Canada got goals from four scorers and solid goaltending from Carter Hart, the goalie of record in last year's heart-breaking loss to the U.S. in the gold-medal game in Montreal.
Canada’s first goal was impressive. Boris Katchouk simply skated past two Finns to get to a loose puck and create a breakaway. He made a quick deke on goalie Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, hitting the post and he pushed the puck past the goalie. It hit the post, caromed off Luukkonen’s skate and went it. As this was happening, though, Katchouk crashed into the crossbar and pushed the net off its moorings. Video review showed the puck crossed the goal line while the pegs were still in contact with the holes.
Luukkonen was last seen in IIHF competition in April, leading Finland til silver at the U18 championship in Slovakia. In fact, he is one of seven players from that team who have made the roster for Buffalo.
Just 27 seconds later, Canada went up two goals thanks to a quick power-play conversion. Sam Steel snapped a loose puck into the net, sending the pro-Canadian crowd into a frenzy.
The Finns came right back, though, scoring their first at 12:19 when Carter Hart inadvertently kicked a rebound right onto the stick of Aleksi Heponiemi. He wasted no time in making it a 2-1 game.
Another quick strike, this just 33 seconds after Heponiemi’s goal, restored Canada’s two-goal lead. This time it was poor defence by Finland that allowed Jonah Gadjovich to set up Drake Batherson for the easy back-door conversion.
Canada held Finland at bay in an evenly played second period. The Finns made it 3-2 at 7:31 on the power play when Henri Jokiharju’s point shot went all the way. But Canada made it 4-2 five minutes later off a broken rush. Taylor Raddysh collected the puck and fired a quick floater that eluded Luukkonen.
But the play of the game came off the glove of Canadian defenceman Callan Foote. He dove back to swat a rolling puck off the goal line midway through the third to keep it a 4-2 game. Video review showed the puck on the line--perhaps even partially over it--but the save helped preserve the victory.
Elias Pettersson and Erik Brannstrom had a goal and an assist apiece, and Glenn Gustafsson and Jens Boqvist also scored for Sweden, which is seeking a medal after three straight fourth-place finishes. Alexander Nylander, Rasmus Dahlin, and Fredrik Karlstrom all chipped in two assists.
Yegor Sharangovich replied for Belarus.
Sweden’s Filip Gustavsson, named Best Goalie at the 2016 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship in North Dakota made just 8 saves for the win in front of the HarborCenter crowd. Andrei Grishenko, making his World Junior debut between the pipes for Belarus, had 31 saves.
The Belarusians have never done better than ninth at this event -- snd that was back in 2001 and 2002.
You couldn’t fault Belarus’s effort, but it wasn’t enough to hold the Juniorkronorna off forever with their superior skill and speed. At 8:44, coach Tomas Monten's boys opened the scoring on their first power play. Pettersson dished the puck to Rasmus Dahlin before getting it back and whizzing it over Grishenko’s glove from the right faceoff circle.
On their second shot of the period, the Belarusians tied it up shorthanded at 14:56. Sharangovich capitalized on a turnover at the Swedish blue line and scored on a breakaway. Outshot 12-2 in the first, Belarus was happy to end the period on even terms.
Midway through the second period, the teams started throwing their weight around. Defenceman Gustav Lindstrom hammered Dmitri Grinkevich as Sweden’s annoyance with the deadlock mounted. Near the halfway mark, Axel Jonsson Fjallby flubbed his breakaway chance.
At 10:57, the dam broke. Brannstrom came late and took a nice flip pass from Nylander inside the Belarusian line before beating Grishenko from the slot. And it was 3-1 at 12:33 when Gustafsson deftly tipped Lindstrom’s shot from the line.
Boqvist made it 4-1 at 14:18 with a rising shot from the faceoff circle, and that ended Belarus’s hopes. Coach Yuri Faikov called his time-out, but it was too late to regroup.
In the third period, the top Swedish attackers struck again on the power play at 2:17. Andersson converted a set-up from Nylander, with a second assist going to Pettersson. At 11:07, Andersson got his second after playing catch with Dahlin.
This was the first time Sweden has faced Belarus at the World Juniors since 2003. There have been no cataclysmic upsets like the senior Belarusian team’s 4-3 quarter-final win over Tre Kronor at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics. Sweden has won all four World Junior meetings dating back to 1998.
The improbable win came in the opening game of the 2018 World Junior Championship and was only the second victory for the Czechs in the last eleven meetings between the two teams.
"We scored five times against the Russians, so that was big for us," said Czech defenceman Vojtech Budik. "They're always such a good team, but our coaches prepared us really well for this game, and we played with a lot of intensity."
The U20 has been an event that has been as favoured by the Russians as it has been disappointing for the Czechs. Indeed, Russia has earned a medal in 22 of the last 26 U20 tournaments while the Czechs haven’t reached the medals since 2005 (bronze).
This afternoon, however, the Czechs took the initiative from the get-go and proved resilient when pressed. They opened the scoring with a power-play goal just 4:42 into the game, Martin Necas wiring a shot from the slot off a nice corner feed from Martin Kaut who had three assists in the game.
Just 39 seconds later, though, the Russians tied the score when Alexei Polodyan made a great tip off a shot from Andrei Altybarmakyan. Two minutes later, the Czechs went up again thanks to good hand-eye coordination from Ostap Safin. He batted a loose puck in after a wraparound by Chytil was stopped by Russian goalie Alexei Melnichuk.
Marsel Sholokhov rounded out a high-scoring first to make it 2-2 on a low shot from in front. The Czechs seemed in control of the game, or at least looked comfortable in playing head-to-head with the Russians.
They got another goal with the extra man to produce their third lead, this at 5:34 of the second, Zadina converting a nice cross-crease pass from Kaut.
Midway through the period it looked like Chytil had incurred an injury after a hard check in what was a physical game. He left the ice bleeding, but after going to the dressing room he returned with a vengeance. Chytil knocked in a rebound after a nice rush by Safin, giving the Czechs a solid 4-2 lead after 40 minutes.
"That was the difference," Sholokhov acknowledged. "We shouldn't have let them score those two goals after we came back in the first period to tie the game."
Kral added what proved to be a vital insurance goal midway through the third when his long shot eluded Vladislav Sukhachyov, who had replaced Melnichuk to start the third. As it turned out, this was the game winner. Russia made things more than a little unsettling for the winners by scoring twice in the dying minutes, but this was as close as it got.
"We were definitely nervous at the end, but we got the win, and that's the main thing," added Budik.
Both teams have the day off tomorrow. On Thursday, Russia plays Switzerland and the Czechs take on thr Swedes.