2022 WJC Kicks Off in Alberta

The 2022 IIHF World Junior Championship kicked off today in Edmonton and Red Deer, Alberta.

The United States and 2021 Devils first round draft choice Luke Hughes come into the tournament as the defending champions and will be playing in Group B with Russia, Switzerland, Slovakia and Sweden. They will be playing all of their games at the WP Centrium in Red Deer.

Group A will consist of Finland, Germany, Canada, Czechia and Austria – who will play at Rogers Place in Edmonton.

Of note is that the Czech Republic will now be going under their name in Czech of “Czechia” rather than as the more formal “Czech Republic” internationally from here on out. Also, Martin Merk of IIHF.com reports that this year will not see a team relegated from the World Juniors.

Merk wrote that the “IIHF Council has voted that no team will be relegated from the 2022 IIHF World Junior Championship that will begin today in Edmonton and Red Deer, Canada to safeguard the sportive integrity of the competition in the light of the extraordinary Covid-related circumstances.”

Belarus was promoted from Division ! Group A earlier in December when they won the U20 World Championship in that division. They will now compete at the 2023 IIHF WJC next year in Novosibirsk and Omsk, Russia. Merk notes that the 2023 World Juniors “will be played with 11 teams with the aim of going back to 10 teams for the 2024 World Junior Championship.”

The Devils have four players from their organization playing in this year’s tournament as Hughes is on Team USA, Alexander Holtz will represent Sweden, Shakir Mukhamadullin is suiting up for Russia and Jukub Malek is a member of the Czech team.

The thing about this tournament is obviously that some of these players are not yet eligible for the NHL Draft and, as such, could end up Devils prospects in the future. It is always cool to see the future of the NHL on display in many of these games.

And with that, the first game today featured Finland and Germany in Group A action.

The Finns came away with a 3-1 win in this. Samuel Helenius scored 12:52 into the game for the first goal of the tournament (assisted by Brad Lambert).

Germany equaled things at one on the power play when Luca Munzenberger (an Edmonton Oiler draft pick playing in Rogers Place) scored from Alexander Blank 3:27 into the second period. Germany was on the power play when Kasper Simontaival was called for hooking 2:03 into the new frame.

Finland retook the lead at the 7:38 mark of the second when Joel Maatta scored from Aleksi Heimosalmi and Roni Hirvonen to make it 2-1. That would go down as the game-winner for the Finns.

Helenius added a second one with 7:53 gone in the third period (assists to Lambert and Ville Koivunen) to give us our final of 3-1 Finland.

The Germans would pull goalie Nikita Quapp for the extra attacker with just over two minutes to go in regulation but would not score another one.

Finnish goalie Leevi Merilainen, in getting the win, made 23 saves on 24 German shots while Quapp made 19 saves against 22 Finnish shots on the night.

Finland will continue the tournament tomorrow against Austria while the Germans will play tomorrow against the Czechs.

Next up, Russia took on Sweden in Group B.

The Swedes were all over the Russians in this one as Russia has not been looking sharp in their warmup against Canada pre-Christmas and this game.

The Swedes opened the scoring when Oskar Olausson scored on the power play from Alexander Holtz and Helge Grans. Holtz had his first point of the tournament off of the primary assist. The goal came at 5:24 gone by in the game and on the man advantage when Nikita Novikov was called for hooking.

The next Swedish came in the second period shorthanded.

Joel Nystrom put Russia on the power play when he was called for a delay of game penalty. While down a man, Sweden’s Simon Edvinsson scored unassisted to at 7:39 gone in the middle period to make it 2-0.

Sweden got their third goal on a 5-on-3 power play. At the 12:39 mark of the second, Russia’s Pavel Tyutnev was called for a hook and then Marat Khusnutdinov went off for a trip at 13:56.

At 14:16, Sweden’s Emil Andrae scored from Grans and William Eklund and it was 3-0 with Sweden still having power play time from the Khusnutdinov penalty.

The Russians would kill that off and, in fact, would finally get on the board before the end of the second.

Fyodor Svechkov scored from Nikita Chibrikov and Kirill Tankov at 16:28 elapsed in the second to make it 3-1 Sweden.

But in the third period, more penalty trouble would still be a problem for Russia.

Russia kicked off the third period with a goaltending change when Yaroslav Askarov was pulled in favor of Yegor Guskov.

Just 1:36 into final period, Danila Yurov was called for holding. Three seconds after that penalty was called, on the delayed call for the holding penalty, he was also assessed a roughing minor that would begin to be served at the 3:26 mark. Leo Loof went off for roughing with him for Sweden.

After all of that, play resumed and the Russians ended up down two men when Dmitri Zlodeyev was called for slashing.

With the Swedes up two attackers, Holtz struck with his first goal of the tournament. He scored a beautiful snipe from Eklund with Andrae getting the secondary assist. It was now 4-1 Sweden.

