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World Junior Championship, The Tournament Begins In Earnest

Oh the tournament of small sample sizes. The United States collapses against both Finland and the Czech Republic. Then Switzerland hands a quarterfinal spot to the Slovaks with an even bigger collapse. Not to be outdone, the Russians coughed up a three goal lead to Sweden, giving up three goals in sixteen minutes and another in overtime to lose the bye into the semifinals. We could call these colossal choke jobs, or we could remember that these are teenagers guided by the hand of coaches who teach the only way to play with a lead is to do so passively.

And now the real tournament begins. The pre-tournament favorite will battle the Swiss for 7th place, but the Canadian juggernaut will take up the mantle of dreams-squashing superpower in their stead. Based on what we've seen so far, the Swedes should make a run to the finals with a quiet, but complete team and fall to the Canadians, who bring a wealth of top-end talent and a lunchpail narrative with them.

The two teams that could spoil this six-team tournament are the Czechs, with their brick wall of a kid in goal, Peter Mrazek and Finland, with their own brick wall, Sami Aittokallio. Either one of them could have been named the round robin MOP.

*all times Mountain

Denm0001_gif_medium Suisse
Relegation Semifinal
Denmark (0-4-0) vs. Switzerland (1-2-1)
11:00 a.m. | Television - Unavailable
Oilers Prospects: None
Key Matchup: None

The Swiss have to be kicking themselves. They gave Sweden a better game than the Russians, rallying to send it to a shootout, but lost. They outplayed the Russians by a decent margin, but couldn't finish. They had the Slovaks down 3-1 and 4-2 and tried to win by chipping the puck out and waiting for the clock to expire. It didn't work - the Swiss were outshot 14-7 in the third period and lost 6-4. They were a shootout goal and a late collapse away from being the #2 seed in the group. Instead, they're in the relegation round. They're not in danger of relegation, but the results have to a be a huge disappointment for the Swiss program.

I didn't get to see the Swiss as much as I would've liked, but I came away impressed by defenseman Dean Kukan.

Suomi Slovakia
Quarterfinal Match
Finland (3-1-0) vs. Slovakia (2-2-0)
4:00 p.m. | Television - TSN, RDS
Oilers Prospects: Martin Gernat (D-SVK), Martin Marincin (D-SVK)
Key Matchup: Mikael Granlund (C-FIN) vs. Martin Marincin (D-SVK)

Slovakia's quarterfinal hopes were dead to start the third period against Switzerland. But then the Swiss went into a shell and as is typically the case, the hockey gods allowed the Slovaks to overwhelm them, saving Slovakia from a permanent move to the second-tier of Junior teams.

Now the Slovaks need a second bit of hockey god intervention to help them overcome the Finns. The Finns jumped on the Czechs in their final round robin matchup and pulled back the same way the Swiss did. The Czechs couldn't stay out of the penalty box and couldn't take advantage of the Finns passive play. On paper, the Finns should handle the Slovaks with relative ease. But if they get out early and sit back again, the Slovaks could make them pay.

Sami Aittokallio has been a huge difference for Finland, but this game should come down to Finland's top two lines and controlling play against the Slovakian defense.

Russia Czech
Quarterfinal Match
Russia (3-1-0) vs. Czech Republic (2-2-0)
8:00 p.m. | Television - TSN, RDS
Oilers Prospects: Mikhail Grigorenko (F-RUS)
Key Matchup: Russian Power Play vs. Czech Discipline

The Czechs will lose this game by four or five if they lose their minds and take eight minor penalties like they did against Finland. They're overmatched as it is, and shouldn't have a chance in this one, but they'll have no chance against the Russian power play. The Czechs have been outplayed pretty badly by the Canadians, the Americans and the Finns for a period and have relied on goaltending to save them.

The Russians had their own collapse against the Swedes and it cost them the bye into the semifinals. They're going to have to go for the throat in this one - more killer instinct, less enigmatic play.