Is there a better rivalry in all of international sports than Canada and the United States at ice hockey?
The much-anticipated world juniors tilt between the two hockey heavyweights did not disappoint on the entertainment scale, but might have on the results scale depending on who you were cheering for, with Canada skating away with a hard-fought 5-3 victory.
"We really established our identity right off the bat," said Max Domi, who scored two goals. "We were playing hard every shift. We got away from it for about five minutes, but for the most part we stuck to the game plan. It worked out for us. We’re going to take that, put it in our back pocket and get ready to go for the real thing here."
"We didn't do enough to get the win," said American captain Jack Eichel. "So we can learn from it and get better. We all can get better."
Elsewhere around the tournament, Sweden continues to be perfect, dropping Switzerland 5-1 to keep them on pace with Canada's 4-0 record, while the Czech Republic upset Russia 4-1 and Finland defeated Germany 2-0.
Wednesday's games marked the end of preliminary play. With playoff seedings now settled, the tournament takes a break on New Year's Day before the elimination round begins on Friday.
Here's yesterday's games all unfolded:
Sweden 5, Switzerland 1
Hold on Canada and America, Sweden might have something to say about this whole "best team in the tournament" thing thanks in part to a 5-1 triumph over Switzerland. The win puts their record at a perfect 4-0
Philadelphia Flyers forward prospect Oskar Lindblom scored a natural hat trick in the second period, putting him into a tie for the tournament lead in scoring, while William Nylander and Gustav Forsling each contributed two assists.
"You don't want to go in the game thinking it doesn't matter," Nylander said. "If we had a bad game today, we might have developed bad habits that would hurt us in the next game, so we wanted to keep playing the way we have."
Switzerland started the game well enough, scoring the first goal a mere 3:29 in, but Sweden tied the game a little more than a minute later and then added the next four goals all in the second period to put things all but out of reach. With the loss the Swiss are officially eliminated from the tournament, and will face Germany in the relegation game.
Czech Republic 4, Russia 1
After losing their first two games of the tournament the Czech Republic is suddenly on a nice roll, beating Russia by a convincing score of 4-1 for their second straight victory.
Boston Bruins 2014 1st rounder David Pastrnak continues to be the hero for the Czechs, popping in three assists, also putting him into a tie for first in tournament scoring. Miroslav Svoboda, making his first start of the tournament after initial number one goalie Vitek Vanacek has struggled, stopped 16 out of 17 shots.
Russia only managed 17 shots on net all game and couldn't get the saves in the other end of the ice when they needed them. It was the nation's overall worst game of the tournament so far by a wide margin, possibly a bad omen with the elimination round coming up next.
Canada 5, USA 3
It was another Canada-United States world junior showdown for the ages.
Both teams traded chances all game, but it was the final minutes that left onlookers truly breathless. The game started to seem out of reach when Canadian captain Curtis Lazar scored midway through the third to make it 3-1, a controversial goal that was debated by official for minutes before it was allowed to stand. Team USA, however, battled back valiantly when Dylan Larkin scored with 2:34 remaining. Canada scored an empty net goal at 19:06 to make it 4-2, but Larkin struck again twelve seconds later to make it a one-goal game with less than a minute to go. The U.S. had a couple more chances, but Canada iced things with another empty net goal with only four seconds left.
Domi scored twice, but it was Canada's first line center Sam Reinhart that truly led the way for his team, scoring three points, two of which came on empty net goals while he was helping Canada cling to a lead in the dying minutes.
Finland 2, Germany 0
After a rocky start to this year's world juniors Finland finally got their first win, even if it came against a mismatched German team.
Julius Honka and Mikko Rantanen were the goalscorers, as the two continued to be the two best skaters for the Finns. Ville Husso stopped all 24 shots that he faced for the shutout.
For Germany, it was another forgettable night at the world juniors. The 9th place team from last year will once again play in the relegation game, where they'll have their work cut out for them against a much more talented Switzerland team.
What's Up Next:
With the preliminary round complete, the elimination round is up next. Win and you move on, lose and you go home. Things get started on Friday. Here's how the first round of the playoffs breaks down (all times listed in Central Time):
- United States versus Russia at 12:00 PM: Team USA has been excellent throughout the tournament so far, but due to some bad luck has to face a very skilled and capable Russian team in the quarterfinals. This will be the game to watch on Friday, with one of the tournament's four best teams going home early.
- Sweden versus Finland at 2:00 PM: Canada-USA is the best rivalry in international hockey, but Sweden-Finland is a close second. The Swedes are firing on all cylinders right now, but Finland is the defending champion, and defeated Sweden in the gold medal game last year. Sweden is the hands-on favorite, but given the history between these two countries, this one could go right down to the wire.
- Czech Republic versus Slovakia at 3:00 PM: Neither team looked particularly dominant throughout preliminary play, with both winning two games and losing two games, so this game could go either way. The key matchup could boil down to Pastrnak versus Slovakia goalie Denis Godla, the best players from each team.
- Canada versus Denmark at 7:00 PM: Barring an upset of epic proportions, this game is Canada's to win. The Danes are a great feel-good story this year, getting their first win and making the elimination round for the first time in world juniors history, but are heavily outgunned in all areas against a star-studded Canadian team.