Taking place in Toronto and Montreal, the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship was built for Canada to succeed, although the two best teams in this tournament have been Sweden and the United States.
Canada managed to get by the Czech Republic to join a final four that includes Sweden, USA and Russia, all of whom advanced to the semifinals after victories Monday.
Dominique Ducharme’s team will face Sweden Wednesday, while USA and Russia meet again in the other semifinal.
Here are a few takeaways from the three non-Canadian quarterfinal games…
Sweden no stranger to situation they find themselves in
In the last decade, Sweden has gone a remarkable 40-0 in round robin action at the world juniors and are unbeaten in quarterfinal games. However, they’ve only won one gold medal during that 10-year stretch and are coming off back-to-back fourth place finishes.
“I remember the feeling last year,” Joel Eriksson Ek told reporters in Montreal after Sweden eliminated Slovakia. “I don’t want to have that feeling again. I hope we can step up a little bit more and win the hockey games.”
The Swedes shone Monday just like they have in every game so far this tournament. Their puck movement is a pleasure to watch and Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Carl Grundstrom was the beneficiary of some nifty passing as he blew one by Slovakian netminder Adam Huska.
Grundstrom was moved onto a line with first-rounders Eriksson Ek and the tournament’s leading scorer Alexander Nylander earlier in the tournament and the trio is scoring goals like that routinely—they’ve combined for 12 goals and 12 assists for 24 points in five games.
Sweden can make high-level skill plays at top speed too. Tim Soderlund, for example, was passed over by every NHL team in the 2016 draft but has the type of wheels that would make a lot of current NHLers look sluggish. Soderlund scored twice on Monday.
Sweden took their foot off the gas after going up 5-0 in the second period, which resulted in Slovakia netting two goals in quick succession. Slovakia would’ve made it 5-3 were it not for Swedish netminder Felix Sandstrom robbing Adam Ruzicka in the dying seconds of the second frame.
Ruzicka made good on another opportunity two minutes into the third to cut the lead to 5-3—the first time in the tournament Sweden has allowed more than two goals in a game—but they went on to win 8-3.
They’ll play Canada and should feel confident heading into that marquee matchup. For what it’s worth, Huska said Monday he thought Sweden was “tougher” than Canada.
Hischier (and discipline issues) nearly burns Team USA
The Swiss tend to play up or down to their competition and that’s what we saw Monday as they gave the Americans a run for their money only to fall short in a 3-2 loss.
Nico Hischier of the Halifax Mooseheads was named Switzerland’s top player and was the best player on the ice. He almost singlehandedly eliminated the Americans. The projected top-five pick in the 2017 NHL Draft scored a beauty on the power play to cut USA’s lead to 2-1 in the second then knotted the score at 2-2 early in the third on yet another man advantage.
Eleven seconds later, however, Switzerland’s Nando Eggenberger took a careless tripping penalty and seven seconds after the ensuing face-off Jordan Greenway slid in a rebound for his third of the tournament to restore USA’s lead.
The Swiss had the Americans on their heels for the remainder of the third and Hischier nearly picked up a hat trick with four minutes remaining but Tyler Parsons came through in the clutch with some larceny courtesy of his glove hand.
USA’s discipline issues and subsequent poor penalty killing has been this team’s lone weak spot and it nearly cost them a spot in the semis. Head coach Bob Motzko said last week their PK had “sprung some leaks” in the round robin. It appears they still have some adjustments to make.
On the flip side, USA’s power play is potent. They scored two with the man advantage early in their win against Canada and did the same against the Swiss. Jeremy Bracco was in on both of those goals Monday at the Air Canada Centre. In all likelihood, Bracco will be wearing a Maple Leafs jersey plays the next time he plays in that arena.
The Americans have allowed eight goals in the tournament and five of those have occurred while shorthanded. It’s pretty simple: if they can stay out of the box there’s no reason why they can’t beat Russia for a second time and play for gold on Thursday.
Samsonov has found his groove
Russia has flown under the radar ever since losing to both Canada and the United States in the round robin, but they’ve found a rhythm thanks to their anchor in net.
Ilya Samsonov has two straight shutout wins and looks in fine form as his team heads to the semis. The Washington Capitals first-round pick only needed to make 14 saves against Denmark thanks in large part to his teammates doing a great job blocking shots.
“It’s tough when you don’t have a lot of shots to face, it doesn’t happen very often,” Samsonov said. “It means that you have to keep your concentration even more.”
Samsonov made 34 saves against the Americans last week and now has redemption on his mind. He’ll need help from his teammates, but if there’s one goalie in this tournament capable of stealing a game it’s Samsonov.
Denmark deserves a congratulatory stick tap
The Danes were pummelled 6-1 by Sweden in the tournament opener. That was to be expected. But no one foresaw what they were able to do after that. Denmark upset the defending gold medallists from Finland in their next outing. Seeing the Danes celebrate that win—their first at the tournament over a team not named Switzerland—was one of the best moments of the round robin. If you watched it and didn’t know any better you would’ve assumed they had just won a gold medal.
They followed that up by beating the Czech Republic in overtime and taking Switzerland to a shootout to finish second in Group B.
“I’m very proud of our team,” head coach Olaf Eller, the father of Lars Eller, said after a 4-0 loss to Russia in the quarterfinals Monday. “We had a phenomenal tournament, but today we didn’t get the bounces we’ve gotten in previous games. I think we made a bit more progress this year than last year and the year before.”
Added alternate captain Christian Mieritz: “We made history in the round robin and for a small country like Denmark to compete here with huge hockey countries is amazing.”