World Juniors Playoff Update
Well, I am not sure anyone could have predicted the way the medal round has shaped up at the World Junior Championships in Buffalo. The games have been quite surprising.
No surprise that defending gold-medalists USA finished atop their pool, with Finland second and a tough Swiss team in third. No disrespect to Slovakia and Germany, but the Americans really did end up in a less than challenging group. In the other pool, Sweden was full marks for first, beating Canada in a shootout. The Russians, having lost handily to both Canada and Sweden to begin the tournament, seemed an also-ran, taking third after beating Czech Republic and Norway.
A funny thing happened in the crossovers though. Canada had a tougher than expected game against the Swiss. Switzerland actually scored early, a bad goal on what seems to be new number 1 Canadian goalie Mark Visentin. Benjamin Conz, an undrafted goalie, was incredible in this game against Canada. Canada did prevail 4-1, but that it was only 4-1 is a testament to the, at times, unbelievable saves this kid Conz made in the Swiss net. In fact, the final Canadian goal was into an empty net, so that should tell the story of how close Conz’ 46 saves made the game. In the other game where the winner would advance, Russia scratched out a hard-fought overtime win against Finland. With Finland up 3-1 with under 5 minutes remaining, he Russians led by Yevgeni Kuznetsov and Maxim Kitsyn tied it up, Then, Kitsyn fed Kuznetsov for the game winner in overtime to dispatch the Finns and book a date for Russian with Sweden.
In the semi-finals, things were even a bit stranger. The Russians played the early game (having played the late game the night before) against Sweden who’d been resting with a bye. A first period goal by Tarasenko had Russia up 1-0. A second goal by Russia sparked controversy as Sweden felt the play should have been dead on a no-touch icing. The officials did not see it that way, and Sweden was down 2-0. It was then that the Swedes, who’d played so well in the round-robin, woke up, scoring 3 in a row. It looked like the clock might strike for Russia, but this time Sergei Kalinin scored to tie it with 90 seconds left. It went to a shootout and Denis Golubev scored to send Sweden to the bronze-medal game.
In the other semi, the favored Team USA, defending champions and unbeaten in the round-robin, simply did not show up as Canada walked away with a 4-1 victory. Only Jack Campbell, with 37 saves, had anything resembling a game out there for the Americans. Canada led 1-0 with a Curtis Hamilton goal 2 and a half minutes in. Canada kept coming, and led 2-0 after 1, 3-0 after 2. The 4th goal came in the third before Chris Brown scored for USA with 10 minutes remaining. It was a severe disappointment for the US team, who hoped to pay for gold on home soil. Instead, Canada makes it’s 10th consecutive gold-medal game appearance.
Wednesday’s game will be a classic match up, Canada against Russia. The Canadians are always a pick for gold, but this team was slotted second, sometimes third behind USA and Sweden, given that there appeared to be no scoring star and that this would have to be a hard-working, grind it out team. Instead, Canada showed that they did have a star in Brayden Schenn, and that each line could provide adequate scoring. The Russians are also something of a long-shot to be here, thought to be a weaker squad than poolmates Canada and Sweden. So grab a couple cold beers and some wings, Wednesday night’s game should be a very good one to watch.