Sunday, December 31, 2017

Sweden prevails, 4-3

Steen and Linus Lindstrom scored in the shootout for Sweden while only Vitali Abramov scored for Russia.
That continues Sweden's extraordinary success in the preliminary round of the World Juniors. Their last loss was to the United States on December 31, 2006. Since that game, they have won ridiculous 44 games in a row (four in overtime) over the last eleven years.
Three times Sweden held a lead in the game, and three times the Russians rallied to tie the score.
"We played okay," offered Steen, assessing the team's play tonight. "It was an up and down game, but I think we deserved to win. I think we've played better and better in the last week, but I don't think we've played our best yet. We can do better."
"I think we played a pretty solid game all the way through," agreed Timothy Liljegren, one of Sweden's goalscorers. "We were playing against a Russian team that is really good offensively, so it feels good to get the win."
Sweden also had several great chances to put the game out of reach with a power play, including a lengthy five-on-three, but the Russian penalty killers were that little bit better and kept the score close.
Coach Valeri Bragin did what he could to win in regulation, pulling goalie Vladislav Sukhachyov in a 4-4 game in the final minute. Despite great pressure, the Swedes held their own to force overtime and ensure their first-place finish.
The first period was chaotic and chippy, to say the least. Sweden opened the scoring at 7:18 off the rush. Lias Andersson, stationed in front of the Russian goal, corralled a hard pass from Timothy Liljegren and beat Vladislav Sukhachyov with a quick backhand swipe. 
Sweden controlled play for a long stretch, but at 15:09 Russia finally evened the score. Dmitri Sokolov fired a hard shot from the slot, and this goal signalled the start of a frantic end to the period.
Liljegren made it 2-1 at 17:32 by being in the right place at the right time. Tim Soderlund made a nice play controlling the puck and walking out front, but Sukhachyov made a great glove save. The puck, however, squirted free, and Liljegren was there to pop it in for his first goal of the tournament.
"I think I had some chances in a couple of games before," he noted. "It just feels good to see the puck go in."
That lead lasted just 46 seconds, though, as Klim Kostin tied the game again. Linemate Georgi Ivanov just flipped a backhand towards the goal, and Kostin gave it some extra strength, beating Filip Gustavsson to the short side.
At the end of the period, the Swedes had a two-man advantage for 1:57 that carried over to the second, but they weren’t able to convert. Then, before those penalties expired, the Russians were called for another minor. Yet, with all this power-play time, the Swedes fired blanks.
Ditto for the Russians who had a power play of their own a bit later. The period was exciting and physical, but it provided no goals.
Just as the third looked like it woudl be scoreless and produce an overtime, the fireworks started again. Suckhachyov made a glove save, this off a high shot from Axel Jonsson Fjallby, but again it popped out and dropped in the crease. Glenn Gustafsson merely tapped it in at 14:21 to give Sweden its third lead of the night.
But as with the other leads, this didn't last. Less than two minutes later, Alexei Polodyan got a rebound left by Gustavsson, making no mistake with the chance and tying the game, 3-3.
The overtime was cautious, dominated by Sweden's possession without creating many shots, leaving the result to be decided by the shootout.
"I think we have a really good group here," Liljegren added. "We have a lot of fun outside the rink. I have a good feeling about this team. Hopefully we can get a medal."

Rise of the Roman Empire

Finishing fourth in Group A, the Slovaks will battle the first-place Group B on 2 January. It would have been tragic to squander this opportunity in their round-robin finale after hitting an emotional high with the 3-2 upset over the defending champion United States.
Team scoring leader Samuel Bucek and Martin Fehervary added a goal and an assist apiece for Slovakia, and Adam Liska also tallied. Joachim Blichfeld replied for Denmark.

The Slovaks have finished between sixth and eighth at every World Junior Championship in the 2010's – except for 2015, when MVP goalie Denis Godla backstopped them to a surprising bronze in Montreal. And that’s the blueprint they’d like to emulate or improve on.
Slovak goalie Roman Durny won his HarborCenter duel with his Danish counterpart Kasper Krog as shots favored Slovakia 40-31.

Meanwhile, the winless Danes will miss the quarter-finals for the first time since returning to the elite division in 2015. It’s a tough pill to swallow.
Objectively, it’s unsurprising after Denmark was outscored 26-2 in the preliminary round. Coach Olaf Eller's boys just couldn’t find the special spark that delivered upsets over the Finns and Czechs last year. They will face Belarus in the best-of-three relegation series starting 2 January. Surely the Danes will be determined to succeed with Copenhagen and Herning hosting the IIHF World Championship next year for the very first time.
Once upon a time, a game between teams like Slovakia and Denmark would have had almost no bodychecking. It was treated like something that was regretfully obligatory when facing a North American opponent. But European hockey has evolved, and both teams came out throwing their weight around with wonderful teenage desperation.
At 4:46, Blichfeld opened the scoring off the rush, backhanding in the rebound from Nikolaj Krag’s shot. The Slovaks argued that the play was offside, but the goal stood.
At 11:42, Roman skated into the Danish zone, took a pass from Alex Tamasi and hammered a slapper through Krog from the top of the left faceoff circle to make it 1-1. For the Trinec-trained forward who plays for the Vancouver Giants in the 2019 co-host city of the World Juniors with Victoria, it was his first goal of the tournament.
Now the Slovaks began firing away. Krog was fortunate to stop Erik Smolka, who put the puck off the Danish netminder’s right pad with a half-open net to shoot at. Marian Studenic also had him fooled with a rising backhander off the iron.
Early in the second period, the Danes picked up the pace, with Blichfeld and Krag keying the charge to the Slovak crease. However, the tide shifted again after Denmark’s Rasmus Heine took a holding penalty, even though the Slovaks didn’t capitalize with that man advantage.
Just before the midway point, Fehervary stepped in on the left side and made it 2-1 with a short-side goal past a screened Krog. Next, Durny made one big save after another during a Marian Studenic minor for slashing.
Slovakia took its second penalty of the game for too many men on the ice, and usually that indicates a team isn’t quite mentally prepared. But instead, the Slovaks turned it to their advantage.

