew, Wednesday’s quarter-finals had a little bit of everything. We had upsets, overtime, and most importantly, good hockey.
Kazahkstan beat Denmark 4-3 in the first game of relegation, which is a best-of-3 series. If they can replicate a victory on Friday, we’ll be seeing Kazahkstan back next year. It was good to see Denmark finally score, though.
We're at 9:00 at DENMARK SCORED ITS FIRST GOAL OF THE TOURNAMENT in it's fifth game! Fans can hear the goal song "We can be heroes" (official 2018 #IIHFWorlds song in Denmark) for the first time here thanks to Jonas Rondbjerg's marker. 1-1— IIHF (@IIHFHockey) January 2, 2019
Game One: Switzerland 2, Sweden 0
SOG: SUI - 31, SWE - 32
PP: SUI - 1/6, SWE - 0/5
Players of the Game: SUI - Luca Hollenstein, SWE - Samuel Ersson (PHI)
SWE’s Players of the Tournament: Erik Brannstrom (VEG), Emil Bemstrom (CBJ), Samuel Ersson (PHI)
Sweden just can’t get it done in the medal round, can they? They’ve gone 12 straight years undefeated in the preliminary round. They have one gold medal (2012) to show for it.
All the Swedish players are healthy and available ahead of the WJC quarterfinal against Switzerland. Five players and two coaches missed the last round robin game against Kazakhstan due to stomach flu.— Uffe Bodin (@UffeBodin) January 2, 2019
Good to see everyone was healthy for this one. Unfortunately, it didn’t really matter.
This was Switzerland’s best game of the tournament. They deserved better fates against the Czechs and Russians, but this was always a dangerous game for Sweden. The Swiss play an excellent, stingy trap game, and Sweden fell for it. Big time.
Yannick Bruschweiler scored for Switzerland off a beautiful 200-foot rush that beat Samuel Ersson (Philadelphia) over the glove.
Then the battle of the goalies ensued. Luca Hollenstein made a larcenous stop on the Swedish powerplay. Valentin Nussbaumer (2019) jumped out of the box on a breakaway, and Ersson robbed him with a toe-save. Then, Ersson made two point-blank stops on Swiss forwards in the slot as the teams went back and forth with chance after chance.
Sweden took a too-many-men penalty that sent Switzerland to a 18-second 5-on-3 powerplay. Luca Wyss jumped on a rebound in the slot and slammed it home to give Switzerland a 2-0 lead.
Tim Berni was a huge reason Sweden did not get a goal in this one. The Blue Jackets defender, whose skating combines Jeff Skinner’s edgework with Morgan Rielly’s powerful stride, rushed the puck up the ice before skating back to defend on an odd-man rush. He got back in time to stymie a breakaway chance for Fabian Zetterlund (New Jersey) without taking a penalty.
Hollenstein robbed Boqvist, Gustafsson, and Bemstrom in the dying minutes to preserve the shutout and send Sweden packing. Like a certain writer mentioned in a certain tournament preview:
“The old saying may dictate that defense wins championships, but if Sweden can’t score, they won’t win.” [Raw Charge]
We got our first upset of the World Juniors — admittedly late, but better late than never. This is the first time Sweden has been shutout at this tournament since they dropped a 1-0 OT decision to the Finns in 2006.
You can’t really look back on this tournament, but you could argue that Sweden would have gotten a more favourable matchup if they had lost to USA in the round robin. You know, snap the preliminary win streak, but win a medal.
Switzerland advances to the semi-finals, and win or lose, they will be playing for a medal on Saturday. The last time they medalled at this tournament was 1998 (bronze), but they are capable of giving at least one more team a run for their money. It would be amazing to see an underdog win a medal — we haven’t seen it since Slovakia won bronze in 2015.
Game Two: Finland 2, Canada 1 (OT)
SOG: FIN - 41, CAN - 31
PP: FIN - 0/2, CAN - 0/3
Players of the Game: FIN - Valtteri Puustinen (2019), CAN - Mikey DiPietro (VAN)
Canada’s Players of the Tournament: Mikey DiPietro (VAN), Cody Glass (VEG), Maxime Comtois (ANA)
Canada lost because they ran out of vegetables and you cannot convince me of anything else tonight— ♀️Lauren Kelly ♀️ (@laurkelly24) January 3, 2019
The 2018 Canadian team (in which I have lovingly dubbed the ‘Hey Baby Veggie Squad’) will go down in history as the last winning team before Canada cancelled hockey.
