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2021 World Junior Tournament Recap: Day 5 featured strong performances by the contenders

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Three gold medal contenders were in action and they all won handily.

Canada v Switzerland: Preliminary Round Group A - 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images

It’s that time of the tournament where the gold medal contenders are making sure their games are in top form while some of the lower-tier teams are running out of gas. The discrepancy was on full display Tuesday night as the three victorious teams (squads that think they can win the tournament) outscored their opponents by a combined 24-1.

The United States, Russia, and Canada all looked ready for the quarterfinals as they won their games easily. Canada is most likely going to finish atop of Group A while the other two are battling (along with Sweden) for control of Group B. With goal differential possibly coming into play, they had to keep pouring on the offense even when the game is well in hand.

Also, with the abbreviated run up to the tournament due to Covid-19 restrictions, these teams haven’t played that many games together and are still working on their chemistry. Taking periods off just because the score is a bit lopsided is a good way to let bad habits creep into their game. Bad habits lead to losses in the quarterfinal rounds and mass disappointment.

It’s the nature of the tournament and while it doesn’t always make for the best viewing it shouldn’t take away from the enjoyment. As Lauren points out in an excellent Twitter thread, this tournament isn’t about the fans. It’s about the best young players from North America and Europe getting together to play hockey. For a lot of the kids on the ice, this is the highlight of their hockey career.

There are no such things as meaningless games or meaningless goals in this tournament. Do you think Austrian forward Senna Peeters is going to forget the goal he scored against Russia just because they were losing 4-0 at the time? Heck no. These kids are playing hard no matter what the score is and representing their countries well.

So sit back and enjoy the hockey and don’t worry about the score.

Yesterday’s Games

United States 7, Czech Republic 0

The US passed marched past the Czech Republic to set up a first place showdown with Sweden on New Year’s Eve. Trevor Zegras continued to make his case for being one of the top players in the tournament. The Anaheim Ducks prospect put up 5 points (2 goals, 3 assists) and now leads all skaters with 10 points (5 goals, 5 assists).

Captain Cam York added three assists while Spencer Knight bounced back from a rough outing against Russia to stop all 22 shots that the Czechs threw at him. The game was scoreless after the first period, but the US stuck with their game plan and refused to be rattled by their opponent’s relentless defense. Bobby Brink (he’s not “Robert” or “Bob” or just “Brink” he will forever be called “Bobby Brink” at all times) opened the scoring and the US kept the pressure on.

Canada 10, Switzerland 0

Noah Patenaude had 42 saves for Switzerland. That’s usually means a goaltender had a pretty good game. Unfortunately, Canada had 52 shots on net. The host country rolled to their third straight victory and all but clinched the top seed in Group A. Quinton Byfield was the star of game on offense. Byfield, the number two pick in the most recent NHL draft, had 6 points (2 goals, 4 assists) in a breakout game. Devon Levi stopped all 15 shots he faced. Canada, when they’re operating at full capacity, is a very scary team. Giving them multiple opportunities on the power play probably isn’t a solid game plan.

Russia 7, Austria 1

Well. At least the losing team scored a goal in this one. Russia scored four goals in the first (including the first penalty shot goal of the tournament) and dispatched Austria rather easily. The Lightning’s Maxim Groshev was held off of the scoreboard, but he did have a couple of chances during his 14 minutes of ice time. Russia will now get ready for their showdown with Sweden in their final preliminary match. Senna Peeters recorded the lone Austrian goal of the game, their first of the tournament.

Today’s Games

Finland (2-0-0-0-0, 6 points) vs Slovakia (1-0-1-1, 4 points) 2:00 pm EST NHL Network

This is a battle for positioning as both teams are going to advance to the next round and neither is probably going to catch Canada (although Finland has a chance if they beat Slovakia and then Canada in their last preliminary game). This should be a close, hard fought game as neither team boasts a high-flying offense, nor do they make a ton of mistakes on the ice.

Switzerland (0-0-0-3, 0 points) vs. Germany (0-1-0-2, 2 points) 6:00 pm EST NHL Network

It’s pretty simple - win and advance. Due to the fact that the Germans lone win came in overtime (and thus was only worth 2 points) whoever wins this game in regulation will advance to the quarter finals. Germany can also advance if they make it to overtime. A game with stakes is always fun. The remaining five players that were in quarantine for Germany have been released so they should have a full roster for the first time in the tournament.

Russia (2-0-0-1, 6 points) vs. Sweden (2-0-0-0, 6 points) 9:30 pm EST NHL Network

It’s a possible battle of Tampa Bay Lightning prospects as Russia’s Maxim Groshev could be facing off against Sweden’s Hugo Alnefelt. There is a chance that the Swedes rest Alnefelt and start Jesper Wallstedt in net since they have back-to-back games. If Russia wants to finish first in Group B then they need to win tonight and put up a lot of goals on Alnefelt. Sweden’s streak of 54 straight preliminary round wins will see it’s first serious test of the 2021 tournament.