Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Swiss on their knees

Matthew Tkachuk, Zach Werenski, Colin White, and Christian Dvorak all had three-point nights, Tkachuk with two goals and one assist while Dvorak, White, and Werenski had one goal and two assists each. 
Coming into the game, Switzerland had their backs against the wall. Due to their loss to the Danes, they now needed a regulation time win in the game against Team USA to claw their way to the playoff stage and avoid the relegation round. Sometimes pressure just mounts to be too much, and that may have been the case for the tonight. 
“Yesterday we came out with a lot of energy, but we didn’t do that today. We had a hard game last night [against Canada[ and that cost us some energy but that’s not an excuse,” said the Swiss captain Timo Meier.
Christian Dvorak opened scoring at 7:23 when a Swiss defenceman tried to block Zach Werenski’s shot, but instead just stopped it for Dvorak who could backhand it in through van Pottelberghe’s five-hole. 
Just 63 seconds later, Auston Matthews showed off his hand-eye coordination when he shot Matthew Tkachuk’s rebound in mid-air. The Swiss lost the battle in front of their own net, and Matthews, too, was all alone in front of the net when he scored.
The Swiss bench lost all hope 90 seconds later when Brandon Carlo’s wrist shot from the point found its way through a lot of traffic and to the back of the Swiss net to give the Americans a 3-0 lead at 10:13. Werenski made it 4-0 at 12:59 with another wrist shot from high slot, after a nice U.S. 3-on-2 attack, but his shot seemed to stun van Pottelberghe completely. 
Tkachuk scored his first goal in the tournament when he picked up the puck from Matthews, who made a neat drop pass between his legs on the offensive blue line. 
And the sixth goal was another tap in from the doorstep. Now assisted by Ryan Hitchcock, Nick Schmaltz got the goal. 
“It’s good that everybody’s contributing and that was a good finish for us. They had a game last night that went into a shootout, so I guess we were a little fortunate and took advantage of that,” Team USA forward Auston Matthews said.
The Swiss ruined Alex Nedeljkovic’s shutout effort just 1:26 into the second period when Timo Meier broke through to the front of the net and deflected Nico Hischier’s pass into the American net. 
But just 46 seconds later, Tkachuk scored his second goal and third point when he shoved in another Matthews pass. Matthews made a nice move in the corner, using the board to get rid of a Swiss defenceman before dishing the puck to Tkachuk. 
Matthews scored his second of the game at 8:09 into the period when he one-timed Schmaltz’s cross-ice pass into the net on power play. Then Team USA scored shorthanded, just for good measure. 
Colin White and Christian Dvorak got on a 2-on-1. Dvorak waited until White was at the right spot and then sent a saucer to the tape of his blade and he beat Waeber low on the blocker side at 9:00. 
Team USA hit double digits at 30:58 with Ryan Donato’s wrist shot from the faceoff dot.
In the third period, Team USA took their foot off the pedal, but even then, they created several good scoring chances - but they also use the opportunity to show off their skills. 
“You always want to play hard and not cheat. Obviously you don’t try to dangle everybody, but there were a couple of points in the game where we played a little too relaxed which could hurt us against a real powerhouse team," Matthews said.
Team USA coach Ron Wilson wasn't too worried about anh bad habits creeping itno his team's play.
“We wanted to keep the game as simple as possible as long as possible. I didn’t want anybody to take the puck by themlseves and join the parade on the scoreboard.
"We did try to do something fancy sometimes and do some backhand passes, but it’s hard to keep the game plan simple at that point, but we did our best," he said. 
Switzerland will now have to get ready for the best-of-three relegation round against Belarus that begins on 2nd January.
“We didn’t have the right mindset today and now we just have to get ready for the relegation round. We played against Belarus before the tournament and we know it’s a good team.
"But we want to pull ourselves together, and it’s not easy, but we’ll be playing for Swiss hockey to stay in the top division," Meier said. 
Team USA takes on Denmark in their final preliminary round game tomorrow.
“The game doesn’t mean anything to either team but we do want to finish ahead of Canada so I suggest to our team we have to win the game,” Wilson said. 

Puljujarvi line powers Finns

Tournament scoring leader Jesse Puljujarvi (10 points) put on another dominant performance, leading the way with a goal and three assists. His linemates were fantastic as well. Sebastian Aho chipped in two goals and an assist, while Patrik Laine contributed a goal and two helpers.

