Canada, Russia, Sweden and USA all continue their Gold medal quests on Friday
After a slow Day 2 of the 2013 World Junior Hockey Championships that only featured two games, all of the tournament's top contenders will be in action for Day 3 on Friday.
The bigger of the two games of the day on Thursday was the USA versus Germany, although the match was from from edge-of-your-set hockey. Team USA opened the scoring 19 seconds into the first and never looked back, dominating the Germans at every turn and taking home a statement-making 8-0 victory. Seth Jones's highly-anticipated WJC debut, which I wrote about here yesterday, did not disappoint, as the potential first overall draft choice scored a goal, an assist and topped it off with a staggering +5 rating. The crazy thing is that Jones didn't even show off his full set of skills in such a lopsided affair, and will surely have more to showcase once his team's games increase in intensity.
After losing 9-3 to Canada on Wednesday and then 8-0 to the USA on Thursday the German team will need to regroup, and fast, if they hope to generate any wins this year and save themselves from relegation to the second tier of the tournament.
Thursday's other match saw Switzerland start their tournament with a comfortable 7-2 win over Latvia. Latvia opened the scoring 2:45 into the first, but were unable to maintain a lead as the Swiss took a 2-1 advantage after the first and then led 5-2 after the second. Seven different Swiss players registered multi-point games, an offensive outburst that will give the team some much-needed momentum as they begin to face tougher opponents.
Latvia is now 0-2 and will also likely be one of the teams fighting off relegation as the tournament progresses.
Friday's schedule features four games, all of which will be worth keeping an eye on.
Radek Faksa and the Czech Republic kick off Day 3 against surging Finland, who have won three games in a row (two pre-tournament exhibition), all in decisive fashion. Finland's offense has been running smoothly so far (13 goals over those three games), and they've been doing it without a lot of input so far from Sasha Barkov, another potential first overall draft choice in 2013. If Barkov starts producing as well the Finns will be a very hard team to contain. Faksa, as one of the Czech's top defensive forwards, will likely be tasked with shutting down Finland's top scorers but will also still be counted on as a cornerstone of the Czech offensive attack.
Brett Ritchie (pictured above) looked very good for Team Canada in their 9-3 opener over Germany, scoring two assists and finishing with a +3, and will look to extend that success when his team faces Slovakia. The Canadians are a constant offensive threat as they can roll four lines full of dangerous offensive weapons, but question marks are abound in net with the team controversially deciding to continue using 2012 Boston Bruins first rounder Malcolm Subban as their starter, despite a couple of sub-par performances leading up to their tournament opener and him allowing three goals versus Germany. Regardless, Slovakia still will need to play flawlessly if they hope to match Canada's immense skill and depth.
The aforementioned Swiss team enjoyed seven goals against Latvia, but are unlikely to put up the same numbers against defending champion Sweden. Despite missing three of their best defencemen all tournament due to injury, Sweden will be a tough team to score against thanks to a structured team-wide defensive system instituted by returning head coach Roger Ronnberg. Dallas 2011 4th round draft choice Emil Molin had one assist in Sweden's 4-1 opening win over the Czech Republic, and will be given more opportunities to contribute offensively as the tournament goes forward.
Probably the most exciting match for Friday will be the last one, with the USA facing off against Russia. The USA played a perfect game in their 8-0 win over Germany, but will have a hard time repeating that against a Russian team that is brimming with explosive offensive talent and will have the roaring home crowd behind them. After a shaky 3-2 overtime win against Slovakia to open the tournament the Russians will be looking to make a statement that they aren't to be taken lightly, and will be forced to play to the top of their abilities against a tough US team.
This year's iteration of the WJCs have been off to a slow-but-steady start so far, but things are going begin picking up and getting very interesting starting tomorrow.