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!

Final Day of Prelims at WJC

First off, the update on the AHL, as promised. It’s a short update, so I can get it in here, I figure.

The league put out a statement form President and Chief Executive Officer Scott Howson that read: “The American Hockey League Board of Governors has approved the structural framework for an AHL season that will begin on February 5, 2021. Details are still being worked out, but this step allows our teams and their National Hockey League partners to better determine their plans for the coming season. We look forward to dropping the puck on Feb. 5.”

In other AHL-related news, Binghamton announced that they have re-signed forward Ryan Schmelzer. The contract is for one year at the AHL level.

The 26-year-old, according the press release put out by the Devils, said that he had 24 points last season, seven goals and 17 assists, to go with a plus-9 plus/minus over 52 games.

He finished the season on a five-game point streak that gave him a pair of goals and six assists. Because of this, he was named the CCM AHL Player of the Week for the week ending March 8.

The Buffalo, New York native played college hockey locally in the area, at Canisius College, where he had 106 points, including 40 goals in four seasons. He was named the Atlantic Hockey Association’s Best Defensive Forward as well as a member of the Second All-Conference Team in 2016-17. Canisius also won the regular season Atlantic Hockey Association championship. The following season, he was a member of the Third All-Conference Team and was named the team’s captain.

Schmelzer has been in the Devils system since finishing his college career. He played for the Adirondack Thunder of the ECHL immediately after, where he notched two goals and five assists for seven points in seven regular season games. He played 17 playoff games for the Thunder in 2017-18 when Adirondack made it to the ECHL Eastern Conference Final. Schmelzer had nine goals and eight assists, totaling 17 points that playoff.

Also, a few notes on the NHL Devils before we begin the World Junior Championship results.

According to, the Devils paid tribute to health care workers by having the players autograph the RWJBarnabas Health logo that appears on the ice at Prudential Center.

The players all signed the bottom of the logo, which is placed between layers of ice on the rink. The message along with the signatures said: “Thanks to all the healthcare heroes on the frontlines for all that you do. We are in this together.”

In other news, Nico Hischier will be missing part of training camp (which opened today) with a leg injury suffered while training at home in Switzerland.

And now on to the World Junior Championship results.

The opening game featured the Czech Republic and Austria. The Czechs came away with the win here, 7-0.

After a scoreless first period, the Czechs came on in the second. It started when Simon Kubicek scored 6:21 in.

Martin Lang then added a pair – both of which were reviewed for goalie interference. The calls on the ice of good goal were upheld and Lang, who potted the puck at the 12:05 and 18:11 mark of the second, had given the Czechs a 3-0 lead.

Filip Prikryl added one more before the second intermission, making it 4-0 at 19:27.

In the final period, Pavel Novak scored at 1:39. David Jiricek scored at 16:45 and Jan Mysak scored at 19:34 to give us a 7-0 final.

Shots-wise, the Czechs fired 61 shots at Sebastian Wraneschitz, of which he fought off 54. Czech goalie Nick Malik had an easy afternoon, getting all 15 shots Austria shooters sent his way.

Jaromir Pytlik did not suit up for the Czechs.

Austria is now finished, finishing last overall in the tournament. They finished with an 0-0-0-4 4 record and 29 goals against to only one for. They finished last in Group B. The Czech Republic, on the other hand, finished fourth in the Group. This means that the game between the United States and Sweden will also affect them tonight. They will face the winner of the Canada-Finland game from Group A. The medal rounds, are, of course, crossover games between the Groups.

Speaking of Group B, there are some crazy scenarios for deciding the winner of the Group tonight. If Sweden wins in any way, they win Group B. The Americans win the Group if they win in regulation. Russia – who are on the sidelines watching tonight, can win the Group should the USA win in overtime or a shootout. I think I got that right. We will clarify more as the night goes on.

As for that Group A game, Canada came out on top 4-1 and will face the Czechs in the quarterfinal.

Canada got a goal from Dylan Cozens unassisted 3:49 into the game to make it 1-0.

It stayed that way until the second period when Dylan Holloway scored just as Canada was coming off of the power play at 6:54. At 12:58, Peyton Krebs made it 3-0.

At the 4:17 mark of the third, Cozens took a tripping penalty for Canada putting the Finns on the power play. Brad Lambert scored for them to make it 3-1.

Finland would pull goaltender Kari Piiroinen with just under 3:30 to go in the game and Cozens would strike again into the empty net to give us our final of 4-1, Canada.

Canada had 40 shots, of which Piiroinen got 36 while Finnish shooters got through to Canadian goalie Devon Levi 19 times. He made 18 saves.

Dawson Mercer had four shots on goal for Canada and was an even plus/minus in 14:13 of ice time.

As mentioned, Canada now wraps up the Group A first seed and will face the Czech Republic, fourth seed from Group B, on January 2.

Now back to Group B where the Americans held their fate in their own hands and could win the pool with a regulation victory over Sweden.

They would prevail, 4-0, extending their shutout streak and wrapping up the Group B number one seed. Tonight’s win also marks the first time Team USA has had three shutouts in a World Junior Championship.

Drew Helleson scored first just 1:09 into the game when Swedish goalie Hugo Alnefelt could not catch a lobbed puck thrown in by John Farinacci. The puck went into the corner and Helleson threw it on net, scoring from the odd angle. That made it 1-0 US.

At 3:58 of the first period, Trevor Zegras continued his hot streak by scoring from a similar angle as the first goal, giving the US a 2-0 lead.

Sweden nearly had another disaster on their hands when, midway through the first, Alnefelt mishandled the puck outside of his crease and the US nearly scored. The puck was corralled by a Swedish defender and ushered to safety, however.

The second period saw eventual USA Player of the Game, Alex Turcotte win an offensive zone faceoff. Zegras picked the puck up and quickly moved it to Ryan Johnson, who scored to make it 3-0. That goal came two minutes into the new frame.

Sweden had their finest chance to get in the game come at the 3:34 mark. Jackson Lacombe hauled a Swedish player down on a breakaway and Victor Soderstrom took the penalty shot that was awarded. A comedy of errors ensued when US goaltender Spencer Knight lost his balance and fell when Soderstrom beat him with a move. However, Soderstrom lost control of the puck while doing so and did not score. As NHL Network analyst Dave Starman said, this is one that both players would like to see the highlight tape lost.

Turcotte would add the fourth goal for the US when he scored 21 seconds after the penalty shot. He camped out in front of the net, grabbed a loose puck and spun around, beating Alnefelt to make it 4-0.

Following that goal, Alnefelt’s night was done. He was replaced by Jesper Wallstedt, who actually ended up pitching a shutout for Sweden.

The USA outshot Sweden by ten, 37-27. Spencer Knight stopped all 27 Swedish shots while Alnefelt and Wallstedt combined to make 33 saves on US shots, although all four goals were, as mentioned, credited to Alnefelt.

Alexander Holtz had one shot on net and was a minus-1 in 18:38 of ice time. Patrick Moynihan, still feeling effects from the hit he took in the Austria game, did not play for the US.

So, the Americans wrap up Group B and will face Slovakia, who finished fourth in Group A in the quarterfinals.

We will have those games for you right here on January 2. Have a happy and healthy new year, everyone!