"It’s unbelievable to watch those guys play," said Finnish captain Mikko Rantanen. "It’s a very good line. I think after three games, it’s the best line in the tournament."

Wednesday was an important step forward for coach Jukka Jalonen’s crew after a disappointing 6-4 loss to Russia in their previous match.

Finland, stacked with offensive talent this year, is questing for its fourth gold medal of all-time, having previously won in 1987, 1998, and 2014.

Roope Hintz had a goal and an assist, and Aleksi Saarela, Kasperi Kapanen, and Kasper Bjorkqvist added singles for Finland. Vili Saarijarvi had three assists, and Olli Juolevi added two assists.

Matus Suke, Radovan Bondra, and Patrik Sukel scored for Slovakia.

Kaapo Kakhonen earned the win in goal for Finland, which outshot Slovakia 48-28.

"I think we played a pretty good game today, but I think we can still play better for 60 minutes," said Rantanen. "Start the game with good focus and try to get the first goal. If you score the first goal, you get the momentum and you have the crowd behind you."

Finland currently sits third in Group B behind Russia and the Czech Republic, while Slovakia is fourth. The Finns finish their group slate against the Czechs on New Year’s Eve, and the Slovaks take on the Russians.

Of facing the Czechs, Kapanen said: "It’s going to be a tough one, but I think we’re ready for the challenge. In a way, they’re kind of the same as the Slovaks, but we know that they’re a little bit better."

This battle got off to a tough physical start with plenty of board-rattling hits.

Four minutes into the game, a hush fell over the crowd when defenceman Eetu Sopanen was injured in the Slovak zone. Favoring his left leg, he was helped off to the dressing room.

The Slovaks opened the scoring at 9:50 on the power play. With a battle for the puck in front of the Finnish net, Matej Palocko poked it to an unguarded Sukel to Kahkonen’s right and he fired it home.

Just over two minutes later, Slovakia buzzed the net and Bondra made it 2-0, to the dismay of the crowd of 12,723. The play was video-reviewed and the goal stood.

"Obviously you don’t want to start a game like that, but I don’t think at any point the team thought that we weren’t going to come back," said Kapanen.

The Finns struck back on the power play with 4:45 left in the opening stanza. Off a draw in the Slovak zone, Aho floated into the right faceoff circle and teed up an emphatic one-timer that beat netminder Adam Huska cleanly.

Midway through the game, the Slovaks got a big chance to extend their lead when Kakhonen was penalized for delay of game for shooting the puck over the glass. Kahkonen redeemed himself by shutting the door, including a stellar glove save on a point-blank Sukel slapper from the slot after defencemen Joni Tuulola handed away the puck.

"Obviously when the goalie makes a save like that, it brings you energy," said Kapanen. "It just shows that he really wants to win. After that, I think we started playing better."

The Finns finally got the 2-2 equalizer at 14:07. Saarela went to the front of the net and banged in the rebound from Olli Juolevi’s center point drive. Now the arena was alive with joy.

With 1:22 left in the middle frame, Hintz gave Finland its first lead of the night. Saarijarvi fired the puck off the back boards from the right point, and Hintz was perfectly positioned to bang it in on the open side.

Puljujarvi showed off his power game on a back-breaking goal just 28 seconds into the third period. He outmuscled two Slovaks on the side boards and worked a give-and-go with Laine in the corner. His shot just squeezed past Huska and over the line.

At 2:41, Finland stretched its lead to 5-2 on Aho's second of the night as he backhanded a loose puck from the slot past Huska.

The Slovaks used their timeout to regroup, and it paid dividends when Patrik Maier cut the deficit to 5-3 at 5:27. But it was too little, too late.

At 11:52, Laine made it 6-3 Finland, getting the puck after Aho won a faceoff in the Slovak zone and whipping a shot from the slot past the Slovak goalie's blocker.

Kasperi Kapanen ended his scoring drought 38 seconds later with a shot that found the top corner after deflecting off a Slovak defender.

"It felt pretty good," said Kapanen. "I’ve had a lot of chances and it hasn’t been going in. I’m just trying to tell myself to shoot as much as possible."

