IIHF World Championship Gets Under Way

The 2019 IIHF World Championship kicked off today in Slovakia with a slate of games featuring some current Devils and a pair of could-be future Devils in Jack Hughes (USA) and Kaapo Kakko (Finland).

First up was a 3-1 Finnish win over Canada. Kakko, who is currently projected to go second overall in the 2019 NHL Draft but could conceivably go first if he has a really impressive showing in this tournament, scored two of the Finns’ three goals.

Kakko got the Finns on the board 6:47 into the game when he took a beautiful touch pass from Toni Rajala through the neutral zone and beat Canadian goaltender Matt Murray with a nice move. That made it 1-0 Finland.

At 7:02 of the first, Henri Jokiharju of Finland was caught with a high-stick and Canada converted on the ensuing power play, with Jonathan Marchessault scoring at 8:03 (getting a setup from his Vegas Golden Knights teammate Mark Stone). That knotted things at one.

But that was all Canada could muster. After a scoreless, penalty-free second period, we were set up for a high stakes third period and the Finns were the ones that took advantage.

Just 2:29 into the frame, Devils defenseman Damon Severson cross-checked Kakko and the Finns were on the power play. It took less than ten seconds for Arttu Ilomaki to convert to put Finland up 2-1. That goal would prove to be the game-winner as Kakko would score into an empty net while Murray was pulled for the extra attacker.

That made our final 3-1. Murray stopped 21 of 24 Finnish shots while Kevin Lankinen made 20 saves on 21 shots against.

For Canada, Severson had the two minute minor for cross-checking and a shot on goal with an even plus/minus rating in 18:21 of total ice time spread out over 24 shifts. Mackenzie Blackwood is participating in the tournament for Canada, but he was not dressed tonight. Carter Hart served as Murray’s backup.

Kakko had the two goals for two points with six total shots and a plus-2 plus/minus in 15:13 of total ice time.

Next up, Finland takes on Slovakia tomorrow, May 11. Canada will next be in action on Sunday, May 12 against Great Britain.

Staying in Group A, Team USA took on the hosts of the tournament, Slovakia from the Steel Arena in Bratislava. This was a tough one for goalie Cory Schneider, assistant coach John Hynes and Jack Hughes. In what could only be classified as an upset, they lost to the Slovaks, 4-1.

Matus Sukel gave Slovakia the early 1-0 lead just 4:02 into the game. Alex DeBrincat, setup by his Blackhawks teammate Patrick Kane, tied things at the 12:05 mark of the first to get the United States back into things, but that was as close as the Americans would get.

Just 1:22 into the second period, Brady Skjei took a high-sticking penalty to put the US down a man. Fourteen seconds later, Ryan Suter was nabbed for tripping. The Americans were now fighting off a 5-on-3 power play and Slovakia’s Erik Cernak capitalized. He scored at 1:52 to give the Slovaks a 2-1 lead, one which they would never relinquish.

At the 4:58 mark of the second, Tomas Tatar beat Cory to give Slovakia a 3-1 lead. And they would finish things off when Michal Kristof scored 5:54 into the third to make it 4-1.

Cory stopped 32 of 36 shots by the Slovaks while Slovakia’s Patrik Rybar made 25 saves on 26 American shots. Jack Hughes had two of those shots and was an even plus/minus in 13:30 of work spread out over 20 shifts. For the Slovaks, Marian Studenic, a Devils prospect, on their roster. He had an assist on the Sukel goal for a point and was a plus-1 in 14:58 of ice time spread out over 22 shifts.

A stunned American team will now take on France on Sunday in continuing Group A action.

The final game of the day featuring a Devils player and a Devils prospect was Sweden taking on the Czech Republic in Group B. The Czechs came away with the 5-2 win in this one.

The Czechs got on the board very early, with Jakub Vrana scoring just 1:55 into the game for the 1-0 lead.

That held until the second period when, just 24 seconds into the fresh frame, Patric Hornqvist scored to make the game level at one.

Exactly 1:01 after that goal, Czech Republic’s Filip Chytil was called for high-sticking and the Swedes were on the power play. Oskar Lindblom then gave Sweden the lead at the 3:01 mark off assists from Erik Gustafsson and Jesper Bratt. This power play assist gave Bratt his first point of the tournament.

But just before the period was out, at 16:36, Dominik Kubalik knotted the game at two to send it into the third period.

And once again, it only took a few seconds for one of these teams to find the back of the net. Just 33 seconds into the third period, Michael Frolik scored for the Czechs to retake the lead, 3-2.

At the 14:04 mark of the period, things would get a little bit chippy as Sweden’s Elias Pettersson was called for tripping and Hornqvist was given an unsportsmanlike conduct minor. Going off with them was Czech Republic’s Jan Kovar (unsportsmanlike conduct) and Ondrej Palat (interference). With the open ice (on a bigger European rink), Jakub Vrana scored at 15:50 to make it 4-2 Czech Republic.

Sweden, down by two, would try to get the extra attacker on by pulling goalie Henrik Lundqvist. They would not score the two equalizers, but the Czechs did score into an empty net when Kovar deposited the puck to ice the game.

The game ended on a crazy note as four players were assessed roughing minors with less than thirty seconds left in the game. David Sklenicka and Radko Gudas went off for the Czechs while Dennis Rasmussen and Robert Hagg were caught for the Swedes.

Lundqvist made 27 saves on 32 shots against for Sweden in nets while Patrik Bartosak made 30 saves on an identical 32 shots by the Swedes.

Jesper Bratt had the assist for a point, and was a minus-1 plus/minus in 11:44 of ice time over 24 shifts. Jesper Boqvist is on the team but did not dress for this game for the Swedes.

Sweden will play their next game on Sunday against Italy at the Ondrej Nepela Arena in Kosice. We will have coverage of the Switzerland-Italy game tomorrow for you here as well, which will feature Nico Hischier for the Swiss.

Moving back to North America, the Guelph Storm and the Ottawa 67’s faced off in game five of their OHL Final series tied up at two games apiece.

This one was narrowly won by the Storm 4-3 as Ottawa falls to within a game of elimination from the OHL playoffs.

The 67’s got on the board first when Tye Felhaber scored his 16th of the playoffs at the 10:40 mark of the first period. But, just a little over two minutes later, at 12:44, Cedric Ralph of the Storm tied the game at one when he scored just his third of the playoffs.

It would only take 13 seconds for Guelph to take the lead too. Isaac Ratcliffe scored to make it 2-1 at 12:57 and the Storm really were rolling.

Alexey Toropchenko, who has had quite the series, scored 3:40 into the second period to make it 3-1.

Ottawa cut that lead to 3-2 when Sasha Chmelevski scored on the power play at 6:33 of the second. Guelph, however, retook a two goal lead, making it 4-2 when Nate Schnarr notched what would be the game-winner at 12:39 of the second.

Felhaber would score at 11:26 of the third to get Ottawa back within one. They would pull goaltender Cedrick Andree with a little over a minute to go in regulation for the extra attacker, but could not get the game tied up. Guelph hung on to win by a final of 4-3.

In nets, the Storm’s Anthony Popovich made 28 saves on 31 67’s shots. Ottawa’s Andree stopped 25 of the 29 that he saw. The 67’s were 1-for-4 on the power play while the Storm were 0-for-3.

Mitchell Hoelscher had three shots on goal, an even plus/minus and won eight of the 17 faceoffs that he took.

Game six of this series, with Guelph having a chance to wrap things up with a victory, takes place on Sunday at 2 PM in Guelph. The Storm would then go on to represent the OHL in the Memorial Cup. The 67’s will be looking to force a game seven.

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