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2021 World Junior Championship: Quarterfinals Recap

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Four of the Big Five advance, setting up a fun semifinal

United States v Slovakia: Quarterfinals - 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images

Eight teams took to the ice on Saturday looking to advance to the semifinals and a chance to win a medal. After a long day of hockey, the four finalists emerged. There weren’t really any surprises. Russia, Canada, and the Unites States advanced as expected. It was a toss-up between Sweden and Finland with the Finns fighting back to win a hard-fought game.

All four of the games were interesting and close. Three of the four teams that scored first won their games, but no one had a lead of more than two goals prior to the final minutes.

The Games:

Russia 2, Germany 1

Taking a page from the Czech Republic victory over Russia in the preliminary round, Germany focused on playing solid defense in front of their own net and protecting their goaltender by blocking shots and not allowing second chances. It worked pretty well for the Germans, who were making their first ever appearance in the quarterfinals. Unfortunately, Russia played just as well and kept Germany from producing a lot of sustained offense.

The German game plan was apparent early on as the Russians had 25 attempted shots, but only 8 made it on net. Nine shots were blocked and seven were forced wide. The one that did find the back of the German net actually came while the Russians were shorthanded.

Just an excellent play by the Russians. Vasili Ponomaryov reads the play perfectly, creeping out to center ice once it looks like his teammates will win possession along the boards. Semyon Chistyakov gets the puck and fires it up ice immediately to Ponmaryov who is wide open. German defender Simon Gnyp gets caught looking at the play a little too long and doesn’t realize how far behind him Ponomaryov has gotten.

The second period had a similar style to the first. Germany could only really press when their top line of Tim Stützle, JJ Peterka, and Florian Elias were on the ice. The rest of the time the play was in the German zone. Despite three power plays, Germany just couldn’t sustain any offense. Russia doubled their lead Danil Bashkirov fired one past the German netminder.

Germany cut the lead to 2-1 in the third when Elias stole the puck in the Russian zone and fired a wrister over Yaroslav Askarov’s glove.

Elias would have Germany’s last golden chance to tie the game when he deflected a shot off of the crossbar with just under eight minutes to play in the game. Lightning prospect Maxim Groshev didn’t see a lot of ice time over the last two periods (only 4:10) due to special teams play and Russia rolling their top three lines in a competitive game. He had a strong first period with 4:46 of ice time and 2 shots, both coming on a partial breakaway.

Finland 3, Sweden 2

After the first period it looked like Sweden was going to run away with this game. They had a 2-0 lead thanks to goals from Lucas Raymond and Elmer Soderblom and an 11-4 lead in shots. Finland looked flat and Sweden was clicking. Then things changed.

Sweden sat back a little and Finland started skating a lot better. They took advantage of Sweden’s sloppy puck handling and started piling up the shots. Over the last two periods the Finns outshot the Swedes 27 to 13. Once they found the back of the net five minutes into the second period (almost tied it a few minutes later on a goal that was disallowed due to an offside play) they were the team in charge.

Hugo Alnefelt was back in net for Sweden and he had a mixed night. In the first period he appeared to be in a little discomfort after going down for a save. On the first Finnish goal he didn’t move smoothly from post to post. Yet, there he was making timely save after save to protect the 2-1 lead, including this gorgeous stop at the end of the second.

Finland kept up the pressure and eventually tied the game with under nine minutes to go with a power play goal by Anton Lundell. With the screen in front, Alnefelt never saw the puck.

The goal seemed to wake the Swedes up a little and after two periods of lackluster play they pressed Finland a little bit more. It ended up in vain as Finland went ahead with 23 seconds left in the game. With the play happening behind him, Alnefelt wasn’t able to get his skate to the post, leaving a bit of space for Roni Hirvonen to tuck it into the net.

Canada 3, Czech Republic 0

The Czechs fought hard, but were just overmatched by the Canadians. It didn’t help that Canada had a 2-0 lead midway through the first period. The captain, Dylan Cozens, opened things up just over 8 minutes in when he jumped on a loose puck in the neutral zone and took off. A shifty little move and he beat Nick Malik glove-side.

Three minutes later Bowen Byram doubled the lead with a shot from the right circle. He waited for the screen and put it just under Malik’s arm. The goaltender couldn’t squeeze his arm in tight and the puck dribbled over the line.

From there, the game kind of evened out. Both teams had chances, but the goaltenders kept things from escalating on the scoreboard. The second period was a bit ho-hum with Canada outshooting the Czechs 11-6. They just seemed a step ahead of their opponent on almost every contested play.

The third period played out much the same way until the Czechs, desperate to stay in the tournament, pulled their goaltender with five minutes left in the game. For the next two minutes they turned the Canadian zone into a shooting gallery. Devon Levi stood tall and kept the clean sheet. He finished the night with 29 saves on 29 shots.

USA 4, Slovakia 2

The United States were the favorites coming into the games, but Slovakia wasn’t going to be a tough out. It was important for the Americans to get into rhythm early and force Slovakia to chase them for as much of the game as possible. Matthew Boldy and Arthur Kaliyev connected on a beautiful play to give the US that advantage.

What a beautiful no-look pass by Boldy. John Farinacci had a puck bounce off of him midway through the second period to give the Americans a two goal lead. Slovakia, who had been playing in a defensive shell were forced to attack a little more.

That aggressiveness led to a 5-on-3 power play for the US and they weren’t going to let that opportunity pass them by. Cole Caufield, on his birthday, snipes a puck from the right circle to build a 3-0 lead.

Give Slovakia credit. After going down 3-0 late in the second they could have folded, but instead they came back and finally found the back of the net.

Caufield works hard on the backcheck to break up the play. Unfortunately he’s all by himself and can’t find the puck before Simon Nemec slides it over to Matej Kaslik who absolutely rips a one-timer past Spencer Knight.

The goal snapped the US’s streak of 218:53 without allowing a goal (an empty netter in their first game against Russia). Their next streak wasn’t quite as long. Despite the United States carrying most of the play, they couldn’t put another one past Simon Latkoczy.

In the third the US found themselves shorthanded for the third time in the game (they had only taken five penalties entering the game) and Slovakia capitalized. The Americans thought they were going to clear the puck and when Slovakia kept it in Dominik Sojka was behind the defense. He redirected a pass from the point right between Knight’s pads to bring them within one goal.

Give the US credit. Doubts could have risen with the Slovaks pressing and the lead only a lucky shot away from disappearing. A few minutes after the goal, the US had the puck in the Slovak zone, behind the net actually. John Farinacci patiently waited for something developed. Bobby Brink cut through the crease, drawing both defensemen with him which left enough space for Farinacci to slip out in front and slide the puck past Lackoczy.

Matt Beniers added an empty net goal and the US didn’t suffer another quarterfinal upset.

The Semifinal Match-Ups

The teams will take Sunday off and return to action on Monday.

Canada vs. Russia 6:00 pm EST NHL Network

Canada hasn’t trailed in this tournament. Russia has been up and down with their play, but have pulled out the goals when they’ve needed it. This is a rematch of the 2020 Final where Canada beat Russia, 4-3.

United States vs. Finland 9:30 pm EST NHL Network

Speaking of quarterfinal upsets, it was Finland that bounced the US out of last year’s tournament. They also beat the US for the gold medal in 2019. So these teams have a little history. The Americans will be looking for a little revenge this year while Finland looks to continue their run of recent gold medal success. Since 2014 they’ve won the gold medal three times, tied with Canada with the most during that stretch.