WJC Three Stars Day 3: Snuggerud, Nazar lead the charge for U.S.

USA dominated the Swiss 11-3 in their matchup on Thursday as Jimmy Snuggerud scored a hat-trick in the first-period hat-trick. Five other American players had a multi-point game too.

Though Day 3 of the World Junior Championship featured just two games, there was certainly enough excitement to keep fans entertained.

In Group A and Group B action, both gold medal favourite teams in the United States and Sweden took to the ice to put on an offensive showcase.

To begin Day 3, the United States, leading Group B, dismantled Switzerland as seven players recorded multi-point games and two earned four-point outings.

The U.S. continues their quest to top Group B on Friday when they take on last year’s silver medalists, Czechia.

The home team served as an entertaining night cap to the many donning the yellow and blue in Gothenburg, Sweden as they blanked Germany 5-0. Getting contributions from up and down the lineup, nine different players appeared on the scorecard for Sweden.

In a quick turnaround, Sweden will face Canada on Friday in arguably the tournament’s most anticipated game.

With great performances across the board, let’s take a look at who stood out the most:

3rd Star: Frank Nazar, USA

Through his first two games at the World Juniors, Frank Nazar has not scored a goal. Despite this, the forward has quietly been one of the United States’ best players and that was on full display against Switzerland.

In the flurry of hat tricks and multi-goal games by his teammates, Nazar himself notched four points, all primary assists.

In fact, Nazar’s line (Isaac Howard, Nazar and Gavin Brindley) was arguably the most productive on the ice on Thursday — a tall task, given the offensive onslaught the United States unleashed. Each member of that line had at least two points and they combined, in some fashion, for three goals.

His ability to use his speed to open up the ice and create scoring chances for his teammates was evident on Thursday and the Chicago Blackhawks, who drafted Nazar 13th overall in 2022, should be excited about the prospect of the skilled playmaker suiting up with their other young superstars.

Nazar, 19, is playing in his first World Juniors but has five points in two games thus far. His performance Thursday catapulted him to the top of the leaderboard in scoring at fifth, now behind fellow countrymen Jimmy Snuggerud and Gavin Brindley.

2nd Star: Otto Stenberg, Sweden

It could easily be argued that the entire Swedish team deserves props for their performance against Germany. It was an incredibly complete game, holding Germany’s offence to just 15 shots while inundating their opponents with 41 of their own, with contributions from up and down their lineup in a 5-0 shutout victory.

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However, it’s Otto Stenberg, a third-liner and 2023 first-round draft pick to St. Louis, who deserves second star awards, as his three-goal performance for Sweden practically ended the game.

Up until Stenberg’s first goal of the outing, Germany had been effective in holding Sweden off the score sheet, with the help of some clutch goaltending. Though as good as the German netminder had been, he didn’t stand a chance after David Edstrom stole the puck just inside the offensive zone, saucing a quick pass to Stenberg in the slot to open the scoring.

This proved to be the game-winning goal, though Stenberg and Sweden weren’t done hitting the back of the net.

His second of the outing came as a power-play marker, setting up shop in the bumper position and ripping one past goaltender Matthias Bittner to make it 3-0.

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His third and final of the game came just under three minutes later, potting the rebound after the initial save on a shot by Edstrom.

Stenberg’s third line (Stenberg, Edstrom and Felix Unger Sorum) was buzzing for all 60 minutes and at least one of his linemates factored in on all three of his goals. With four points in two games, he sits tied for sixth in tournament scoring and has been the most productive Swede thus far.

1st Star: Jimmy Snuggerud, USA

After scoring the first goal of the tournament for the United States on Tuesday — one that allowed his squad to find its legs against Norway — he came up big once more with a four-point outing.

The St. Louis Blues prospect scored five goals and 13 points in seven games at last year’s World Juniors and he’s well on his way to besting himself just two games into the tournament.

Against an overmatched Switzerland, the 19-year-old put the game away in the first period with a natural hat trick, and added an assist before the end of the first frame.

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He scored his first just under four minutes into the game, picking up the loose puck just outside of the crease and tucking it home at an impossible angle. Less than five minutes later, he nabbed his second of the game off the faceoff, finding the puck in the slot and batting one in high glove side.

Switzerland managed to get one back, but Snuggerud once again found the puck off the faceoff and snapped a wrister into the back of the net to complete the natural hat trick, chasing the Swiss goalie from his net.

His final assist to end the period brought his point total to four goals and one assist for five points through the first two games of the tournament.

Though the Swiss were able to shut him down for the final 40 minutes of the game, notching four points in the opening frame is more than enough to earn first star honours.

Honourable mentions: Gavin Brindley has been ripping pucks home for the United States, scoring two goals and nabbing an assist for three points against Switzerland. With four goals and an assist already this tournament, he’s beat his 2023 record in three fewer games.

Despite his team’s shutout loss, German goaltender Matthias Bittner deserves credit for keeping his team in the game as long as he did. Peppered with shots (41) from a talented Swedish team, Bittner made 36 saves and was undoubtedly one of the best players on the ice for Germany.

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