The 2016 World Junior Hockey Championship kicked off today, and in it`s usual exciting fashion, there was no shortage of rivalry and controversy.
The United States, Russia, and Sweden all secured wins, with the former two needing the 3rd period and overtime respectively to score the deciding goals, while the latter won their game but lost their top player on a vicious hit. Finland, the host nation, treated their home fans to a decisive thumping.
Here`s how the day`s events unfolded:
Russia 2, Czech Republic 1 (SO)
Maxim Lazarev scored the first and only goal of the shootout, and that was the difference-maker as Russia edged the Czech Republic in the tournament`s opening game.
Ilya Samsonov, projected to be one of the top goalies at this year`s event, stopped 19 out of 20 shots and followed that up with a perfect shootout performance.
Winnipeg Jets draft pick Michael Spacek was the only goal-scorer for the Czechs, beating Samsonov with a pretty penalty shot tally.
Sweden 8, Switzerland 3
Sweden exploded for eight goals in a win over Switzerland, but the prevailing story was the health of dynamic forward William Nylander, who was injured in a devastating open-ice blindside hit early in the game:
Nylander was reportedly taken to a local hospital to undergo concussion testing.
Sweden made short work of their competition in today`s game, thanks primarily to three-point outings from Alexander Nylander, younger brother of William, and Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Dmytro Timashov, but the bigger question will be how the team, already plagued by injuries to other key players, can find a way to come together as the event goes on.
Finland 6, Belarus 0
It wasn`t exactly a fair fight, but the host nation of Finland gave their home fans plenty to cheer for in a 6-0 drubbing of Belarus. The game was only 1-0 through 40 minutes before Finland opened the floodgates in the 3rd period.
"We had a lot of chances that we should have capitalized on, but it was nice to get the ketchup bottle open, and get a few goals," said Finnish forward Patrik Laine. "It was a memorable experience to play in front of a capacity crowd at the Hartwall Areena. I just tried to take it all in and enjoy myself."
Top draft-eligible prospect Jesse Puljujarvi scored twice and added an assist, while starting goalie Veini Vehvilainen had no trouble stopping the meager 10 shots that he faced throughout the game.
Belarus, who returned to the top division of the World Juniors after winning the lower Division I tournament last year, fought valiantly, blocking tons of shots, but was badly outmatched. They`ll be in tough to find a win as the event progresses.
United States 4, Canada 2
The biggest match of the day, and probably of the entire round-robin, did not disappoint as the United States beat Canada 4-2 in a clash of two hockey superpowers.
Louis Belpedio and Auston Matthews scored goals less than a minute apart late in the 3rd period to break a 2-2 deadlock, while goalie Alex Nedeljkovic was sharp in net, making 25 saves. 2015 1st round draft choices Zach Werenski (8th overall) and Colin White (21st overall) also scored for the U.S.
Canada, despite a deep and talented roster, looked flat throughout the game, especially during a fruitless five-minute major powerplay that spanned the end of the 1st period and started the 2nd. Other 2015 1st rounders Dylan Strome (3rd) and Mathew Barzal (16th) had the Canadian goals.
What`s Up Next:
The schedule for Sunday`s games is as follows:
- Belarus versus Slovakia at 8:00 AM
- Denmark versus Switzerland at 12:00 PM