With 5:22 left in the middle frame, a relentless shorthanded forecheck paid dividends when Roman grabbed the puck behind the net, cut out front and scored his second goal for a 3-1 lead.

At 4:06 of the third, Bucek put the game out of reach with a short-side marker after a draw in the Danish end. Just 1:16 later, Liska finished off a rush to make it 5-1. The Danes called their time-out, but this train had already left the station.

In a strange sight, Danish captain Christian Mathias-Wesje left two Slovaks prone in the Danish end with big hits with under two minutes to go. Smolka left the game early for repairs. The teams finished 4-on-4 after some rough stuff.

Slovakia won its only previous World Junior game against Denmark, 4-3 on 30 December, 2007 in Pardubice, Czech Republic.

As both the Slovaks and the NFL's Buffalo Bills made the playoffs, it was a happy night at the HarborCenter -- unless you happened to be Danish, of course.

Fox saves U.S.

The Americans also led 4-2 but Finland rallied with two quick goals in the third to tie the score.
Fox took a pass down the right wing in full flight and beat goalie Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen with a shot through the pads to give the U.S. a win to close out the round robin for both teams. The U.S. finished with three wins (one in a shootout) and a loss while Finland had two wins and two losses.
Captain Joey Anderson had two goals today; Fox and Casey Mittelstadt had a goal and two assists each; and, Brady Tkachuk had three assists. Mittelstadt now leads all scorers with nine points. 
Both teams had already qualified for the quarter-finals, though their opponents won’t be known until later tonight once all round-robin games have been completed.
"We're finiding a way to win, and that's the main thing right now," said Anderson. "We didn't play our best hockey at all times tonight. There were periods of time when we stopped moving our feet. We let them get their legs going, and suddenly it's a tie game."
Finland’s undoing was a slow start, allowing the Americans to open a 3-0 lead by the early part of the second period. 
"Maybe they came out a little slowly," said Trent Frederic, who scored one of the U.S. goals. "They played last night, and we had a bit of extra rest, but they turned it on at the end."
"You can call us a comeback team, maybe" Frederic added. "We came back the other day and today felt like a comeback. It shows we can turn it on when we have to, but now we have to turn it on all game in the quarters."
Trent Frederic got things going for the Americans with his first goal of the tournament, firing a low wrist shot after corralling a loose puck at 3:59. 
The Tkachuk-Mittelstadt combo clicked again at 14:33 after several giveaways by the Finns in their own end. Mittelstadt finished things off to make it 2-0.
Early in the second the U.S. had a two-man advantage for 29 seconds and made good in shrt order. Anderson got to a loose puck and beat Luukkonen before he could get in position.
But just when it seemed the home side would skate to an easy win, the Finns picked up their game. Aapeli Rasanen got things going with a great shot over Woll’s glove at 9:01 to put Suomi on the board, and late in the period they made it 3-2 on the power play. 
Eeli Tolvanen ripped a one-timer at 18:44, but no sooner were the Finns close than they took a penalty and surrendered a goal. Anderson showed great hand-eye coordination to the side of the goal, batting in a puck on the short hop with 33.1 seconds left to stop the Finnish rally.
But the Finns wouldn't go away so easily. They made it a one-goal game again at 8:25 of the third when Joona Koppanen carried the puck up ice on a two-on-one and rifled another ow shot to beat Woll.
Then, 66 seconds later, the comeback was complete when Kristian Vesalainen found space through traffic in the slot. That 3-0 deficit was a thing of the past now, and it was the Americans who were on their heels in a game they once controlled.
But with overtime looming, Fox saved the day for the U.S. "We knew we had to get the energy back up, stay positive," Anderson said. "There was no doubt on the bench that we were coming back and getting the next one."

Czechs romp to victory

The Czechs pounded Swiss goalie Philip Wuthrich, outshooting their opponents 60-31.

"We said in the dressing room that we must be better than yesterday [in a 6-5 win over Belarus] and be focused on the game," said Kristian Reichel, who scored twice for the Czechs. "I think we played pretty good. Sixty shots, that’s a bonus."

The result leaves the Czechs in second place in Group B, pending the outcome of the last game between Russia and Sweden. The Russians can overtake the Czechs with a regulation-time win over Sweden.

"We played well today, and it's great that we won," said Filip Zadina. "Now we have to get ready for the quarter-finals."

With an 18-15 goal difference, the Czechs are continuing to fill the net -- they clicked twice with the man advantage versus the Swiss -- but also have some question marks defensively as they seek their first World Junior medal since 2005's bronze.
Switzerland has never beaten Canada in 21 tries in World Junior competition. The last encounter on 29 December, 2015 was close, with Canada prevailing 3-2 in a shootout in Helsinki.

Swiss coach Christian Wohlwend was frank about his team's underdog status versus the 2017 silver medalists: "They have dominated us. We are far away from them. They're faster. They're bigger. They're stronger. They can shoot better. They can pass better. They can do everything better."
For the Czechs, Martin Necas, Martin Kaut, and Daniel Kurovsky added a goal and an assist apiece. Jakub Lauko also scored, and Libor Hajek earned two assists.

