Boxing Day’s slate of games at the 2021 World Junior Hockey Championship featured offensive explosions by all of Sweden, Canada and the United States. Sweden and Canada finally hit the ice for their first games of the tournament, while the United States looked to rebound from a tough loss to Russia on Christmas Day.
Sweden was able to overcome a slow start against the Czech Republic to open their tournament with a dominant 7-1 win. Canada steamrolled past a tired German team that struggled to defend an offensive onslaught with a shorthanded lineup for a 16-2 victory.
The United States took some time to get going against a rested Austrian team, stymied by several posts and crease-clearing saves. Team USA finally broke through in the second period and rode the offensive wave to an easy 11-0 win.
Although there were plenty of deserving candidates for the best performances on Boxing Day, here are three players who shone on Day 2 of the world juniors.
3rd Star: Hugo Alnefelt, Sweden
Sweden, who couldn’t play in any pre-tournament games due to an extended quarantine, was very rusty to start their first game against the Czech Republic.
The Czechs were the better team for most of the first period and opened the scoring. However, without the play of Swedish goalie Hugo Alnefelt, the Czechs likely would have run away with the game. Instead, the Tampa Bay Lightning’s third-rounder from 2019 made multiple saves on Czech players following the opening goal, including one that ended up becoming the turning point of the game.
Alnefelt’s glove save on Czech forward Michal Teply not only kept the game tied at 1-1, but it gave Sweden life and time to find their legs. Sweden roared back to score six more unanswered goals and eventually put the game out of reach.
Sweden’s victory would not have been possible without Alnefelt’s heroics in the first period, and they were able to extend their incredible round-robin undefeated streak to 53 games.
2nd Star: Trevor Zegras, USA
After a tough loss to Russia in the opening game of the tournament, the United States needed to find a way to bounce back. Fortunately, they were right back in action against the weakest team in Group B: Austria, and peppered goaltender Sebastian Wraneschitz with over 50 shots.
In the first period, the U.S. struggled to find the back of the net, hitting the post so many times that the American players probably should’ve ended up scoring more goals than they did. Anaheim Ducks prospect Trevor Zegras started the offensive outburst in the second period with a wicked wrist shot.
Once Zegras made it 2-0, the floodgates opened. He scored an even better goal from a ridiculous angle for USA’s fifth goal:
Zegras’ best play of the night might have been this no-look pass to Minnesota Wild prospect Matthew Boldy on the doorstep.
Against Russia, the United States’ offensive surge came a little bit too late. The players learned from that game and didn’t waste a single opportunity against Austria, remaining patient until the pucks started to go in for them.
Zegras played a big part, as he was a dominant player in the Austrian end, sparked the offence, and led his team to a statement win with a four-point performance. With the United States back on track and rolling, they’ll have a couple of days off to rest and turn their focus to their next opponent: Sweden.
1st Star: Dylan Cozens, Canada
Canada came out with a bang against Germany (even though their defensive game struggled at times in the first period), and Buffalo Sabres prospect Dylan Cozens led the way with a hat trick and six-point performance.
Cozens and Canada took advantage of a depleted German lineup that had just played the night before and some poor goaltending to run up the score for one of their most lopsided victories in recent memory.
Germany deserved a ton of credit for how they played, especially to start the game. They forced turnovers and jumped on giveaways and took advantage of some complacent passing from Canada. Ottawa Senators prospect Tim Stuetzle and J.J. Peterka showed off dazzling chemistry in the first period, even though they only connected for one goal.
Even when the score was out of reach, Germany tried valiantly to stay in the play, even managing to score a second goal in the dying seconds of the game. But Canada proved to be too fast, too strong and too rested for them.
Although Cozens finished atop the scoresheet, multiple Canadian players would have been deserving of first star honours on Boxing Day. Canada will have to hit the reset button quickly, as they play Slovakia on Day 3.