Slovak coach Ernest Bokros decided to give Huska a break, yanking him in favour of backup goalie Stanislav Skorvanek.

It made no difference. Bjorkqvist rounded out the Finnish onslaught, converting a rebound with 2:18 left to make it 8-3.

SWE-DEN all Sweden

Thomas Lillie at the other end of the rink faced 48 shots.
The win over Denmark also meant that Sweden clinched the group win. Even if Sweden loses its last game to Canada and Team USA wins its two remaining games, the Americans can only tie Sweden’s nine points, in which case the Swedes have the head-to-head advantage thanks to their 1-0 victory in the second game of the tournament.
"I haven't given the quarter-final opponent any thought, but of course it would be nice to play against Finland in Helsinki, on their home ice," Swedish defenseman Gustav Forsling said. "But it actually does not matter one bit, we have to be ready to beat all of them to go all the way."
To be blunt, the game between Sweden and Denmark was over after just 13 seconds. That’s how long it took Adrian Kempe to score the game’s first goal. Even more important than the actual goal, and the all-important first lead, was the way he scored it.
The Danes turned the puck over in the neutral zone, Kempe picked it up in the face-off circle and turned right back towards the Danish net. With a few quick steps he powered past the Danish defenceman, who stumbled onto the ice trying to keep up with the big Swede, and could just watch as Kempe fired a wrist shot past Thomas Lillie in Denmark’s goal.
"We got a poor start to the game and it was really tough after that. We were hoping to upset them, but we played against a really good team," said Denmark's player of the game, defenceman Mathias Lassen, who plays for Leksand in the second-tier Swedish league.
"I think we had chances to score ten goals, but we scored five, and got the win," said Sweden's Oskar Lindblom.
Sweden outshot Denmark 14-2 in the first period and had several excellent chances to extend their lead, but only defenceman Gustav Norling managed to get the puck over the goal line when he fired a shot from the point on power play. Lillie didn’t see the puck at all from behind Kempe and Axel Holmstrom who screened him.
"We tried our best, but we ended up spending most of the game in our zone," Lassen said.
The middle frame was, not unexpectedly, not as exciting as the Danes seemed to have lost hope, while the Swedes took their foot off the pedal a little bit. With 2:43 remaining in the period, Oskar Lindblom gave Sweden an even bigger buffer when he deflected Adam Ollas Mattsson’s shot from the point.
"It was a great pass, I just tried to get my stick on it, and it was nice to see the puck go in," Lindblom said.
The third period was halfway through when Jens Looke found William Lagesson on the point. He took a couple of strides towards the net and fired the puck through the same hole as Kempe in the first period and made it 4-0 for Sweden at 10:02.
Sweden’s leading scorer Alexander Nylander was not left without a point in this game, either, as he sealed the final score, 5-0, with 4:05 remaining in the third period.
"It was a tough game, especially for a defenceman, since we had the play in their zone so much, so I ended up spending a lot of time standing on the blueline," said Forsling.
Denmark will play their last preliminary round game tomorrow, against the U.S., while the Swedes take on Canada in the last game of the preliminary round.
The Swedes and Danes had played against each other just twice in the history of the World Junior Championship. Sweden won the first two - 10-1 in 2007 and 5-1 last year - and they also won the third one just as easily.
This time, Denmark could not score even once.

Czechs hold off Belarus

On the strength of a three-goal third period, the Czechs won their second consecutive game and have earned at least a point in all three of their outings so far. Their New Year’s Eve group finale is against host Finland.

"We’re looking forward to a great atmosphere," Czech forward Michael Spacek said of facing the Finns. "We’ll get some rest now and hopefully we’ll win."

Belarus finished its round-robin with zero wins in four games. It will play in the relegation round. The newly promoted Belarusians have now lost six times to the Czechs in World Junior history.

"Today was a really good game for us," said Belarus forward Vadim Malinowski. "I think for two periods we played not bad. After the second period, we thought we were going to win this game. But we made a mistake because probably we didn’t concentrate for a certain period too much. That’s why we lost the game today."

In front of 8,456 fans at the Hartwall Arena, Simon Stransky and Jiri Smejkal notched a goal and an assist apiece for the Czechs, and Dominik Lakatos and Dominik Masin also tallied.