"It’s awesome," said Reichel. "It’s the best result in 10 years for us, finishing [the group] with nine points. But the main playoffs start on the second of January, so we must be prepared on the second of January."

Ken Jager, Dario Rohrbach, and Elia Riva replied for Switzerland.

Looking ahead to Canada, Swiss captain Nando Eggenberger said: "We have to score when we have the chance. We have to focus on our defence and block shots, and shoot on their net."
The wide-open first period saw the Czechs outshoot Switzerland 22-14. It took just 2:38 for the Czechs to get rolling. Coming down left wing, Lauko tried to slide a pass in front to Kurovsky, but when Wuthrich bobbled the rebound, Lauko swooped in to tuck it around the fallen netminder.
Just 13 seconds later, the Swiss struck back. Jager surprised Czech starter Jakub Skarek with a quick shot over the glove from the left faceoff circle.
At 11:07, Necas made it 2-1 in a wacky sequence. Kaut put it off the inside of Wuthrich’s left post, and the goalie cleared it away, only to have Necas lift it past him from the high slot seconds later.
In the second period, Reichel, the son of Czech legend Robert Reichel, made it 2-1 at 2:11. Radovan Pavlik intercepted the puck from defenceman Davyd Barandun inside the Swiss blue line and dipsy-doodled toward the net before backhanding a pass to Reichel, who scored with a high backhand.
This time the Swiss had an even quicker reply – nine seconds later. Rohrbach burst down right wing and beat Skarek cleanly on the glove side.

"We’ve been allowing goals after our goals," admitted Hajek. "It was a little scary when they always score after we score!"
At 3:55, the Swiss made it 3-3 on the power play as Riva’s rising wrister from the center point eluded Skarek through traffic.
Looking for a momentum-changer, Czech coach Filip Pesan replaced Skarek with Josef Korenar, but that didn’t immediately inspire his team to tighten up defensively. Moments later, Switzerland’s Guillaume Maillard hit the post on a clean breakaway
Kaut made it 4-3 for the Czechs at 8:38 as he finished off a pretty three-way passing rush by sliding it through Wuthrich.

In the third period, the Czechs enjoyed a 22-8 shots edge. Kurovsky forced a Swiss turnover and rushed in, got the puck back from Petr Kodytek, and zipped the 5-3 marker home at 7:46.

With about six minutes remaining, Lauko was shaken up in a collision with two Swiss players and skated off with the help of his teammates.

With 2:20 left, Reichel put the icing on the cake as the assistant captain busted to the net and scored on a backhand move to make it 6-3.

"In the third period we held on and didn’t let them score," said Hajek. "We played simple."

The Swiss have won three quarter-finals all-time. In 1998 in Finland, Bjorn Christen’s 2-1 shootout winner against Sweden put them on the road to bronze. In 2002 in the Czech Republic, Sven Helfenstein got the winner in another shootout, 3-2 over Sweden, and the Swiss wound up losing the bronze medal game to Finland. And in 2010 in Canada, Nino Niederreiter famously notched the last-minute tying goal and the overtime winner versus Russia en route to a fourth-place finish.

Of 2010, Eggenberger said: "I’m from the same city as him. We saw what Nino Niederreiter did, and now we have to do the same thing."
Swiss defenceman Dominik Egli was listed on the roster but did not participate in the game due to a hand injury. The 19-year-old World Junior rookie, who has played for Kloten and Winterthur this season, averaged 20:51 in his team’s first three games.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Canada finishes first

Canada now has two days off before the quarter-finals on January 2. It wll not play Sweden, but could still potentially play any of Russia, Czech Republic, or Switzerland.
"We knew if we won tonight we'd finish in first place," said Sam Steel, "so we wanted to play the right way and be prepared for the quarter-finals. Yesterday was a crazy day, and we were all a little exhausted last night, physically and mentally, but we re-focused and came to the rink ready to play today."
"We wated to come out and play hard, play the Canadian way, so it's good to get back in the win column," said defenceman Kale Clague. "But I think we still have more. Our goal is to build our game throughout the tournament, and I think going forward we're going to get better."
The loss leaves Denmark winless ot 0-3 and puts the team in a must-win situation tomorrow in its final round-robin game against Slovakia. If the Danes don’t win in regulation, they are off to the relegation round. If they do win in 60 minutes, the Slovakians will be off to the best-of-three survival series.
Over and above this fact is that Denmark has scored just once in three games while surrendering 21.
Carter Hart got the shutout for Canada by stopping 18 shots while Canada peppered Emil Gransoe with 44.
Brett Howden had two goals while Cal Foote had three assists in the game.
"it was a good overall effort by everyone," enthused Hart. "Our goal was to come out flying, and we played that way the whole game. Now we have to get ready and prepare for the quarter-finals."
Canada got off to just the start it needed to crush the Danish spirit and eradicate the bad memories from yesterday’s disappointing loss to the Americans outdoors. Robert Thomas scored from a bad angle off the body of goalie Gransoe, a shot Gransoe would love to have a second chance on.
That goal came at 3:58, and it wasn’t until late in the period that Canada scored two more. In between, it had the territorial advantage by a long shot. The late goals came as a result of juicy rebounds. In the first case, Gransoe was on his belly when Brett Howden backhanded a loose puck into the empty net at 17:21.
Finally, with only 20.4 seconds left, Steel knocked in a loose puck from the blue ice.
The Danes had only four shots in the period but two were on breakaways by Joachim Blichfeld. In the first, he was bested by a nice pad save by Hart midway through the period. In the second, Blichfeld took advantage of a poor clearing pass by Dante Fabbro and moved in alone, again being foiled by Hart.
Canada added two more in the second before taking its foot off the pedal for a while. Cale Makar fired a shot over Gransoe from the top of the slot that beat the goalie cleanly at 7:52.
Then, at 9:20, Foote’s long shot was tipped by Howden. Canada took its first two penalties of the period a bit later, but the Danes couldn’t generate any pressure or create a first-rate scoring chance with the extra man.
Michael McLeod added another in the third off a bullet shot to the far side of a beleaguered Gransoe.
Drake Batherson topped the count with a power-play marker at 12:26.

