There are three games at the 2018 World Junior Championships today.
First up is the second relegation match between Denmark and Belarus at noon. The Danes surprised everyone, perhaps even themselves, with a 5-4 win in the first game. The Danes scored two goals in the entire tournament before that game. The best of three series continues on Friday, if necessary.
The important action gets going in the afternoon with the two semifinals, which are both on the main channel of TSN. Nothing too shocking happened in the quarterfinals. Both the Czechs and the USA were about even with their opponents, Finland and Russia, and they won close games.
The red machine rolled over another opponent in hapless Switzerland and Canada is now set to face their first really tough challenge since they played the USA outside in the snow.
Sweden dominated the Slovaks in possession for most of their game, even if the score of 3-2 looks close. Defensive weaknesses on one side and good goaltending on the other influenced the score. Slovakia, who work hard at building a junior program at home, but had several CHL players on the team, has to see their performance as a success.
USA at Sweden
The game gets going at 4 p.m., so if you’re a fan of these teams, you need to duck out early today.
Sweden will need to get their top line scoring against the USA, and not just their depth like they had against the Slovaks. In the quarterinal, Timothy Liljegren played behind the top units most of the time, and he handles the puck well, perhaps could pass more than shoot, but they looked very good overall.
The USA has dynamic and exciting scoring, some very good defence, and some good goaltending. It would be wrong to say that either Joseph Woll or Jake Oettinger have been great this tournament, but they’ve both been good enough when they needed to be. Oettinger has the win over Canada, Woll the quarterfinal win, so who starts today is not official, but it seems like Woll has the edge.
Sweden has the edge on paper in this game, but the USA is a very tough opponent, and will have however many (or few) people show up as a crowd behind them.
Woll confirmed starter for USA vs SWE. Motzko likes chances of Logan Brown to play— Mike Morreale (@mikemorrealeNHL) January 4, 2018
Czech Republic at Canada
This game goes at 8 p.m., opposite the Leafs game.
The Czechs have their work cut out for them. They’re tougher than Switzerland, play a tighter system, have some good players, and ... let’s face it, they need Canada to lose this. Everything Canada has done in this tournament, starting with putting together a balanced forward lineup, stocking up on excellent defence and relying on Carter Hart in net has worked perfectly. They have one shootout loss as the only blemish on their record.
Martin Necas is ranked second in points in the tournament, however. He is a dynamic threat, even if he doesn’t look like it in that photo above. Libor Hajek, a Tampa prospect, because aren’t they all, is also having a great tournament. Filip Chytil is doing well after having some NHL time this year.
The Czechs will take penalties trying to play a physical game, and Canada can capitalize on that. Canada can also score with every line. They have one player, Jordan Kyrou, in the top ten in scoring. There’s only one because they have 10 skaters with at least four points and four more with three points.
Cale Makar the future Avalanche defenceman, and Sam Steel of the Ducks are the most exciting Canadian players for me this year.
This should all lead to a Sweden - Canada final, but there can be upsets, and if one of these teams is capable of providing that it’s the USA.