Saturday, January 2, 2016

Swedes power past Canada

It was a heated affair that entertained the Helsinki Ice Hall crowd of 7,003 royally. The Swedes finished the preliminary round with a perfect record and will take on Slovakia in the quarter-finals.

Of facing the Slovaks, Swedish captain Andreas Englund said: "We played them in an exhibition game before [a 6-3 Swedish win]. They’re a skilled team. I think we’re going to have to play a good game if we want to win."

Alexander Nylander, Gustav Forsling, and Rasmus Asplund led the way with a goal and an assist apiece, and Adrian Kempe and Anton Karlsson also scored for Sweden.

"It was a tough game, but I think we were much better," said Sweden's Dmytro Timashov. "A 5-2 win is a big difference."

Mitchell Stephens and Mitch Marner replied for Canada, the defending champion, which came third in Group A.

"At this stage of the tournament, special teams are important," said Canadian coach Dave Lowry. "Tonight we lost that battle."

This is the first time Canada has lost two round-robin games in regulation since the 1998 World Juniors in Finland. That year, Canada finished eighth, its worst result ever. Canada last finished third in its group in 2001, when it won bronze in Russia.

Lowry's team will face a stiff test of character when it plays the host Finns in a do-or-die situation on 2 January.

"It’s going to be an exciting game," said Canada's Joe Hicketts. "Any time you play the host nation in the big rink in the big game, it’s something that you get going for."

In goal, Sweden’s Linus Soderstrom outduelled Canada’s Mackenzie Blackwood as the Swedes outshot Canada 32-24. Felix Sandstrom came in to relieve Soderstrom with under four minutes left.

It was a rockin’ atmosphere on and off the ice to start this clash. Competing chants of  “Let’s go, Canada!” and “Sverige!” rained down from the stands.

Canada’s Travis Konecny set the tone with some aggressive forechecking. The Canadians, however, came out shorthanded from a scrum in front of Blackwood’s net, with Jake Virtanen and Roland McKeown sitting down for roughing with Sweden’s Adrian Kempe. 

It took just 17 seconds for the Swedes to capitalize off the rush. At 4:37, Rasmus Asplund zipped a shot from the left faceoff circle and Blackwood kicked the rebound out to Alexander Nylander, who slid it home past the goalie’s left skate.

The Swedes went right back to the man advantage when Rourke Chartier was called for high-sticking while following through on a shot under IIHF rules. The Canadians killed that one off, but couldn’t keep the Juniorkronorna at bay after Anthony Beauvillier was penalized after shooting the puck over the glass in his own end.

Forsling sent a wicked wrister from the top of the faceoff circle past Blackwood’s glove for a 2-0 lead at 7:08.

The Canadians really started throwing their weight around in the latter stages of the first period. It finally paid off at 15:51 when Stephens raced to the front of the net and converted the rebound from Thomas Chabot’s left point shot to make it 2-1.

Early in the second period, Sweden came within a hair’s breath of making it a two-goal lead when Timashov set up Asplund in front. He batted the puck out of mid-air off Blackwood’s left post.

The physical tone continued with lots of jawing back and forth between the whistles. More mid-period rough stuff resulted in another Canadian power play, but it proved fruitless.

At 13:38, Sweden made it 3-1 with Brendan Perlini off for slashing. Axel Holmstrom’s lovely cross-ice pass from behind the goal line found Kempe in the right faceoff circle and his quick release got past Blackwood.

Reflecting Canada's combined sense of frustration and urgency, Marner threw a huge hit on Carl Grundstrom in the neutral zone that knocked his helmet off.

In the third period, the Swedes kept on coming, outshooting Canada 13-6.

"I think we took this as a playoff game with all the crowd and so on," said Sweden's Marcus Pettersson. "We took the tempo that’s in the playoffs and played that game."

Karlsson put the game out of reach with 7:09 left, falling to his knees as he backhanded a rebound past Blackwood and then leaping up with pure exuberance.

The Canadians took some consolation from killing off a mid-third period two-man advantage that lasted 1:53. They then strategized during a time-out prior to their own 5-on-3 advantage, and Marner hammered one high past Soderstrom's blocker to cut the deficit to 4-2 with 5:50 left.

But that was as good as it got for the champs. Lowry pulled his goalie for the extra attacker, and Asplund scored into the empty net with 11 seconds remaining.

Looking ahead to the quarter-finals, Stephens said: "We’re excited for the opportunity. We finished the preliminaries here. The biggest thing for us is to keep a level head and move forward toward the next game."

Swedish star William Nylander remained sidelined. He took an illegal check to the head in the opening 8-3 win over Switzerland and has not played since.

Remarkably, this was the first Canada-Sweden game at the World Juniors in five years. Sweden beat Canada 6-5 on December 31, 2010 on Anton Lander’s shootout winner in Buffalo. The previous two encounters were Canada’s gold medal wins in 2008 and 2009, completing their record-tying run of five straight titles.

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