Finns overcome Slovaks

Markus Nurmi added a goal and an assist, and Joona Koppanen, Aapeli Rasanen and Henri Ikonen also scored for Finland. Martin Bodak and Samuel Bucek replied for Slovakia.

"Even though we are kind of the bigger country in hockey, Slovakia is a good team too," said Finland's Olli Juolevi. "They were a tough opponent for us today. I’m happy we got the win."
Finland and the U.S. will face off in a likely showdown for second place in the group on New Year’s Eve. Finland has won two straight since dropping its Boxing Day opener to Canada.

"After the Canada game, we've improved our play and have the two wins," said Finnish goalie Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen. "Of course, we could have been better against Canada, but we can't do anything about that now. We have to get ready now for tomorrow and play well against the U.S."
Could the Slovaks maintain the extraordinary focus and emotional level they reached in their 3-2 win over the defending champion Americans? Heading into this game, that was the question on everyone's mind. Slovak goalie Roman Durny got his second straight start after his upset debut, and he was busy as Finland outshot Slovakia 39-26.

"We have already put the U.S. game behind us," said Slovakia's Filip Krivosik. "Today was a new day. We wanted to take at least one point from today's game to make sure we got into the playoffs, but we didn't do that."

The Slovaks will face Denmark in a crucial battle on New Year's Eve.
In a scoreless, evenly played first period, there were several close calls. Finnish defenceman Kasper Kotkansalo saved a goal by pulling the puck off the goal line, and also rang a howitzer off the post.
Forechecking diligently, the Finns outshot Slovakia 18-5 to dominate the second period. They opened the scoring at 7:45 when Juha Jaaska fed Koppanen cross-crease for his second goal of the tournament.

"I liked Joona Koppanen’s game today," said Finnish coach Jussi Ahokas. "Penalty kill and otherwise, he played the way we want."
However, after killing two penalties in the first period, the Finns didn’t take the initiative with their own first two man advantages in the second period.
The Slovaks fought back on the rush. Forward Alex Tamasi found Bodak coming late down the middle, and the big captain sent it through Luukkonen's pads at 14:14.
When Slovakia’s Tomas Hedera put the puck over the glass and was penalized for delay of game, Finland finally got a huge power play goal with just 58 seconds left in the middle frame. Juolevi stepped into the left faceoff circle and sent a hard pass in front for Rasanen to tip in.
"I had a lot of time," said Juolevi. "It was a good pass from Eeli Tolvanen to me. We talk a lot about the power play. We haven’t really been that good on the power play this year here. But I think it’s getting better."
At 6:23 of the third, Heponiemi put Finland up 3-1. The star of the WHL's Swift Current Broncos stormed to the net and Janne Kuokkanen's pass deflected first off his backhand and then his skate into the net. After a review, it was concluded that no deliberate kicking motion was used, and the goal stood.

With a never-say-die attitude, Bucek, who scored the spectacular solo winner versus the Americans, corraled a bouncing puck to lift it past Luukkonen's glove and make it 3-2 at 9:03.

Yet Slovakia's joy was short-lived. The Finns restored their two-goal lead off an unusual play. At 12:36, Ikonen was credited with a goal directly off a faceoff in the Slovak end, with Durny looking stunned as the puck slid through his pads. Slovak forward Adam Ruzicka, who won the draw a little too forcefully, did not intend that to happen.

"It was a different goal, that's for sure," said Ikonen. "I just lost the face-off, but it was really lucky that it went in. A goal is a goal."

"That was probably the first time I’ve ever seen that in my career," said Juolevi.

Nurmi made it 5-2 Finland at 14:01 when he was allowed to step off the goal line unobstructed and ding a backhander off Durny's right post.

"We need to forget about this game and have a good sleep and get ready for tomorrow," said Krivosik.

With the result, Finland’s all-time World Junior record against Slovakia improved to nine wins, one tie, and four losses.
Legendary Finnish agitator and five-time Stanley Cup champion Esa Tikkanen was among the ex-NHLers in attendance.