All of the Swedish goals to this point had come on the special teams.

Russia would cut the lead in half in strange fashion at 4:45 gone by in the third.

Matvei Michkov drove to the Swedish net and drew a cross checking penalty as he tumbled into the cage.

The play was immediately reviewed and it was seen that when Michkov went down, he shot the puck into the net behind the Swedish goalie and it completely crossed the goal line just prior to him crashing into the net and taking it off of its moorings.

The goal counted and the Swedes were not given a penalty for the cross check.

But Michkov was not done either. Less than one minutes after he scored one goal under weird circumstances, he notched his second of the game and tournament in a unique way.

At 5:26 gone by, he got the Russians within one by making it 4-3 when he got the puck from Nikita Smirnov and scored a goal from way below the Swedish goal line. The puck banked in off of the back of Swedish goaltender Jesper Wallstedt and into the net. Khusnutdinov had the secondary assist on what was the kind of goal that only someone with Michkov’s skill could score.

Sweden had given up two straight goals against but would get one back late in the third. This one ended up being their first scored at even strength on the night and in the young tournament.

It came at the 11:37 mark of the third when Theodor Niederbach scored from Olausson and Simon Edvinsson to make it 5-3.

Russia would then pull goalie Yegor Guskov with less than three minutes left and, at 19:10 gone, Sweden’s Daniel Ljungman scored into the empty net to ice the game for Sweden. Edvinsson had the lone assist on the goal that make it 6-3 – our final.

Guskov would be pulled just off of the faceoff resuming play after the empty netter, but time ran out and Sweden had the win.

Askarov made 13 saves on 16 total shots against while Guskov saved five of the seven shots he saw. Sweden ended the game with 24 shots total on the two Russian goalies and plus the empty net goal.

Wallstedt stopped 27 of the 30 Russian shots he saw.

As for Devils prospects, Mukhamadullin finished with three shots on goal, was a minus-1 in 18:17 of total ice time. Holtz had a goal and an assist for two points as well as three shots on goal and a minus-2 rating all in 19:46 of total ice time logged.

The tournament for each of these teams will continue tomorrow when Russia meets Switzerland and Sweden will face Slovakia.

We now move back to Edmonton, Rogers Place and Group A where Czechia met up with the host Canadians.

This one was an up-and-down affair with a lead change even occurring. (Which is something as Canada did not trail in last year’s tournament until the lost in the gold medal game to the US).

It only took Canada 4 minutes to get on the board when Mason McTavish scored unassisted to make it 1-0.

The Czechs would even things out when Michal Gut scored off of a 2-on-1 with Jakub Brabenec. It was a pretty goal and one that was in and out of the net so fast that play continued as the officials missed it.

The off-ice officials reviewed it and sounded the horn to stop play, indicating that the goal had been scored. Time was put back on the clock and the game was tied at one.

The Czechs grabbed the lead before long when Canada’s Xavier Bourgault was called for a trip and Czechia was on the power play.

Pavel Novak scored from David Jirieck and Ivan Ivan on the man advantage to make it 2-1 Czechs.

Amazingly, the Czechs were not done either. Less than a minute after Novak’s power play goal, Stanislav Svozil scored from Gut to put Czechia up 3-1.

The Czechs looked to be cruising going into the second period until Canada woke up.

Just 23 seconds after the Svozil goal, Canada’s Owen Power (in his very first WJC game) scored his first of the tournament, but not his last of the night.

The first overall pick in this past year’s draft by the Buffalo Sabres scored unassisted to make it 3-2 Czechia. Canada would tie the game at three before the first period was up when Donovan Sebrango scored from Cole Perfetti and Connor Bedard with 29 seconds to go in the period.

And just like that, the lead the Czechs had worked so hard to build up had evaporated.

The Czechs got into penalty trouble early on in the second period when Jakub Sedivy was called for holding at 7:12, Michal Hradek was called for cross checking at 8:20 and Jan Mysak was called for a trip at 8:20. The Canadians were up two men now and that would be lethal for them.

Sure enough, Power scored at 8:50 from Perfetti and Mavrik Bourque to put Canada up 4-3. And with that, Sedivy came out of the box and the Hradek’s penalty kicked in, keeping the Czechs down two men.

And “Power play” struck there too. He scored at 10:15 to complete his hat trick when he scored from McTavish and Perfetti. It was now 5-3 Canada and things were beginning to roll.

Czechia’s Jiri Kulich was called for a hook to start the third period, just 1:36 in and Canada was back on the power play.

This time, Owen Power was not involved but Olen Zellwegger was. Zellwegger scored from Lukas Cormier and Jake Neighbours to make it 6-3 Canada.

And that was it. The Canadians secured the come-from-behind victory over Czechia.

Czech goalie and Devils prospect Jakub Malek made 30 saves on 36 shots against. Keep in mind that he was kind of hung out to dry when Czechia was constantly on the penalty kill and facing Power. He let in the six ogals against for an 83.33-percetnt save percentage according to the IIHF scoresheet.

