Play in the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship preliminary round got started today in Buffalo with a few Devils prospects participating and making an impact.
In the first game of the tournament, played at Key Bank Center, the Czech Republic defeated Russia 5-4 in Group B action. Russia features possible future Devils in forward Mikahail Maltsev and defenseman Yegor Zaitsev. Zaitsev registered an assist on Russia’s first goal of the tournament 7:28 into the first period. It came on Alexei Polodyan’s goal. Zaitsev would also take a hooking penalty early in the second period, leading to a Czech power play where Filip Zadina scored a crucial goal to put them up 3-2. Maltsev registered 14:01 of ice time while Zaitsev had the assist, the two PIMs, three shots on goal and was a plus-1 all in 16:31 of ice time. Russia next plays Switzerland on Thursday.
In an early game played at Harborcenter, Sweden defeated Belarus 6-1 to round out Group B play for the day. This one also featured two Devils draftees, both on Sweden, as Jesper Boqvist and Fabian Zetterlund suited up. Boqvist scored the Swede’s fourth goal off helpers from Erik Brannstrom and Fredrik Karlstrom at 14:18 of the second period. Boqvist had the goal, two shots on goal, was a plus-2 in 14:21 of ice time. Zetterlund ended with a shot on goal and was a minus-1 in 12:18 of time on ice. Sweden plays next on Thursday against the Czech Republic.
The later two games (both Group A games) got underway at Key Bank Center with Canada and Michael McLeod – of the Mississauga Steelheads of the OHL – taking on Finland. Team Canada won that one, 4-2 in a game that saw a lot of Canadian fans cross the border to almost make this a home game for their team. McLeod had a tripping penalty in the first period for two penalty minutes on the afternoon and was a plus-1 in 12:06 of ice time spread out over 19 shifts. Canada’s next game is tomorrow against fellow Devils’ draft pick Marian Studenic and Slovakia.
In the main event of the day, host and defending tournament champions Team USA took on Denmark at Key Bank Center. The United States is, of course, led by captain and Devils prospect Joey Anderson of the University of Minnesota-Duluth. This one was a complete and dominant performance by the USA, who won 9-0 in a blowout victory. Anderson had three shots on goal and was a plus-1 in 14:24 of time on ice. The Americans built up a 5-0 lead after one period of play and scored two goals each in the next two periods. Goaltender Joseph Woll made 17 saves in the shutout win and Casey Mittelstadt had two goals in being named the player of the game for the USA. Mittelstadt is a Buffalo Sabres prospect, so he is playing in his future NHL city in this tournament. The US next plays Slovakia on Thursday.
So after the first day of play in the 2018 World Junior Championship, Team USA stands in first place in Group A with a win and an amazing plus-9 goal differential, a 1-0-0-0 record and three points. Canada is in second place with a 1-0-0-0 record and three points and a plus-2 goal differential. Finland and Denmark are both 0-0-0-1 (the order is wins/overtime wins/overtime losses/losses) with no points and a minus-2 goal differential for the Finns and a minus-9 differential for the Danes. Slovakia has yet to play a game.
In Group B, Sweden is in first place (1-0-0-0, three points, plus-5 goal differential), the Czechs stand behind them (1-0-0-0, three points, plus-1 goal differential), Russia is next with an 0-0-0-1 record, no points and a minus-1 goal differential. Belarus pulls up the rear with an 0-0-0-1 record, no points and a minus-5 goal differential. The Swiss have not yet played.
A good start for the Americans in the defense of their gold medal, but competition will be getting tougher. Happy holidays, everyone!