Sweden beats Swiss, 7-2

The win gives Sweden a 3-0 record and first place in Group B. With the loss, the Swiss are 1-2 and stuck in fourth place, but that's as low as they can go. Belarus, winless in all four games, will be the Group B representative in the relegation round, and the Swiss will qualify for the quarter-finals.
Perhaps the nicest goal was the last of the game. Elias Pettersson danced around defenceman Simon le Coultre, cut in on goal, and swept the puck in the far side to make it a 7-2 game.
Pettersson and Lias Andersson both had two goals and an assist for the winners, who outshot the Swiss, 42-22.
"Switzerland started pretty fast today, but we got better as the game went on," said Alexander Nylander, who played on a line with Pettersson and Linus Lindstrom. "Our third period was really strong. We showed how we can play when we're playing well. They were forechecking hard in the first two periods, and we had to just simplify our game, which we did."
"We played very well," echoed defenceman Rasmus Dahlin. "We were strong out there, but we also played well against the Czechs. Those were different games, but we are playing well right now."
The Swedes got one power-play goal and another short-handed. They opened the scoring in the first with the extra man. Nylander made a perfect slap-pass to Andersson cutting in front, and Andersson made a nice deflection past Mattheo Ritz.
Switzerland tied the game on a brilliant little play from Nicolas Muller. He noticed that Swedish defenceman Linus Hogberg cut dangerously close to his goalie heading up ice and slapped Hogberg’s stick. In the process, the puck went into the net past an unsuspecting Filip Larsson.
In the second, however, Sweden controlled play and scored two pretty goals. Andersson picked off a weak pass from Tobias Geisser inside the Swiss blue line and waltzed in on goal, beating Matteo Ritz with a pretty little deke at 6:07.
Six and a half minutes later, another turnover presented itself to Sweden. This time, Valentin Nussbaumer was too casual with the puck inside the Sweden blue line on a power play. Axel Jonsson Fjallby made the steal and sprinted the length of the ice before roofing a shot over Ritz’s glove for a 3-1 lead.
The Swiss weren’t entirely done, though. This time it was Jacob Moverare of Sweden who was stripped of the puck in his end on a Swiss power play. Marco Miranda made the quick play, moved in on Larsson, and rifled a high shot in with just 45.4 seconds left in the period to give the Swiss some life heading to the dressing room.
That was as close as they got, though. Sweden made it 4-2 early in the third off another turnover inside the opposition blue line. This time a nice three-way passing play led to the goal when Nylander moved the puck to Pettersson. Pettersson made a final pass in front, but Swiss defenceman Tim Berni got his stick on the puck and tipped it over Ritz's glove at 4:55. An own goal at the worst time.
Tim Soderlund added another at 10:01 flying down his off wing and cutting in front before roofing a shot, and Fabian Zetterlund made it 6-2 less than two minutes later.
Sweden finishes the round robin with a New Year's Eve game against Russia in what should be a thrilling game. "It will be fun," Dahlin added, "and it will help us get ready for the playoffs."
Switzerland comes right back tomorrow afternoon to play the Czechs, 6-5 winners today against Belarus.

Czechs outgun Belarus

Captain Marek Zachar, who had the eventual winner with 6:37 left, and Filip Chytil each added a goal and an assist. Libor Hajek and Filip Zadina had the other Czech goals, and Vojtech Budik had two assists.

"We really underestimated the game," said Hajek. "Everyone wants to score, everyone wants to play just for himself. That’s why we almost lost. We had good luck today. But it was kind of a terrible game."

The Czechs trailed 2-0 early in the second period. After pulling goalie Josef Korenar in favor of Jakub Skarek, they stormed back with five unanswered goals, but then almost blew their hefty lead.
Yegor Sharangovich scored twice, Ivan Drozdov had a goal and an assist, and Igor Martynov and Vladislav Gabrus added singles for Belarus, which also swapped out goalies. Captain Maxim Sushko, Vladislav Yeryomenko, and Viktor Bovbel recorded two assists apiece.

Shots favored the Czechs 39-21.

"Sometimes we need to play an easier game," said Zadina. "We’re trying to find hard passes. It was a tough game. I’m happy we won today."
The Czechs have one more chance to shore up their quarter-final seeding when they face Switzerland on New Year’s Eve. Both nations are enduring long World Junior medal droughts. The Czechs last won bronze in 2005 and Switzerland in 1998.
It was a gutsy effort by the underdog Belarusians, but they came away with nothing to show for it. Winless in all four group games, they will play in the relegation round. The Belarusians have been outscored 20-10 so far.

"It was our best game so far, but we had a bad second period," said Drozdov. "We played well for 30 minutes and we have to build on this."
At 8:31, Belarus jumped out to a 1-0 lead on its first power play. Sharangovich came off the right side and sniped it past Korenar’s glove. It was the assistant captain’s second goal of the tournament.
Poor discipline was a constant problem for the Czechs. In front of the Belarusian net, forward Jakub Lauko received a major and game misconduct for slashing defenceman Vladislav Gavrus in the groin area. But the Belarusians couldn’t generate any great scoring chances over five minutes.
Top Belarusian goalie Andrei Grishenko was shaken up shortly afterwards when Chytil took the puck to the net and was driven into the goalie by defenceman Dmitri Deryabin. However, Grishenko stayed in.

"I don’t know what happened in the first period," Zadina said.
The second period got off to a crazy start. Belarus continued to see production from its top players. Sushko centred the puck from behind the net to Drozdov, who slid a backhander through Kolenar's legs. Just 48 seconds into the frame, Czech coach Filip Pesan decided to change things up. Kolenar’s second start ended as Skarek took over.
It was a wake-up call that worked. The Czechs struck back with lightning ferocity, scoring twice in just 24 seconds.
At 1:29, Pavlik finished off a discombobulated rush by whacking a rebound between Grishenko’s pad and the right post. At 1:53, Hajek cruised into the high slot and zinged home a high glove-side wrister to tie it up.
Deryabin continued to give his own goalie fits, shoving another onrushing Czech into Grishenko. This time he got an interference penalty, and it took just 13 seconds for Zadina to make Belarus pay as he one-timed a rebound into the gaping cage.
The Belarusians came achingly close to the tying goal on a mid-second period shift when Drozdov hit the post and Martynov almost converted a wrap-around.
At 12:45, Chytil made it 4-2 when he banged in captain Marek Zachar’s close-range centering pass from behind the net.
Pavlik gave the Czechs a three-goal lead when he took Chytil’s centering pass on the rush and banged his own rebound through Grishenko. Now it was Belarus’s turn to swap out goalies as Dmitri Rodik saw his first World Junior action ever. And as with the Czechs, the change proved to be a momentum-changer.
With 1:15 left in the middle frame, Sharangovich cut the deficit to 5-3 with a sweet power-play one-timer. Drozdov fired high and wide on a breakaway.