Canada’s entry between the pipes, Dylan Garand made 14 saves on just 17 shots of work.

Czechia will next play tomorrow against Germany while Canada will not have their second game until Tuesday, December 28 against Austria.

In the night’s main event, the defending gold medal winners, the United States took on Slovakia.

The game started off with both teams racking up penalty minutes as the US took a bench minor for too many men on the ice just 52 seconds in and then Landon Slaggert was called for tripping at the 4:57 mark. Both penalties were killed off.

Slovakia was not as lucky as when the tide turned on them.

At 11:46, Max Strbak was called for interference. At 13:25, Simon Nemec went off for a trip. This put the Americans on a 5-on-3 power play for a few seconds. They would capitalize quickly.

At 13:35, with about ten seconds to go on the 5-on-3, Matthew Knies scored from Logan Cooley and Jack Peart to give the USA the 1-0 lead with time still on the 5-on-4 power play.

And the Americans would convert on that one too. At 15:18, Mackie Samoskevich scored a power play goal from Matthew Coronato and Matty Beniers to further build the US lead to 2-0.

The two teams would trade minors at the end of the first period and the beginning of the second, but each team would successfully kill those off.

The US would get their third of the game when Slaggert got his second of the game from Wyatt Kaiser and Tanner Dickinson at the 12:42 mark of the second.

The defending champs seemed to be in cruise control from here on out. The second period ended with Kaiser and Slovakia’s Roman Faith taking matching minors for roughing at 18:59 and then Beniers getting called for closing his hand on the puck with ten seconds to go in the second – a seemingly innocuous play that at first glance seemed like a hand pass – which would have just whistled the play down.

Instead, the Slovaks were going on the power play to begin the third period.

At 1:03 gone by, Martin Chromiak got a power play goal for Slovakia when he scored from Matej Kaslik and Samuel Knazko to break the US shutout and put the Slovaks on the board.

From there on, the Slovaks took the momentum in the game.

With 8:26 left to play in regulation, Dalibor Dvorsky scored a goal on a redirect in front of the American net. The goal was immediately waved off on the ice due to being played by Dvorsky with a high stick.

The goal was video reviewed as all goals in the IIHF are, but ultimately, the on-ice officials have the final say on the call. Following a lengthy review, the call on the ice stood and it was no goal. Had it counted, Dvorsky’s goal would have made it 3-2 USA.

Instead it remained 3-1. With less than three minutes, a flurry of activity led to a frantic ending to the game.

First, with 13:05 gone by, Marko Stacha and Slaggert were given matching roughing minors.

With 13:25 gone by, the Slovaks pulled goaltender Simon Latkoczy for the extra attacker. This would result in Chromiak scoring two seconds later with 13:27 gone. He got assists from Nemec and Oleksiy Myklukha. That made it 3-2 and set up a great finish.

Latkoczy was pulled again with less than a minute to go in the game and the Slovaks poured it on, but American goalie Drew Commesso, who would go on to be named the player of the game for the USA, was equal to everything and the Americans were able to hang on for the win.

Commesso made 23 saves on 25 Slovak shots in getting the first US win of their quest to win back-to-back gold medals.

Slovakia’s Latkoczy made 39 saves on 42 American shots.

Luke Hughes finished with a minus-1 plus/minus rating in 16:36 of total ice time.

The USA next plays Switzerland on Tuesday, December 28 at the WP Centrium in Red Deer. Slovakia plays Sweden tomorrow in their next game, also in Red Deer.

We will have coverage for you of tomorrow’s games right here (or later in the evening such as it is).

I hope everyone’s holidays were great as we march towards the new year.

Devils COVID Update

Some news regarding the Devils and COVID was reported today as the NHL tries to get a handle on the Omicron variant.

According to Sam Kasan of the Inside the Devils Blog, Tomas Tatar and newly acquired goalie Jon Gillies have entered into COVID Protocol. On the other side and in more encouraging news, Nico Hischier, Jesper Boqvist, Ryan Graves, PK Subban and Christian Jaros have all been removed from the Protocol list.

Again, as confirmed by the Devils on Christmas Eve, the game tomorrow (Monday, December 27) at the St. Louis Blues has been postponed to a later date.

In other news as the hockey world continues to turn, today marks the beginning of the 2022 World Junior Championship in Edmonton and Red Deer, Alberta.

The Devils have four prospects playing in the annual tournament: defenseman Luke Hughes of the USA, forward Alexander Holtz of Sweden, who was allowed by the Devils to participate in this year’s tournament after already playing in six NHL games in 2021-22, Shakir Mukhamadullin of Russia and goaltender Jakub Malek of Czechia.

We will have a post up later tonight/early tomorrow morning recapping the first day of action at the 2022 WJC.