Stepan Falkovski, Yegor Sharangovich, and Vladislav Goncharov replied for Belarus.

Belarus netminder Ivan Kulbakov, who gained notoriety for leaving the bench in a vain attempt to prevent an empty-net goal in the 4-2 loss to Slovakia, took the defeat against Czech starter Vitek Vanecek. Shots favoured the Czechs 49-24.

"The coach raised his voice after two periods, and we started to play better," said Spacek. "We were lucky enough to come out with the win."

Similar to the Slovakia game, Belarus managed to hang tough with its opponents for most of the game, but couldn’t produce enough offence to get the win. One positive was that the Belarus power play clicked twice. The Czechs hadn't conceded a goal with the man advantage until this contest.

Midway through the first period, Belarus assistant captain Danila Karaban was shaken up and bloodied in the Czech end. He was helped off the ice, but would return to the game later. He made a big impact, picking up three assists.

The Czechs opened the scoring on a dandy unassisted goal at 15:39. Stransky danced around defenceman Ilya Sushko at the Czech blue line, busted down the left side, and fooled Kulbakov with his deke, going high to the blocker side.

Just 43 seconds into the second period, Belarus tied it up. Falkovski smartly joined the rush, racing to the front of the net, taking Artemi Chernikov’s feed, and roofing one past Vanecek. 

Belarus took a 2-1 lead on a power play goal at 10:26. Falkovski put the puck to the net from the right faceoff circle and when Karaban couldn’t put it home, Sharangovich pounced and converted the rebound.

The Czechs notched the equalizer two minutes later. David Pastrnak curled and lofted a long shot that was tipped by Dominik Lakatos and caught Kulbakov sliding the wrong way. An official review confirmed that the puck was not touched with a high stick.

Belarus refused to fold, however. Goncharev’s power play blast from the left point made it 3-2 with 2:29 left in the middle frame. The Belarusians leaped up and down with joy.

In the third period, the Czechs drew even at 3-3 at 12:06. Smejkal stationed himself next to the crease and shrugged off two Belarusian defenders to swat home a puck rolling along. the goal line.

Just 2:14 later, the Czechs regained the lead for the first time since the opening period. Vesely controlled the puck along the right side boards and was allowed to walk into the middle, where his stiff wrister eluded Kulbakov on the blocker side.

Belarus strove to tie it up late, pulling its goalie with 54 seconds left, but it was in vain. Masin added an empty-netter with 20 seconds left to round out the scoring.

"We came back in the third, and I thought we played like a team," said Pastrnak. "We turned it around. It’s important points for us."

What will be the key for Belarus in relegation play? Malinowski said: "We have to concentrate for 60 minutes. We have to score more goals and make less mistakes in our defensive zone."

This is the first time since the 2013 tournament in Ufa, Russia that the Czechs have earned at least two regulation wins during the group stage. The last time they won three group games was at the 2005 tournament in Grand Forks, North Dakota, when they went on to capture their last medal (bronze).

The passion for hockey in these two countries is unquestioned. At the 2014 IIHF World Championship, Belarus set a new tournament attendance record (640,044), topping the previous mark set in the Czech Republic in 2004 (552,097). The new record lasted only until 2015, as the Czechs set the bar higher by more than 100,000 spectators (741,690).

Canada dodges bullet

Switzerland led Canada for more than 30 minutes, and for a while, it looked like one of the biggest upsets in World Junior history was brewing.

Coming off a 6-1 thrashing of Denmark, the Canadians weren't brimming with as much offensive confidence as expected. But they found a way to get over this bump in the road.

"It’s a learning curve for sure," said Canada's Mitch Marner. "Now we know we have to respect everyone in this tournament. Everyone has world-class talent, and going into the next game, we’ve got to know that and come ready to play."

The Swiss made history despite losing. It's the first time they have ever earned a point against Canada at the World Juniors. They still have a chance to make the quarter-finals. They face the United States on Wednesday, and they need three points to overtake Denmark.

"It means a lot for us," said Swiss captain Timo Meier. "Canada is a big country, and they’re a great hockey team. Obviously that team has a lot of high-end quality. So we’re really happy. We’re trying to build on that for the game tomorrow."