In the third period, the Czechs continued to misbehave. Pavlik got a misconduct for shooting the puck in the net on an icing call. On the power play, Martynov got Belarus within one goal at 10:27 with a top-shelf snipe.

Zachar made it 6-4 at 13:23 when he cut in off the wing to launch a lovely backhander past Drodzik.

However, Belarus wasn't done. With 5:08 left, Gabrus grabbed the puck in the neutral zone and swooped in to send a high one past Rodik. But that was as close as Belarus would get.

"We have to play way better," said Hajek. "We have to beat a team like Belarus the right way. If we want to play with the U.S. or Canada, this is not the kind of game we can win. We have to play better. Hopefully tomorrow."

Friday, December 29, 2017

USA wins Snow Bowl, 4-3

Aesthetics aside, the U.S. rallied from 3-1 down in the third to send the game to overtime, then scored the only two goals of the shootout to defeat Canada in an outdoor classic.
Kieffer Bellows and Brady Tkachuk scored in the shootout while all three Canadians missed the target. The first Canadian shooter, Sam Steel, hit the post, but that was as close as they got.
Casey Mittlestadt followed up his sensational goal yesterday with three assists today and now leads all scorers with six points in three games.
The game was played before a record crowd for a World Junior Championship game, and fans were treated to another North American classic that included a magnificent snowstorm as the backdrop to events at New Era Field in Buffalo.
From the opening faceoff flurries danced in the sky as the Buffalo Bills football stadium turned into a winter wonderland of shinny pleasure. Fans streamed in by the hundreds as the first period unfolded, and by the midway point more than 44,000 had filled the large but intimate space. 
It was anyone’s guess which team had the greater fan support. Thousands of fans waved American flags with mid-winter fervour, but for every flag there seemed to be a red or white Team Canada sweater. No matter. It all made for an electric atmosphere.
Power plays proved the most important part of the. Both teams had two each, and all came at timely moments for their team.
Canada emerged from the first period with a solid and deserved 2-0 lead thanks to the man advantage. Each team had two chances, but whereas the Americans were ineffectual, Canada struck both times.
In the first instance, Cale Makar rifled a shot past Jake Oettinger at 4:13 to stake Canada to an early lead. Then, late in the period, it was captain Dillon Dube, taking a sweet pass from Sam Steel and wiring a high shot past Oettinger before he could blink.
As the period came to an end, the intensity of the flurries picked up, and by intermission the snow was too thick on the ice for the Zambonis. The second period saw that wintry intensity continue, wreaking havoc on ice for crisp passes and tic-tac-toe playmaking but giving fans an amazing atmosphere to a game that exemplified why the sport became popular nearly 150 years ago.
After killing off an early penalty in the second, Canada played a solid and simple game and dominated much of the play. Tkachuk had one nice chance, but Hart was there with the pad save. That 2-0 lead looked rock solid for a long time.
But late in the period Canada incurred two penalties on the same play, and the U.S. struck with the ensuing two-man advantage. Keeping it simple, Bellows wound up for a shot, picked his spot, an fired a low bullet to the far side past Hart at 16:27, giving the U.S. some life.
Canada, however, was not intimidated and responded just 72 seconds later. After a good pressure shift, Jake Bean floated a shot through the snowstorm that was tipped by Boris Katchouk and fooled Oettinger, thus restoring Canada’s two-goal lead through 40 minutes.
But early in the third Maxime Comtois took a senseless boarding penalty behind the U.S. icing line, and the Americans capitalized. Scott Perunovich converted a nice feed form Casey Mittelstadt at 6:09 to make it a one-goal game again.
That got the Americans going, and even a lengthy timeout to scrape the ice couldn't slow them down. Just 34 seconds later, Mittelstadt fed Tkachuk in close and he snapped a quick shot past Hart to tie the score. 
The overtime was more cautious than wide open, setting the stage for a shootout just as the snow abated.
Using old international rules, the referees has teams change ends halfway through the third period and again in the overtime. Interestingly, five of the six regulation goals were scored at the south end.
The win moves the Americans into second place in Group A with five points, two behind Canada.

Russians down Belarus

"I can’t talk about myself personally," said Kostin. "I can just talk about my teammates, who made sure that I scored. I think their performance was 100 percent today."

German Rubtsov and Artur Kayumov notched a goal and an assist apiece, and Alexei Polodyan also scored for Russia. Artyom Manukyan and Andrei Svechnikov both chipped in two assists.

For Belarus, Sergei Pishuk led the way with a goal and an assist, and Dmitri Deryabin had the other goal.

Russian coach Valeri Bragin doesn't have as much talent to deploy as in recent years, but his team seems to be getting back on track after a surprising 5-4 loss to the Czechs and a 5-2 win over Switzerland that was harder than it needed to be.

"We play together as a fist," said Kostin of suiting up for Bragin. "His teams are always extremely close-knit, like a family, and I always enjoy playing for him."

Russia has medaled at every World Juniors since last winning the tournament in Buffalo in 2011 under Bragin. It took bronze last year.

