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IIHF World Championship: Weekend wrap up

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The weekend games featured few real contests, but later this week times get tougher.

Latvia v Finland - 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Photo by Martin Rose/Getty Images

It’s eternally true that the World Championships have a team or two every year that is in so far over their heads as to be a guaranteed win for every opponent. Last year Italy scored six goals in seven games played, were relegated, and turned around and won promotion to the 2019 event this year. Just in time for the Olympics, Korea played well enough in the Division 1 event last year to win promotion to the top rank. They’d never managed that before, but it was obvious at the Olympics, and it’s obvious now, that they aren’t up to the challenge of playing the top teams at the top level.

This year the collection of teams who have spent time in Division 1 and aren’t likely to do more than be competitive against each other also includes Belarus, Norway and Austria. Slovakia and Latvia, who used to be in the club with teams you could count on to lose big have both grown their games in recent years.

Austria and Norway made things interesting on Saturday, however, by each securing a point in an overtime loss. Austria took the Swiss to OT, and if that isn’t an illustration of the decline in Swiss hockey, nothing is, and Norway did the same to Latvia. Those points may well secure them freedom from relegation since it is entirely possible that the bottom two teams will finish pointless.

The lowest ranked teams at Worlds are often filled with players who are semi-pros fleshed out with the top level players who have moved elsewhere to play at a higher level. That is certainly true of Denmark, one of the smallest countries in the event, with the smallest pool of hockey players to draw on — Norway likely challenges them for unlikely success in hockey. The Danish hockey league is a semi-pro league, and the best players on the team play in Sweden or the KHL (Jokerit has a history of fleshing out their Finnish squad with Danes, and it’s been very successful.).

Even with those KHL players and Frans Nielsen, having Frederik Andersen on the Danish team is the difference between mucking about with the teams at the bottom of the standings and rising up to challenge teams like Switzerland and Germany for an outside chance at a quarterfinal berth.

Andersen has already helped produce an upset, Denmark’s shootout win over Germany, and on Saturday he faced the USA and held them to only four goals against. That loss might be as important as the win when rankings are decided, and goal differential comes into play to break ties.

Saturday’s Results

  • Switzerland won over Austria in overtime 3-2
  • Latvia won over Norway in overtime 3-2
  • France beat Belarus 6-2
  • Czechia beat Slovakia in overtime 3-2
  • USA beat Denmark 4-0
  • Finland beat Korea 8-1

Finland absolutely dominated Korea, well beyond what the score shows. They outshot them 45 to 9, and proved that Korea really can’t handle a top team at this level. Kasperi Kapanen, playing in his first game on the senior men’s team, was on the top line with Mikael Granlund and Mikko Rantanen. Granlund had five shots, Rantanen three and Kapanen two, but it was Kapanen with the only goal for their line. It does look like his passing habits are getting a good workout.

Finland plays some tougher competition later on, which will give us a chance to see how Kapanen does in a top-line role against teams like Canada or the USA.

Sunday’s Results

  • Russia beat Austria 7-0 (Nikita Zaitsev had no points in this one.)
  • Canada beat Korea 10-0 (Curtis McElhinney with the shutout, made 25 stops while Canada had 50 shots on goal.)
  • Sweden beat Czechia 3-2
  • Norway pulled out a huge win over Germany in a shootout 5-4
  • Switzerland beat Slovakia 2-0
  • Finland beat Latvia 8-1

Norway has now virtually guaranteed they will avoid relegation, and Germany is suffering mightily from not having their top goalies in the tournament, and really needs to beat Korea to keep themselves from being embarrassed here.

Catching my eye in Sunday’s action was Antti Suomela, who put up points in the Liiga this year as a 24-year-old centre that eclipsed all other players. He is a very small man, and he has a young-looking face that adds to the impression, but he can play.

Kasperi Kapanen is playing left wing with Mikko Rantanen taking the right side, and he does not seem to be 100 percent comfortable. His line were kept off the board as the Sebastian Aho line had a goalfest.

Monday’s Action

In early games (10:15 a.m. Eastern Time), Russia takes on Belarus, and the the USA plays Germany. In the marquee games (2:15 p.m. Eastern Time), Denmark hosts Canada and Sweden plays France. Technically, Canada is the home team for their game, but it won’t feel like it.

But Leafs fans get their goalie matchup:

Denmark’s going to get beat in this game, but their goal again is to limit the damage and try to get some past McElhinney in the process. I think maybe they have the inside track on his weaknesses.

The leaders in each Group are already rising to the top: Russia and Sweden are undefeated in Group A, and the USA and Canada split their points in their head-to-head game, so sit behind Finland in Group B.