The 2018 World Junior Championships is chugging along, dropping interested fans by the side of the road like trucks in the ditch on the QEW. There are two more days of round robin play today and tomorrow, and there are important things to be decided in these games, but the schedule of this year’s event means that for a lot of fans, there’s nothing to care about until the gold medal game.
Yesterday, the snowbowl brought the Canada - USA game, normally scheduled for New Year’s Eve, to viewers on a Friday afternoon, so they could play it outside. The USA came back and won it in a shootout, and Canada is now simmering with desire to finally beat those guys.
The Maple Leafs’ Joseph Woll was not involved in the game. He had started two other games, and wasn’t dressed as the backup (which had to be horrible in the cold and snow). The issue for the USA coach now of which goalie is his number one, Woll or Jake Oettinger seems decided, as Woll lost to Slovakia, and Oettinger got the win in the snow. One or two games shouldn’t decide that for a goalie, but it usually does. Both Canada and USA play one more game this weekend.
Timothy Liljegren has two more games to play with Sweden who are undefeated in their first two.
Czech Republic vs Belarus at noon. Barring an upset, this game will confirm that Belarus is going to the relegation round, and sets the Czechs up for a tie with Russia in their pool for second place.
Sweden vs Switzerland at 2 p.m. This is an important game, as a win for Sweden (who have another game after this one) will put them in first place overall in the tournament. Switzerland, who have an identical record to the Czechs can move into a second place tie with the upset.
The Leafs Timothy Liljegren hasn’t got a point so far in this event, but he’s played very well. The Swedes are leading from the blueline with an excellent list of future stars including the super-hyped Rasmus Dahlin, but their forwards are also fast and exciting. This should be a very fun game to watch.
Finland vs Slovakia at 4 p.m. The Finns cut Toronto’s Eemeli Räsänen yesterday, and they sit tied with the Slovaks for third/fourth. This game should decide the final order in their pool, but there is no question that it’s Denmark who will be relegated out of this group that includes Canada and USA.
Denmark vs Canada at 8 p.m. What a choice for the marquee game! I’m sure many, many Canadians will consider that long snowy drive to Buffalo for this game. Canada can’t let themselves be down after yesterday’s loss. They are still on top in their division. Surprised? I don’t think anyone mentioned that the USA win wasn’t a very big deal. The loser point gave Canada a two-point spread over USA. A win in this game, and Canada is tops in their pool.
If you want to watch a game today, make it Sweden at Switzerland.
Switzerland vs Czech Republic at noon. This is going to be a key game in deciding quarterfinal placement.
USA vs Finland at 4 p.m. This game could be a must-win by the USA, and isn’t an easy finish to the tournament for them. Finland with a win in their two tough final matches could vault over the Americans for second place.
Slovakia vs Denmark at 6 p.m. This game should go to Slovakia and might have a hand in determining the final pool placings. Denmark has looked like a team that doesn’t belong at this level.
Russia vs Sweden at 8 p.m. As a replacement for the usual Canada-USA game in this schedule slot, this is an excellent choice. Too bad no one will watch it. The game starts at 2 a.m. in Sweden, and 4 a.m. in Moscow. On New Year’s Eve. And unless you’re in the know that this game has the potential to be the best of the tournament, are you watching this instead of the more usual NYE activities?
If you’re a Liljegren fan, you should watch it. But keep an eye on the Russians, as they’ve been their usual sneaky good selves. We likely won’t know all the quarterfinal matchups until this one is over.
The quarterfinals are on January 2, and we’ll have some coverage of Liljegren and Sweden’s game for you that day.
Happy hockey watching, everyone.