The Russians often experience peaks and valleys during the preliminary round. They will get a better test of their mettle against the talented Swedes on New Year's Eve in a game that will likely decide first place in Group B.

Pointless Belarus is now virtually assured of winding up in the relegation round. Its group finale is on Saturday against the Czech Republic.
In goal, Vladislav Sukhachyov got the start again for Russia, having taken over in net ever since Alexei Melnichuk was pulled after the second period of the 5-4 opening loss to the Czech Republic. Andrei Grishenko got his third straight start in goal for Belarus,
Striving to not simply roll over for their “big brothers,” the Belarusians played gritty hockey from the outset. But Russia’s heavy pressure would pay off in a period where Belarus was outshot 15-3.
At 10:14, Polodyan’s wrister from the right side deflected past Grishenko to make it 1-0 with his second goal of the tournament.
Two and a half minutes later, Rubtsov finished off a nice give and go with Artyom Manukyan on the rush, dangling to the net and sliding home the 2-0 marker.
With about four minutes left in the opening frame, Belarus forward Ilya Litvinov was shaken up on a heavy hit by Russian defenceman Vladislav Syomin. However, he skated off under his own power and would return.
Three minutes into the second period, Belarus got a golden chance on a 2-on-1 rush, but Arseni Astashevich shot the puck high and wide.
Seconds later, Kostin played catch with Svechnikov deep in the Belarus zone before waltzing into the slot and beating Grishenko high to the stick side for a 3-0 lead. Although the Russians couldn't capitalize when Belarus took three straight minors, the penalties hampered the comeback hopes of coach Yuri Faikov's team.

In the third period, the Belarusians got some life when Deryabin flew down left wing and surprised Sukhachyov with a high glove-side goal at 2:03. However, Artur Kayumov, who got the winner against Switzerlsnd, restored Russia's three-goal edge at 4:21.

Kostin powered out of the corner and around the Belarus defence before lifting the 5-1 goal home at 8:12. It was his third of these World Juniors. At 10:43, Pishuk cut the deficit to 5-2, but that was as close as the underdogs would get.

Asked to rate his team's performance in this game, Kostin said: "Ninety-nine out of one hundred."

Belarus squandered a late opportunity with an extended power play -- including a 5-on-3 for 1:26 -- after Russia's Mikhail Maltsev took a high-sticking double-minor.
This was Russia’s seventh straight all-time win over Belarus, dating back to the 1999 World Juniors in Canada.

Of Belarus, Kostin said: "I think it’s a good team. We’re a little bit better as a team. But they have a lot of very good players with high potential. I think they’ll be OK in the future."

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Bucek masterpiece stuns U.S.

Bucek roared down the left side, went behind the American goal when Joseph Woll over-committed, and tried to tuck the puck in the back side. Woll made a great lunging save, but Bucek got the rebound and found the net.
Bucek also assisted on the other two Slovakian goals, both scored by Filip Krivosik.
The Americans got goals from Brady Tkachuk and Casey Mittelstadt.
One thing must be made abundantly clear, though. Yes, the Americans were heavy favourites coming into the game. Yes, their loss was stunning. But, the Slovaks deserve all the credit in the world for the win. They got timely scoring, played great defence, and got the better goaltending. 
It was the first Slovak win over the U.S. at the World Juniors since the 2009 quarter-finals, a string of six losses in between. The result puts the U.S. and Slovakia in second place with Finland, all three nations with three points in the Group A standings behind Canada (six).
Goaltender Roman Durny was the hero for the winners, stopping 43 of 45 shots. Joseph Woll was a bit uneven in the U.S. net and faced 25 shots.
It was a game of few scoring chances and even fewer goals, but in the end the Slovaks showed a resilience the Americans couldn't match.
The scoreless first period featured an American team that dominated puck possession but couldn’t penetrate the Slovakian defence or get many clear chances on goal. 
Tkachuk hit the post with one shot and Bucek made a nice dash in on goal, crashing into Woll as the puck rolled by the goal.
In a game like this, the superior team had to be patient, and that’s what the Americans were. But instead of being rewarded, they found themselves trailing 1-0 at 4:52 of the second period.
Krivosik skated down the right wing on a three-on-one, but he saw an opening and instead of trying to pass he beat Woll between the pads to give the visitors a shocking lead.
But the Americans did not respond to the challenge right away. They took a penalty, and on the ensuing power play Marian Studenic had two nice chances to give Slovakia a 2-0 lead. He missed on the first and Woll came up with the big save on the second, and a short time later the Americans finally created—and converted—a nice chance.
Even that came as a result of a counter-attack after another good Slovak scoring chance. Ryan Poehling drove down the right side and fed a perfect saucer pass to Tkachuk cutting to the net. Tkachuk controlled the puck, made a slick deke, and tucked the puck five hole on Durny, who had been impressive in goal for Slovakia.
The Americans had a great chance to take the lead in the third when Mittelstadt set up Kailer Yamamoto for a point blank shot, but Durny was right there. 
And then, the improbable happened. Krivosik took advantage of a turnover behind the U.S net and swiped a backhand from in front that somehow found the back of the net at 15:15.
That seemed to be the game winner, but the game was, in fact, far from over.
A minute and a half later, Mittelstadt scored a highlight-reel goal, stealing the puck at the Slovak blue line, deking one player and then Durny to tuck the puck home for a 2-2 tie at 16:49.
Slovakia would not take disappointment this night, however. Bucek replied with a stunner of his own, giving Slovakia an incredible victory.
The U.S. now has to collect its thoughts before playing Canada in the outdoor game tomorrow. Slovakia has a day off before facing Finland on Saturday.