All salty Canadian feelings aside, Finland deserved to win this game.
Before we get into the recap, I just wanted to mention that the wife of Finland’s head coach (Mrs. Ahokas) gave birth to her third child; a boy. Yes, you read that right, Jussi Ahokas was not home with his wife for the birth of their child because he had to go beat those stuck up Canadians. Congrats to Finland for their double victory!
Head coach of Team Finland, Jussi Ahokas became a father for the third time tonight. While his team was playing Canada in Vancouver, Jussi`s wife gave birth to a healthy boy over in Finland. "This is such a job, that I couldnt be on paternity leave", said coach Ahokas via @hsfi— Jouni Nieminen (@OnsideWithJouni) January 3, 2019
Okay, back to the what was a nail-biting game.
In the first period, Finland were relentless on the forecheck, stealing the puck from Canadian players more times than I could count. Canada could not clear their zone to save their lives and Finland just ran all over them. They were so, so lucky that DiPietro was on his game.
Morgan Frost (Philadelphia) made a great no-look spin-o-rama pass to Barrett Hayton (Arizona), who rushed in, was knocked to his knees, but passed to Ian Mitchell (Chicago), who made it made it 1-0 Canada.
Then this game became the DiPietro show. He robbed Eeli Tolvanen (Nashville) multiple times and stoned Puustinen point-blank in the slot. Every time Canada got the puck for more than 10 seconds, they gave it right back to the Finns. Hayton did a great job on the forecheck and stripped two Finnish players, before passing off to Noah Dobson (Islanders), who then gave the puck away.
Henri Jokiharju (Chicago) made a great play defending a 3-on-1. Brett Leason walked in on a breakaway but was stopped by Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen (Buffalo). Time continued to trickle away until Tolvanen drove to the net, shoveled the puck to the crease. It deflected off Aleksi Heponiemi’s (Florida) skate and in past DiPietro with 46.4 seconds left.
DiPietro’s face says it all:
DiPietro's face after Heponiemi's goal is heartbreaking. pic.twitter.com/prDhu48jy8— ♀️Lauren Kelly ♀️ (@laurkelly24) January 3, 2019
Overtime! Evan Bouchard (Edmonton) was tripped up on a breakaway. Comtois took the penalty shot but was stopped by Luukkonen. Play resumed, and a couple of minutes later, Noah Dobson had his stick shatter on a one-timer chance, and then this happened:
Glass beats DiPietro (no, that’s not a typo) with the perfect tip up over his shoulder (okay, fine, it was really Canucks prospect Toni Utunen) and Finland advances to a semi-final date with Switzerland. Canada will not medal as World Juniors hosts for the first time ever.
Now, I have a bone to pick with Tim Hunter. Comtois did some questionable things, but he is far from the reason this team lost. When Canada won this tournament last year, they had a clear-cut identity, and they never wavered from it. I give full credit to Dominique Ducharme for instilling that in them and never deviating from their game-plan.
What I truly loved about the Hey Baby Veggie Squad was how a group of players with no real marquee name stole the hearts of a country by just being them. Scoring by committee, never getting off their game, and a catchy, cheesy, unique goal song to boot.— ♀️Lauren Kelly ♀️ (@laurkelly24) January 3, 2019
I’ve never felt so disconnected from a Canadian team at this tournament. This year’s version of Canada was supposed to be, as Hunter said at selection camp, the fastest version of Team Canada ever. First of all, that’s a terrible identity. Second, it was nowhere to be found. Is it not a coach’s job to put forth an identity and continue to preach it?
Instead of following that, Canada’s game plan morphed into physically trucking their opponents into submission. Comtois set the tone with his physicality, but that’s not what this team was built for. Even when things got out of hand against Switzerland and Russia, this team never deviated from that. They were running at anyone who breathed! They placed an importance — maybe even a need — on physicality, and that was never supposed to be who they were.
And they weren’t even good at it.
