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.