Sweden holds off Czechs

Alexander Nylander had a goal and an assist for Sweden, and Marcus Davidsson and Elias Pettersson chipped in singles for Sweden, which cashed in twice on the power play. Rasmus Dahlin added two assists.

"I think we played well in the first and third periods," said Pettersson. "The second period was the Czechs’ period. But overall, it was a great game."

Swedish coach Tomas Monten continued to ride the phenomenal Dahlin, who logged a team-high 24:05. The 17-year-old Frolunda Gothenburg defenceman also led the team with 20:50 in the 6-1 win over Belarus.

"I play hockey because I love it," said Dahlin. "I’m having fun out there. Why not have fun?"

Filip Zadina replied for the Czechs.

"The first period was bad," said Zadina. "We received penalties and we didn’t compete. That’s the reason why we were down 2-0. We got up in the second period and we tried to play better. I think we did. It’s tough to play against this team. They are so good."

Despite this loss, the Czechs, who opened with a 5-4 upset of Russia, have shown they can’t be taken lightly here in Buffalo. They are questing for their first medal since 2005's bronze in North Dakota.
Swedish starter Filip Gustavsson made 24 saves for the victory, and Jakub Skarek had 32 saves for the Czechs.
The Juniorkronorna carried the play in the first period. Davidsson opened the scoring from the slot at 5:56, converting Axel Jonsson Fjallby’s gorgeous back pass from Skarek’s right post on the rush. It was video-reviewed for goalie interference but deemed good.
On the power play, Pettersson notched Sweden’s second goal with a wicked wrister from the left faceoff circle at 19:04.

"When we got on our power play, me and Nylander changed sides," said Pettersson. "I don’t know if it was part of the plan, but I got the puck from Nylander and I tried to use the Czech player as a screen. It went in."
The Czechs pushed back in the second period, outshooting Sweden 14-7. They nearly got on the board when defenceman Radim Salda rang one off the cross bar near the midway point.
Sweden ran into penalty trouble, taking three minors in the middle frame, and the Czechs, hustling hard, finally capitalized. At 19:02, Zadina’s one-timer snap shot found the twine. The 18-year-old World Junior rookie has scored in both his games so far.

"I’m happy that I’ve scored two times, but we lost," said Zadina. "I’m more thinking about the team than myself. It’s a tough loss today, but we have to prepare ourselves for the next game and play better."

With a 5-on-3 man advantage for 1:35 early in the third, the Czechs had a golden opportunity to tie it up, but couldn't. That failure proved costly.

"It was very important," said Pettersson. "I don’t know if that maybe was their chance to get in the game again and tie it. Our special teams came up big."

The Swedes made it 3-1 at 4:25 on their next power play when Nylander coolly cut in and whizzed one over Skarek's glove. After that, it was smooth sailing.

The next Swedish game is against Switzerland on Saturday, while the Czechs take on Belarus that day. Asked for the key to success against the newly promoted Belarusians, Zadina said: "We have to play faster, move the puck faster and get more shots."
Sweden has won 10 straight World Junior games against the Czechs. The last Czech victory was 3-1 on December 31, 2002 in Halifax, Canada.

Kayumov rescues Russia

Kayumov took a nice pass from Klim Kostin and snapped a shot over the glove of Philip Wuthrich to beat a stubborn Swiss team that twice rallied to even the score. Two late goals sealed the Swiss fate, but it was a good game for both teams.
Nonetheless, after outshooting Switzerland by a 37-13 margin, the Russians were full meaure for the win. They had lost to the Czechs 5-4 on opening day but played a determined game today.
The Swiss, winners in their debut yesterday, fell to 1-1 with the loss.
"We played more of a team game and made some adjustments," Kayumov said. "The score was tied in the third period, I think, because of our own mistakes. We gave them good chances, and they scored. But we played better today than in the first game."
"We played better defensively and created more offensively," agreed forward Vitali Abramov. "They played a good game, and their goalie played really well today."
"We were playing a good game, and then we made a stupid mistake, and they scored the third goal," offered Justin Sigrist of Switzerland. "Our defence was nearly perfect and so was our goaltending, but when you score only two goals against Russia, you won't win very often."
Although the Russians dominated the opening period they managed only one goal, on the power play. Vladislav Syomin drifted a low shot that bounced through traffic and past a screened Philip Wuthrich at 10:21. 
Despite two power plays in the opening 20 minutes, the Swiss could muster few decent shots on Vladislav Sukhachyov.
The Swiss tied the game off the opening faceoff to start the second. Philipp Kurashev fed a nice pass to Marco Miranda streaking over the blue line, and Miranda ripped a nice shot under the glove of Sukhachyov just nine seconds in.
The rest of the period belonged to Russia, however, and the Swiss managed but two more shots in the middle 20 minutes. Nevertheless, the Swiss defence proved resilient, killing off a two-man disadvantage for 52 seconds. 
The Russians got a much-deserved second goal at 18:16 when Kostin swiped home a rebound from the top of the crease.
But the Swiss weren't done just yet. They tied the game just 2:10 into the third on a nice second effort from Ken Jager. The right-handed shot drove down the left wing and cut in on goal, jamming his own rebound in to make it a 2-2 game. 
Russia got a late goal at 18:18 on an odd-man rush and another 13 seconds later into the empty net to close out the scoring.
Russia plays again tomorrow afternoon against Belarus while the Swiss have a day of rest before facing Sweden on Saturday.