Their powerplay was absolutely trash. There is no other way to put it. Hunter moved Frost from his natural position on the left-side half-wall for half the tournament — even though Frost scored twice from there on Boxing Day and in pre-tournament games — before finally moving him back there last night. He continued to deploy the ‘top’ unit first, refusing to adjust personnel until last night, even though they hadn’t scored in three games. The second unit, which was miles better, never started the powerplay, and only really averaged about 45 seconds of time on the man-advantage. They were never put in a position to succeed, even though they were the better unit!
Hunter’s decision to use Comtois on the penalty shot was mind-boggling. Frost has experience scoring on Luukkonen on the breakaway in the OHL — and Canada’s leading scorer was benched for the entire overtime period. Glass, Nick Suzuki (Montreal) and Owen Tippett (Florida) are far better shooters in alone. His reliance on Comtois in big moments was a hindrance (again, not Max’s fault). Hunter said Ducharme taught him to preach patience last year, but his reluctance to change absolutely anything was borderline stubborn and infuriating to watch.
One last thing, and I’d really be remiss if I didn’t say anything about this — to the people who have been trashing Comtois’ Instagram with absolutely horrific comments, please stop. Canada’s captain is always the fall guy when Canada fails to win gold, but that is not okay. We are a better country than that. And those who left those ugly comments should be ashamed of themselves.
These are some of the comments on Max Comtois’ instagram page. Do not be these people. Seriously, do not. pic.twitter.com/Qekc30WVwQ— Faizal Khamisa (@SNFaizalKhamisa) January 3, 2019
With the #WorldJuniors upon us, I'm going to re-post an article I wrote in partnership with @TELUS last year, about the pressures we put on our nation's teenagers and how we can show good digital sportsmanship: https://t.co/VZDgm0j63M— Jeff Veillette (@JeffVeillette) December 26, 2018
If your country loses, please, I implore you — don’t be that person. It’s okay to be disappointed and angry. But it is never okay to be cruel.
Game Three: United States 3, Czech Republic 1
SOG: USA - 40, CZE - 16
PP: USA - 0/3, CZE - 1/1
Players of the Game: USA - Noah Cates (PHI), CZE - Lukas Dostal (ANA)
Czech Players of the Tournament: Lukas Dostal (ANA), David Kvasnicka, Martin Kaut (COL)
Armed with the return of Jack Hughes (2019) and K’Andre Miller (Rangers), the United States jumped out to an early lead and never looked back.
Hughes began the play on the game’s opening goal. He stole the puck before starting into the neutral zone, passing off to Cates. Cates deked out Dostal for one of the best goals of the tournament:
Noah Cates scores a pretty goal for the Americans, 1-0. But check out that sequence by Jack Hughes, who had the assist on the play. Stole the puck in his own zone before making the pass. #WJC2019 pic.twitter.com/fkaXlozf8z— Steven Ellis (@StevenEllisNHL) January 3, 2019
Jack and Quinn Hughes (Vancouver) were all over the ice in the first, including a great shift where they only passed to each other for a good scoring chance that Quinn couldn’t put away. After the Czechs lost the puck in the neutral zone, Jason Robertson (Dallas) got the puck out to Josh Norris (Ottawa), who came in on a breakaway and beat Dostal for USA’s second of the game:
The Czechs couldn’t really generate any offensive chances for 40 minutes. They finally got their chance as Mikey Anderson (Los Angeles) headed to the box for tripping. The two Martins (Kaut and Necas) connected for a sweet powerplay goal:
That was as close as they would come, as Sasha Chmelevski (San Jose) sealed the win for USA with an empty-netter:
The Czechs should be commended for what they did — yes, their Big Three failed to get going like last year, but where they faltered, others stepped up. Dostal was brilliant in goal. Jachym Kondelik (Nashville) and Kvasnicka were solid depth players who contributed offensively. Radim Salda (Tampa Bay) had a quiet tournament, but he was added to the roster late and asked to play a shutdown role. It was difficult, but he made it work, and didn’t look too bad for most of his games.
