Oh the tournament of small sample sizes. As Jaroslav Halak showed NHL fans two years ago, a lucky goalie can turn a short-run tournament on it's ear. Like the Capitals and Penguins, the United States ran into a couple of hot goalies and those goalies bounced the pre-tournament favorite. After throttling Denmark, the Americans were held to just three goals on 93 shots by Sami Aitokallio and Peter Mrazek. While their opponents put up a .968 save percentage John Gibson and Jack Campbell countered with .857 against the Finns and the Czechs. Now the Americans are forced to play for seventh place and pride, and the media will talk about how poor team chemistry and a lack of both snipers and finishers did this team in.
The Canadian media started spinning the tournament narrative as soon as the Czechs potted the empty net goal. The storyline went from a showdown with the Americans for junior supremacy to a revenge fantasy against the Russians. To their credit, TSN was instantly ready for the storyline switch and started hyping the Russians and Swedes. Good for them.
Denmark, Latvia and the United States are locked into the relegation round and there's one more opening for a Group A team.
*all times Mountain
It's a battle for seeding as the winner of this one gets the second seed in Group B and will play the third seed (Slovakia or Switzerland) in Group A.
If their respective games against the United States are any indication, this should be goalies at high noon. The Finns are a different team with Sami Aitokallio in net and Peter Mrazek has been outstanding, even in his losses. The Czechs have been overwhelmed by both Canada and the United States and the Finns should be able to do the same with their strong forwards. Teemu Pulkkinen got untracked against the Danes with 4 goals on 13! shots on goal. Mikael Granlund set him up on all four goals. If the Finns get going and keep the pressure on the Czech defense, Mrazek will have to steal another game to get the second seed.
The Czechs are lucky to be here, but they may not be done. A win today gives them a winnable opener in the quarterfinals and opens the door for the medal round. A medal from the Czechs would be shocking, but it's just what that country needs for a Juniors program that keeps losing their best to the CHL.
This one is getting to be a yearly event: Slovakia and Switzerland playing for their lives. Just like last year's tournament, the winner goes on, the loser goes to relegation. What should be the best (or most desperate) game of the day won't be aired on television today, so find a Euro stream and settle in. The Slovaks weren't competitive against Sweden or Russia whereas Switzerland gave both of the superpowers a great run. On paper and by performance, the Swiss should win and move on to the quarterfinals, but desperation makes people do funny things and the Slovaks will be desperate to avoid relegation. A Swiss win legitimizes the view that they've become one of the new big six hockey countries. A Slovak win could help to rebuild the image of a country fading on the international stage.
Expect a low-scoring, highly-disciplined game. The Swiss could really use Nino Niederreiter right about now.
TSN's marquee round robin matchup now gets the "pride on the line" treatment from the panelists and broadcast crew, but the game is meaningless to everyone. Canada needs to stay healthy and avoid physical confrontations and cheap shots against an American team with nothing to play for.
The winner of this game lands the bye from Group A, the loser draws Finland or the Czechs in the first round. This game is all about forward pressure. If the Swedes can keep the puck in the Russian end and force the Russian defense to win the game, they've got a great shot. If the Russians control the puck and allow their enigmatic but skilled forwards to cycle and create, the Swedes could be in trouble. The Swedes have looked like the most complete team in the tournament so far, but struggled against a disciplined Swiss team.
The winner of this game becomes the subject of the great TSN hype machine and the big bad opponent that must be defeated by the little lunchpail Canadian team.