Semifinals Set at 2021 WJC

The quarterfinal round took place today in Edmonton at the 2021 World Junior Championship. Russia played Germany, Finland matched up with Sweden, Canada faced the Czech Republic and the United States tangled with Slovakia.

The first game of a packed day was the Russia-Germany game. This one was way closer than it had any business being with Russia getting a scare from the Germans and hanging on to win, 2-1.

Russia got on the board in the first period when they scored six seconds into killing a penalty. Danil Chaika was called for a trip at the 9:00 mark, at 9:06, penalty killer Vasili Ponomaryov had the shorty.

It would stay 1-0 Russia until the second period when Danil Bashkirov scored – this time at even strength – with Yegor Afanasiev getting the primary assist and Devils prospect Arseni Gritsyuk getting the secondary. The goal came at the 8:27 mark of the second period. It was now 2-0 Russia and would remain so through the second intermission.

Germany got on the board 3:24 into the third when Florian Elias scored unassisted to make it 2-1. The Germans would pull goaltender Florian Bugl to no avail. Russia moved on to the quarterfinals with a 2-1 win. A lot closer than they would have liked, and many would have predicted, but they got the win nonetheless.

Russia finished with 27 shots on Bugl with him making 25 stops. Germany threw 19 shots on Yaroslav Askarov with him only missing the Elias goal.

Shakir Mukhamadullin had two shots on Bugl and was a plus-1 in 19:54 of total ice time. Gritsyuk, in addition to the assist (one point) also had a plus-1 rating over a limited 9:37 of ice time.

We will get to Russia’s next opponent later on in the post.

Next up, a Scandinavian battle between Finland and Sweden. This was another close one with the Swedes continuing their slide, losing 3-2 on a late Finnish goal.

The Swedes got on the board early and often, with Lucas Raymond scoring 14:28 into the game and Elmer Soderblom scoring at 16:05 (on the power play with a nice between-the-legs shot) to give them a quick 2-0 lead.

But Finland would begin chipping away.

The second period did not begin on the right foot for Finland. Samuel Helenius was called for an illegal check to the head and neck area, receiving two minutes for that, plus a 10-minute misconduct penalty at 2:26 in.

Despite this, a little over three minutes later, the Finns began their comeback. Henri Nikkanen scored at 5:32 gone by in the period to make it 2-1.

The third began with Sweden’s Emil Heineman taking a tripping penalty seven seconds into the frame to set up the Finnish power play. Anton Lundell would make Sweden pay for that when he scored at 1:04 from Ville Heinola.

Exactly nothing would happen for the rest of the twenty minutes, basically. No penalties or goals.

Then, with about 25 seconds to go in regulation, Roni Hirvonen scored from Mikko Petman to miraculously give the Finns the 3-2 lead.

Sweden would frantically pull goalie Hugo Alnefelt off the faceoff, but to nothing. The 25 seconds ticked away. A final icing by Sweden putting Alnefelt back in net with four seconds left and sealing victory for the Finns, who will move on to the seminfinals.

Once time had run out, Sweden’s Noel Gunler was hit with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, but it was too late for the Swedes.

Finland had 31 shots on goal that Alnefelt got 28 of. Finnish goalie Kari Piiroinen had 22 stops on 24 Swedish shots.

In the loss, Alexander Holtz had five of those 24 Swedish shots and was a minus-1 over 17:38 of time on ice.

Next up, Canada versus the Czech Republic.

Jaromir Pytlik has not been playing for the Czechs due to an injury suffered earlier in the tournament. He did not play tonight either.

This one, in keeping with the theme of tonight’s games, was a lot closer than the 3-0 score inferred.

Canada took an early lead when, who else but Dylan Cozens scored 8:22 to give the hosts and defending champs a 1-0 lead.

That would go down as the game winner for Canada.

At 11:39 of the first, Bowen Byram found the back of the net to make it 2-0. There it would stand for more than a period and a half.

The second period was a clean sheet with no penalties or scoring.

The third had no penalties and the only goal came when the Czechs pulled goalie Nick Malik and Connor McMichael scored into the empty net.

The Czechs would go on the power play with a little less than two minutes to go in the game when Canada’s Quinton Byfield was called for a hook.

But Canada survived and will now move on to the semifinals.

The Czechs actually outshot the Canadians 29-25. Canada’s Devon Levi got all 29 shots sent his way while Malik made 23 saves.

As mentioned, Pytlik was sidelined for most of the tournament and did not play tonight, but Dawson Mercer did and he had two shots on net and an even plus/minus in 12:03 of ice time logged.

In the final game of the night, the United States would face Slovakia in the fourth quarterfinal of the night.

It was another squeaker, but the US moved on to the semifinals by defeating Slovakia 5-2.

Arthur Kaliyev kicked off the scoring on the power play when Matthew Boldy (primary assist) and Trevor Zegras (secondary) combined on a tic-tac-toe passing play that led to Kaliyev hammering it home. It was 1-0 United States 10:44 into the game.

At the 12:30 mark of the first, the United States’ Landon Slaggert was called for an illegal check to the head and neck and also received a 10-minute misconduct.

