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The big game is Canada-USA at the WJC; Sweden already has first locked up

We already know who is going to the medal round or to relegation play, but today’s actions decides the rankings.

Canada v Russia - 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images

There were only two games yesterday and they mostly served to decide the relegation opponents. Relegation is a best of three playoff series between the team that finishes last in each group. In Group B, it was all very obvious that would be Latvia or Slovakia, both pointless, and their game last night was the decider.

Latvia played a fairly strong game, but Slovakia outshot them, outscored them and won it 4-2. Toronto’s Martins Dzierkals had three shots on goal and an assist on one of the two goals.

The Latvians now have a huge challenge ahead of them to keep from moving right back to Division I play next year.

In Group A, the Swiss came back from a three goal deficit and beat Denmark in overtime. That gives the Swiss four points, and means the pointless, winless Finns cannot surpass that today in their final game. Finland becomes the first ever WJC team to go from gold to the relegation round in one year.

The repercussions were immediate and surprising:

Yes, that’s right, in the middle of the tournament with a game against the Swiss today and the very meaningful relegation to come next week, the Finns dumped their entire coaching staff. Replacing them is Jussi Ahokas, who coached the U18 team last year. One of his assistants is the current U17 coach. Ahokas was an assistant on the U20 team team once several years ago. While it’s clear these men have experience with young players, and the Finnish team is very young, this is a very tough thing to have happen in this way for the players.

Everyone should expect the Latvians to be in the fight of their lives in those relegation games. There is a lot of talent on the Finnish team.

Meanwhile heading into the playoffs, Sweden has locked up first place, so their game today against the Czechs matters only for deciding 2 through 3 in that group. Denmark, Czech Republic and Switzerland are at six, five and four points, so anything can happen there.

In Group B, Canada and the USA are undefeated with nine points each and their game this afternoon decides who is first and who is second. The quarterfinals are crossovers where the first place team plays the fourth and the second plays the third in the opposite group. Coming first, second or third in Group B means you get one of those three very evenly matched teams mentioned above as an opponent, not a very meaningful distinction.

The game that really matters is Slovakie-Russia. The loser of that game comes fourth and plays Sweden in the quarterfinal match. Expect Russia to show up with intent to win that one against a tired Slovakian team.

Today’s schedule is here, and all games are on TSN, most are on NHL Network in the US. The quarterfinals are played on Monday.