Cayden Primeau (Montreal), who had a couple of so-so starts, was solid in this one. He didn’t see as many shots as his Czech counterpart, but he made timely saves to keep USA in front. Jack Hughes showed no ill-effects from a (rumored) shoulder injury that kept him out of the last three games. Aside from Cates, he was USA’s best player tonight.
Uh, so... Jack Hughes is really back.— Chris Peters (@chrismpeters) January 3, 2019
8 shots on goal for Jack Hughes in his return to the tournament. He seems fine.— Corey Pronman (@coreypronman) January 3, 2019
The United States will head off to the semis, where they are now one step closer to avenging their semi-final loss to Sweden last year. It won’t be easy; Russia looms large and USA may have to claw and scratch their way to a win. Getting Hughes back was a huge boost. Plus, the Americans still boast the best powerplay of the tournament despite getting shutout tonight on the man-advantage. The country with the best powerplay has usually gone on to win. USA is dangerous from all areas of the ice, and with the elimination of their North American rivals, are now the hands-down favourites for gold.
Game Four: Russia 8, Slovakia 3
SOG: RUS - 28, SVK - 32
PP: RUS - 1/5, SVK - 1/3
Players of the Game: RUS - Klim Kostin (STL), SVK - Michal Ivan
Slovakia’s Players of the Tournament: Samuel Hlavaj (2019), Martin Fehervary (WSH), Adam Liska
Russia got off to a hot start in the first, lighting up Samuel Hlavaj (2019) for four goals.
Hlavaj was chased after Alexander Alexeyev’s (Montreal) goal in favour of Juraj Sklenar. Grigori Denisenko (Florida) almost got his second of the game (and Russia’s fifth goal), but it was called back for goalie interference — Denisenko got his stick jammed in Sklenar’s skate.
Didn’t matter — Denisenko and Klim Kostin (St. Louis) hooked up again, and this time it would count.
It’s not like Slovakia didn’t have their fair share of chances. Russia allowed them to get set up in the offensive zone, and there were a couple of neutral zone turnovers too. The difference was that Russsia got timely saves — Pyotr Kochetkov was solid. He made a brilliant pokecheck on Martin Pospisil as he came in on the breakaway. That was Slovakia’s best chance of the game.
The Slovakia powerplay was relatively effective in the second period, but once Russia got a chance with the extra man, they simply out-classed their European opponents. Again, it was Kostin.
And again, right at the end of the period, Kirill Slepets scored the seventh goal of the game for Russia. The Slovaks were just flopping all over the ice, exhausted.
Slovakia didn’t go down without a fight. Martin Fehervary scored the first goal of the game for the Slovaks, followed by Milos Roman 15 minutes (and another Russian goal) later, and then Michal Ivan scored the last goal of the tournament for his country with nine seconds left in regulation. The Russian team tried to challenge the Roman goal for offside for some reason, but the officials upheld the goal.
Whoever decided to challenge a goal with 1:02 left in a 8-1 hockey game should reconsider some things about their life and their decisions. What madness.
One last housekeeping note, Russian forward Vitali Kravtsov left the game in the second period due to some kind of injury. That would be a huge loss if he’s not able to go against the US in the semi finals.
Vitali Kravtsov off to the room. Don't think we're going to see much more out of Russia's offence as goal differential doesn't apply with the team going to the semifinals. #WJC2019— Steven Ellis (@StevenEllisNHL) January 3, 2019
Slovakia added two more goals in the third, but Russia held strong for a 8-3 victory. The Slovaks will have a much stronger team next year — they left a bunch of promising draft-eligible players off the roster this year. Russia will head into battle with the United States on Friday for a chance to play for their first gold since 2016 — where they lost to Finland in overtime and settled for silver.
Friday at the World Juniors
Relegation Round (best-of-three):
- Game 2: Denmark vs. Kazahkstan (12pm EST/9am PST)
Kazahkstan leads series 1-0
Players to Watch: DEN - Andreas Grundtvig, KAZ - Artur Gatiyatov
- SF 1: United States vs. Russia (4pm EST/1pm PST)
Players to Watch: USA - Josh Norris (OTT), RUS - Stepan Starkov
- SF 2: Finland vs. Switzerland (8pm EST/5pm PST)
Players to Watch: FIN - Aarne Talvitie (NJD), SUI - Philipp Kurashev (CHI)