Semifinals day at the 2021 World Junior Hockey Championship saw rivals square off for a chance to play for a gold medal.
Canada and Russia met in a rematch of last year’s gold medal game. This time, it wasn’t nearly as close, as Canada scored in the opening minute and shut down Russia’s offense for a dominant 5-0 victory.
The United States and Finland battled in the second semifinal, after Finland eliminated USA in shocking fashion in last year’s quarterfinals. The Americans exacted revenge this year, but they didn’t make it easy. After blowing a 3-1 lead, they scored once more before regulation ended to secure a 4-3 win and send Finland to the bronze medal game.
Here are the three best performances from Day 9 of the 2021 world juniors.
3rd Star: Kasper Simontaival, Finland
Finland might be heading to the bronze medal game, but Kasper Simontaival did everything he could to keep his team in the game.
Although Finland outplayed the United States for much of the first period, the Americans pulled away for a two-goal lead heading into the final frame.
Simontaival, who had already tied the game 1-1 with his first goal, scored his second of the match with about half of the third period left to bring Finland within a goal.
— IIHF (@IIHFHockey) January 5, 2021
Finland’s offense was stifled for most of the game, but their top line continued to shine whenever they were on the ice — and Simontaival was a big reason for that.
Russia and Finland haven’t met in the bronze medal game since the 1994 tournament, but the two teams last played in a medal game in 2016, where Finland emerged victorious for gold.
It always ends up being a difficult turnaround for the two teams that lose their semifinal games and have to play for bronze. Hopefully Finland can take positives from their game against the United States into what will likely be another tough game against Russia.
2nd Star: Matthew Boldy, United States
The United States almost let this game slip away from them.
They had a 3-1 lead heading into the third period, but Finland clawed its way back and scored two quick goals to make it a 3-3 game with about three minutes left in regulation.
Arthur Kaliyev scored roughly two minutes later to clinch the victory for the United States and send them to the gold medal game.
There were several American players who deserved this second-star honour, including Kaliyev, who was named player of the game for the United States.
But it was Matthew Boldy’s goal in the second period that gave the United States a 3-1 lead, a goal he scored after taking a high-stick to the eye that could have been very dangerous.
— IIHF (@IIHFHockey) January 5, 2021
Boldy was cut near the eye and drew a four-minute double minor, but hopped right back on the ice to help his team on the power play.
He capped off his night with an enormous shot block in the dying seconds of the game as Finland pressed for another equalizer. The block not only saved a likely Finnish goal, but the American players on the ice and bench gave Boldy a standing ovation as well.
With that, the United States heads off to the gold medal game for a chance to win its second gold medal in five years. But it’s their fierce Canadian rivals who stand in the way.
1st Star: Devon Levi, Canada
Regardless of whether Canada wins gold tomorrow, Devon Levi’s performance at this year’s tournament will go down as one for the ages.
Dylan Cozens had another monster three-point game, while Jakob Pelletier and Braden Schneider adds two points each, but it was Levi who once again shone in goal for Canada.
The Florida Panthers seventh rounder posted his third shutout — and second in as many games — as Canada trounced Russia. Levi boasts a sparkling .975 save percentage and has yet to allow a single 5-on-5 goal at this tournament.
Levi, who was a relatively unknown commodity coming into this tournament, is on pace to break Carey Price’s single tournament save percentage record of .961 (among goaltenders with at least 5 games played).
Although Canada made Levi’s job easier by jumping out to a big lead in the first period, Levi was forced to make several big saves late in the game to not only preserve his shutout but secure the win.
Canada and the United States will meet for the fifth time in the gold medal game. USA has won the past three meetings, including most recently in 2017, when a 5-4 game required a shootout. If Canada is to repeat as gold medallists in 2021, they will need Levi to be at his best once again.