Underdog teams held their own against tournament powerhouses on Day 3 of the 2021 World Junior Hockey Championship.
Switzerland hung around for most of the game against Finland, who remained calm and eventually used their power play to pull away for an eventual 4-1 victory.
Slovakia outplayed Canada for large parts of their round robin game, forcing the latter to dig deep in the third period, hold off a late Slovak surge, and win their second game in as many nights.
The Czech Republic shocked Russia with a 2-0 upset win, the most shocking result of the World Juniors so far. The Czechs shut down the Russian offence, kept them to the outsides, and played one of their most complete games in recent memory.
Although there weren’t as many goals scored on this day, there were still several players who stood out for their respective countries. Here are the three best performances from Day 3.
Third Star: Devon Levi, Canada
After exploding offensively in their first game of the tournament, Canada’s second game was almost the complete opposite. Though they didn’t necessarily play poorly, Canada struggled to get anything going against Slovakia after Jordan Spence scored to make it 1-0.
Canada’s second goal didn’t come until under five minutes left in the game, and even then, Slovakia scored late afterwards to make things more interesting.
— Caitlin Berry (@caitlinsports) December 28, 2020
As Slovakia turned up the gas and forced Canada to defend on the cycle, Canadian goaltender Devon Levi had to be sharp in net. Canada’s defenders were passive in their own end, allowed Slovakia to set up in the offensive zone without much pressure, and at one point in the third, forced Levi to bail out his team on a Slovak power play that nearly saw them tie the game 1-1.
Levi was nearly perfect, though, as Canada escaped for an eventual 3-1 win after playing with fire for most of the game. Levi, who celebrated his 19th birthday with the win, stopped 18 of 19 Slovak shots.
Although the Canadian skaters will likely look to improve their play for future games, it was a relief to see Levi remain dialled in and focused against Slovakia. Levi has cemented his status as Canada’s starting goaltender for the rest of the tournament, and Canada will re-group before facing Switzerland in a couple of days.
Second Star: Anton Lundell, Finland
For the most part, Finland played very well against Switzerland, defeating them 4-1. However, Switzerland opened the scoring first, and Finland could have sat back and let them take over at that point. Instead, Florida Panthers prospect Anton Lundell responded with a goal 36 seconds later to tie the game back up.
— EP Rinkside (@EPRinkside) December 27, 2020
The Finnish captain put the team on his back and guided them through the remainder of the game. Finland shut down any more potential offence from the Swiss, and Lundell added another assist on the game’s final goal.
Kasper Simontaival (@LAKings) gets on the board, finishing the tic-tac-toe passing play for the 4-1 goal.
Assists to Anton Lundell (@FlaPanthers) and Roni Hirvonen (@MapleLeafs) pic.twitter.com/6vLBwBaxwT
— EP Rinkside (@EPRinkside) December 27, 2020
Had Lundell not responded with a tying goal so quickly after Switzerland took the lead, this game could have gone very differently. Instead, Finland took advantage of the tied game to get settled in, get back to playing their game, and dominate the Swiss for their second win of the tournament. Now, Finland will get a couple of days off before wrapping up their round robin with back-to-back games against Slovakia and Canada.
First Star: Lukas Parik, Czech Republic
Ahead of the final game of the night between Russia and the Czech Republic, it was obvious who the underdog would be. However, the Czechs have won three of the last five round robin meetings between them and the Russians, and surely they would make things interesting.
After arguably outplaying Russia in the first period, the Czech Republic managed to keep the game scoreless, in large part to the spectacular play of goaltender Lukas Parik. Parik did not play in the Czechs’ first game, and likely cemented himself as the team’s starting goaltender for the rest of their games with his shutout Sunday.
Parik stopped all 30 Russian shots to deliver the Czech Republic their first win, and stood his ground during multiple Russian power plays, including one in the last minute with Russia down two goals.
He refused to bend after the Czechs were hemmed in their own end for almost a minute and a half in the second period, and maintained his focus after Filip Koffer scored to give the Czech Republic a 1-0 lead.
Tonight was a huge win for the Czech Republic, as they put themselves in a better position to earn a more favourable quarterfinal matchup. It was one of their strongest performances at the World Juniors in recent memory, and it started in goal with Parik.
Parik’s performance gave the Czech Republic the rebound performance they desperately needed after their loss to Sweden. The Czechs’ victory also guarantees a messy finish to Group B, with Russia losing this game but having beat the Americans a few nights ago. The Czech Republic will have a day off before facing off against the United States on Tuesday, a game that suddenly has significant stakes for how Group B will shake out.