CALGARY, CANADA - JANUARY 3: Brett Connolly #14 of Team Canada falls while skating with the puck in front of team mate Freddie Hamilton #13 and Nikita Kucherov #9 of Team Russia during the 2012 World Junior Hockey Championship Semifinal game at the Saddledome on January 3, 2012 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Team Russia defeated Team Canada 6-5. (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)
What a tournament for the underdog bettors. Not only did the pre-tournament favorites, the Americans, miss the medal round, the second-favorites, the Canadians bombed out in the semi-finals. Tomorrow, in a rematch of the final day of the round robin, the third and fourth (or fifth) most-talented rosters face off in the finals as Sweden takes on Russia. Canada is left to play for bronze, and deservedly so.
In yesterday's GDT, I said "Knowing this rivalry, however, for some reason I think this is going to come down to Canada's goaltending and everyone knows how that story ends."
The World Championship is where Canadian junior goaltenders go to gain a reputation as infamous chokers. Never mind that the entire tournament is one giant beer league game, devoid of defense or own-zone support. Never mind that once these kids get behind, the threat of a short-term collapse is near 100%. It's easy to blame the goaltenders, just like beer league superstars do. But Canada's collapse was about the skaters, not the goaltender. Discipline, as is often the case with teenagers, went out the window when they got behind. Things got progressively worse until the second period intermission, and to be honest, the Canadians were lucky the refs swallowed their whistles in the third because Brett Connolly's punch-check should've been called right at the beginning of the period. Put the Russians on a power play there and the Canadians may have spontaneously combusted. Canada was clearly the better team, but they lost their minds when they lost the lead.
Take away all of the childish antics by the Canadians and Finland's collapse was remarkably similar to Russia's third period meltdown. Finland got a two-goal lead by some luck and then scrambled around the zone, hoping Sami Aitokallio would bail them out. The shots by period heavily favored the Swedes: 14-6, 20-7, 16-8 and 7-3 in overtime. Unlike the nightcap, the better team pulled the game out in the end. For his part, Aitokallio was brilliant, stopping 55 of 58 shots and he nearly single-handedly hauled the Finns into the gold medal game.
*All times Mountain.
It's a shame this one isn't on TV. I love relegation matches. There is so much desperation in play, nearly anything can happen, and it often does. Latvia was run over by the United States while Denmark took Switzerland to overtime. Latvia looked like a cinch to stay in the top division when the tournament began. Now? I'm not so sure.
*All times Mountain.
The United States should put 45+ shots on goal en route to a big win over the Swiss.
Both of these teams should be happy to be here, but for the Czechs, it's got to be an enormous disappointment after the way the game against Russian ended. The nostalgic side of me likes that the Czechs and the Slovaks are both back in the top six. The realist in me knows that this isn't likely to happen that often.