BUFFALO NY - DECEMBER 31: Forward Tomas Jurco #13 of Slovakia carries the puck during the 2011 IIHF World U20 Championship game between Slovakia and Finland on December 31 2010 at HSBC Arena in Buffalo New York. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
In what has become a bit of a World Juniors tradition, day two passed without much fanfare. It's not that the second set of games aren't captivating, filled with young kids playing their guts out, it's just the structure of the round robin pits the bottom seeds against each other on the second day. The tournament hasn't had a medalist come from day two since the 90's, so it's the one day the media (read: TSN) gives the machine a rest.
Denmark was steamrolled for the second day in a row, this time 7-0 by the Czech Republic. The Danes managed just 12 shots on goal as six different Czechs scored goals. Denmark now has a -15 goal differential through two games and barring a fluke in relegation, will join Austria, Belarus, France, Norway and Slovenia in Division I, Group A in 2013.
The Slovaks dominated the nightcap, outshooting the Latvians 45-26, though Latvian goaltender Kristers Gudlevskis sparkled, allowing just 3 goals. The Slovaks got goals from future Red Wing possession monsters Tomas Jurco and Marek Tvrdon (the same Tvrdon Edmonton should've drafted in June) but played a vast majority of the game in the Latvian end. Hopes that Latvia would become the next Switzerland have been dashed, but they're set up to remain in the Elite level of the championship.
*All times Mountain.
The Finns might be loaded at forward, but Canada exposed their defense, now weakened by the loss of Olli Maatta to a concussion. The U.S. brings a group of forwards with the same size and skill as the Canadians and should roll as long as the team can stay out of the penalty box. In their 11-3 victory over Denmark, the Americans gave up three power play goals on three three chances.
On offense, the Finns best hope is on the power play, and on defense, they have to stop Nick Bjugstad if they want to have a chance in this game. Bjugstad owned the home plate area of the offensive zone against Denmark and created chances at will.
Even though the Swedes are rolling after beating the Canadians in a warm-up game, then pasting Latvia 9-4 in the opener, this should be the most closely contested game of the day. The Swiss outplayed the Russians in their opener but couldn't get a puck to the back of the net. Sven Bartschi led the way against Russia with 5 shots on goal and will be the key to the Swiss offense today.
The Swedes are three lines deep and generate offense from everywhere. By my untrained eye, they seemed to be the most well-organized, best-trained team on day one and will be a handful for every team in the tourney. They should be considered a favorite for the gold at this point.
The Swiss will rely on their now well-known defensive system to funnel the puck to their defense in the neutral zone and push the puck to the points in the defensive zone. The Swiss are good for one heart attack game per tournament and if this is it, it sets up a Sweden vs. Russia New Year's Eve showdown of some importance.
Petr Mrazek got the easy shutout against Denmark but won't be so lucky against Canada. The Canadians should roll in this one thanks to superior talent at each position, maybe even each roster spot. If the Czechs have a chance, it will be on the shoulders of Mrazek.
The Canadian team will be without Devante Smith-Pelly, out with a broken foot, but like all things Canadian in this tournament, Pelly's injury has be overblown by the media. This team still has far too much talent to be dinged by a single injury, and the speed and skill possessed by the rest of the forward corps will carry them through the round robin.
Of all of the top seeds, Russia looks the most vulnerable after the Swiss discipline exposed the Russian defense. While Russia might have a parade of first-round talent at forward, they're going to struggle with any of the top three if they can't shore up their defense.
The Russians are far more talented than the Slovaks, but if the Slovaks can move the puck up the ice quickly and get below the faceoff circles and drop anchor, they could neutralize the Russian forwards, much like the Swiss did. If they can force the Russians to chase in their own end, they have a chance to deny the Russian counter-attacks with their big and mobile defense. It's not likely, but there's a chance.