In a slate of games featuring the likes of Sweden, Finland and the United States, the showstopper of Day 6 at the World Juniors was Latvia.
The tiny country notched its first ever win in WJC preliminary round play and by the same token hopped over Czechia and Slovakia into third place in Group A.
Latvian captain Ralf Bergmanis scored a hat trick and his team downed Czechia 5-3. They will play a World Juniors quarterfinal game for the first time in the country’s history.
Needless to say, the young men in burgundy were quite thrilled.
Finland had no pity for Slovakia and continued their solid run in the tournament with a 9-3 win. The Young Lions were 5-for-7 on the power play, sending their next opponents Canada a message to stay disciplined for their final preliminary round game on Monday.
Slovakia saw their chances to play a quarterfinal game crumble before their eyes in the next game. Sitting in the stands, Slovak players held their heads in their hands as Bergmanis scored his third goal from across the ice into an empty net.
The Americans outpaced Sweden for most of their battle for first place in Group B. Goaltending woes allowed the Junior Crowns to hope for a comeback but the red, white and blue weathered the late storm to clinch a 3-2 win.
The Swedes will play Germany on Monday and the winner will end the preliminary round in second place.
Here is a look at the top performances from Day 6 of the World Juniors:
3rd star: Matt Coronato, USA
Coronato’s scoring ability is more than evident. If you give an inch, he’ll take a mile.
The five-foot-10 winger added two goals to his World Juniors tally and helped the Americans finish atop Group B. Coronato is now tied with his country-mate Carter Mazur as the tournament’s second-leading goalscorer with four.
The Calgary Flames’ 13th overall selection in the 2021 NHL Draft showed his eye for goal with his second marker of the night. Off a Swedish turnover, Coronato bagged the eventual game-winner with a sniper’s goal.
Coronato notched his first goal of the game in the second period when he pounced on a rebound from a shot by Logan Cooley. The soon-to-be Harvard sophomore made Sweden goalie Jesper Wallsted look bad by lodging the puck under his blocker and into the net.
2nd star: Kasper Simontaival, Finland
There’s no shame in being opportunistic, especially if it earns you points in return. Simontaival did exactly that to bridge the gap between the Finns and Slovaks. The winger finished the game with three points (two goals, one assist) including one assist on the power play.
The LA Kings third-rounder in 2020 stood by the slot and pounced on a rebound to give Finland a power-play goal 34 seconds into the second period. The goal was later given to Roni Hirvonen, who had touched the puck last.
Both players also combined in the first period, this time Hirvonen found Simontaival in the slot for the goal.
Simontaival notched his second goal of the game in the third period when he was, once again, in front of the net. He redirected Aatu Raty’s pass in the back of the net and gave Finland an 8-3 lead.
The 20-year-old even screened goalie Tomas Bolo for Finland’s ninth goal of the game courtesy of Kasper Puutio. Bottom line, sticking around dangerous areas is paying off for the five-foot-nine winger.
1st star: Ralfs Bergmanis, Latvia
Captain Latvia came through for the motherland. Charles and Nikolaj Boyle from Brooklyn’s 99th precinct would be proud.
Bergmanis opened his tournament account and finished the game as the hat trick hero, lifting his country into the knockout round.
Bergmanis completed his hat trick in an empty net, from behind his own net. A rink-long shot sealed his team’s victory, as the disillusioned Slovak players watched their elimination from the stands.
Latvia took a first-period lead and right as Czechia attempted the comeback with an equalizing goal in the second, the University of Vermont commit got to work. Bergmanis regained Latvia’s lead when his shot from the point in traffic found the back of the net.
Bergmanis then gave his country a two-goal lead on the power play. From the point, the blueliner broke Frantisek Nemec’s ankles before beating Czech netminder Jan Bednar with a wrister.
The 20-year-old is still undrafted but he sure made a lot of eyes look his way in one of the biggest games in Latvian junior hockey history.