In the second period, the US missed two great scoring chances in succession when Cole Caufield hit the post after beating Slovak goalie Simon Latkoczy. Then a minute or so later, Alex Turcotte was stopped on a breakaway by Latkoczy.

The US finally broke through when John Farinacci scored his first of two at the 11:55 mark of the second.

The US would continue to build a lead when Caufield scored on the power play in the second. Zegras had the lone assist on a goal that only took the US 34 seconds to set up. It came at 16:53 of the second.

Slovakia would cut into the 3-0 lead, however, when Matej Kaslik sniped one by US goaltender Spencer Knight at 18:32. Things were about to get interesting.

Just 7:55 into the third period, the Americans’ Drew Helleson took a tripping penalty setting up a Slovak power play. Dominik Sojka would score with five seconds to go on the man advantage to make it 3-2.

The US would begin to pull away late in the third. At the 15:46 mark, The Americans dumped the puck into the Slovak zone. Latkoczy could not handle it, allow the US to go on the forecheck. Bobby Brink won a puck battle and it got to Farinacci behind the Slovak net. He came out from behind the goal cage and backhanded a shot by Latkoczy to make it 4-2.

The Slovaks would pull Latkoczy with about 1:30 left and, seven seconds later, Matthew Beniers potted one into the empty net to make it 5-2 and put the cap on the game.

The US outshot Slovakia 43-18 with Latkoczy making 39 saves and Knight making 16. Patrick Moynihan again did not play due to injury.

So, with that win, we will now see the United States take on Finland in one semifinal and Canada versus Russia in the other. That will go down on Monday, January 4 and we will see you then right here!

Here’s hoping everyone has a happy and (especially) safe and healthy 2021!

Swedish Streak Comes to an End at Hands of Russian OT Goal

December 31, 2006. That was the last time Sweden had lost a game in the World Junior Championship preliminary round. That night, the United States’ Jack Johnson scored in overtime to down the Swedes.

Fast forward a decade and a half later, to December 30, 2020. The Swedes finally lose in the prelim round to the Russians and a Marat Khusnutdinov overtime goal.

Fifty-four consecutive preliminary wins over the course of three decades, and just like that it was over.

Russia had seemed to get on the board early when they had a goal waved off on the ice. Review showed goalie interference and the call on the ice stood: no goal.

But the Russians would not be denied. At the 7:28 mark of the first period, Yegor Afanasiev would score from Mikhail Abramov and Devils prospect Arseni Gritsyuk.

But the Swedes – who never had a lead all night – would get even when Noel Gunler threw a pass between Devils prospect Shakir Mukhamadullin’s legs to Arvid Costmar in front of the net. He scored to tie things at one apiece. Simon Holmstrom had the secondary assist.

Russia would get the lead back before the end of the first period when Rodion Amirov scored on the power play to make it 2-1.

The second period saw Sweden again playing catch-up.

This time it was Devils prospect Alexander Holtz to the rescue. After hitting the post midway through the frame, Holtz finally got on the board when he scored from Albin Sundsvik and Emil Andrae.

That would make things tied up at two going into the third.

Russia took the lead back when Kirill Kirsanov sniped a goal glove side on the power play. Holtz had taken a hooking penalty setting up the man advantage and Russia capitalized. Nine minutes and forty-six seconds into the final period, the Swedish streak seemed in danger for real.

Russia caught a break when a turnover allowed Costmar a clear shot at the net. He hit the crossbar.

But, inevitably, as they have done so many times, Sweden salvaged it. With goaltender Jesper Wallstedt pulled for the extra attacker, Holtz took a shot with a minute to go and it deflected into the net off Noel Gunler’s shinpad.

When regulation expired, it was off to overtime for the seventh time during the streak.

Sweden looked good throughout most of the extra session until, with less than thirty seconds to go, Costmar was called for holding a Russian attacker cutting in on net with speed.

It only took the Russians 19 seconds on the 4-on-3 advantage. Marat Khusnutdinov scored when Wallstedt could not control the rebound on a Amirov shot. It was over, with just 5.6 seconds to go, the Swedes had lost in the preliminary round at a World Juniors for the first time since George W. Bush was President of the US.

It was an evenly fought contest with the Russians hitting Wallstedt with 25 shots, him making 31 saves and Sweden peppering Yaroslav Askarov with 36 shots, 33 of which he was equal to.

Mukhamadullin had two shots on goal and was a minus-1 in 20:44 of TOI while Gritsyuk had the assist for a point and was an even plus/minus in 16:19 of ice time.

For Sweden, Holtz had a goal and a helper for two points, took two minor penalties for four PIMs and had seven shots and a plus-1 rating in 21:40 of ice time.

Tomorrow, in the final day of prelims at the 2021 World Juniors, the Czechs will face Austria, Canada will battle Finland and the Swedes will try to start a new streak against the United States. Tomorrow should wrap up both Groups A and B and we will see you here.

Also, the American Hockey League has announced a return to play that I would like to get to on here, so hopefully I can get that written tomorrow as well.

Have a Happy New Year’s Eve, everyone!