Coming into this game, Switzerland had lost 20 straight World Junior games to Canada in regulation time dating back to the 1980 World Juniors. The Swiss have won only one medal in tournament history (1998's bronze).

It was a confidence-building outing for the Swiss after losing 2-1 to Denmark on Sunday. The Swiss also ended up in the relegation round last year after being defeated by the underdog Danes.

Canada will round out its group slate with a New Year's Eve showdown against Sweden.

Canadian goalie Mackenzie Blackwood debuted after serving a two-game suspension for a stick-swinging incident in the Ontario Hockey League. Joren van Pottelberghe made his third straight appearance between the Swiss pipes. Shots favoured Canada 35-25.

"He gave us a chance to win," Canadian coach Dave Lowry said of Blackwood. "In the shootout, he made the saves he had to make. I thought after giving up the first couple of goals, he was able to settle in. He made timely saves for us tonight."

In regulation time, Damien Riat and Dario Meyer scored for Switzerland. Dylan Strome and Joe Hicketts tallied for Canada.

Swiss forward Calvin Thurkauf and defenceman Fabian Heldner returned to the lineup after serving their one-game suspensions for illegal hits in Switzerland’s opening 8-3 loss to Sweden. Forward Chris Egli missed his second game under a three-game ban for a check to the head of Sweden’s William Nylander.

The hard-working Swiss beat Canada at its own game in the first period, throwing big hits all over the ice and putting pucks on the net. It was the stiffest physical test the Canadians have faced in this tournament, including the opening 5-3 loss to the United States.

If it wasn’t Travis Konecny colliding with Swiss defenceman Jonas Siegenthaler in the corner, it was Heldner and Brendan Perlini bashing each other near the Swiss blue line.

The Swiss got an early power play and went up 1-0 at 2:12. Noah Rod’s one-timer from the top of the right faceoff circle deflected off Damien Riat in front and caught the top corner.

"I think our opponents dictated the pace," said Lowry. "They put us on our heels. When they scored that first goal, we kind of got away from how we want to play."

Midway through the period, Rod was sent off for cross-checking Marner to the ice after van Pottelberghe smothered the puck. The goalie stayed sharp during Canada’s man advantage, making a great glove save on Marner. The Swiss blocked enough shots to make John Tortorella proud.

At 15:37, Switzerland took a 2-0 lead. Julien Privet rushed the puck into the zone on the left side, fed it back to Marco Forrer at the point and it went in off Meyer in front. It gave coach John Fust's team a reason to believe.

"Playing against Denmark, we had the puck a lot of the game," said Strome. "We didn’t expect the Swiss to have the puck and be so fast. I think we kind of caught up to their speed midway through the second period and then we started to pick it up."

The Canadians got an emotional lift with 24 seconds left in the first when Strome scored with a high shot from a bad angle on the left side boards.

"That goal kind of settled our bench down," said Strome. "Everyone breathed a sigh of relief. When we were down 2-0, it was kind of a shock. But we got one there and kept fighting."

In the second period, Swiss defenceman Edson Harlacher left the game after a high stick by Canada’s Jake Virtanen. The Swiss generated good pressure in the Canadian zone but were unable to capitalize.

Canada made it 2-2 at 12:17 when Lawson Crouse, working along the side boards, found Hicketts coming down the middle and he flung the puck under the crossbar.

"Joe played a strong game tonight," said Virtanen. "He was by far our best player. He played a good defensive role. When he stepped up there and shot that one and put it in the net, it was a nice shot. He played a really good leadership role, too, talking a lot in the dressing room."

Lowry’s crew had a golden opportunity to take their first lead when the Swiss took overlapping penalties late in the middle frame. Canada had a two-man advantage for 35 seconds, but couldn’t connect, as Strome, Virtanen, and Konecny were denied on great chances. Blackwood sharply stymied Meyer on a shorthanded rush.

Virtanen and Crouse used their big bodies to wreak havoc around the Swiss in the final half of the third, but couldn't break through. Canada carried the play down the stretch, but couldn't find the go-ahead goal in regulation. Overtime settled nothing.

In Olympic and World Championship play, the Swiss have been increasingly competitive with Canada in recent years. They famously defeated Canada 2-0 at the 2006 Olympics, and also prevailed at the Worlds in 2010 (4-1) and 2012 (3-2, shootout).