The preliminary round of the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship wrapped up on New Year’s Eve, setting the stage for the all-important elimination rounds.
Sweden and the United States were the big winners of the day, with the former continuing their perfect roll and the latter scoring a huge victory over the biggest rivals, Canada.
Let’s take a look at how it all went down.
Sweden 5, Czech Republic 2
Make that 40.
Sweden’s remarkable run during the preliminary rounds was extended on Saturday afternoon when the nation won their 40th consecutive preliminary-round game at the World Juniors.
Ottawa Senators 2nd rounder Jonathan Dahlen (son of former NHLer Ulf) led the way with a hat trick, while Alex Nylander, Rasmus Asplund and Fredrik Karlstrom each picked up two points.
"You need to have good games in your backpack when you get into the playoffs," said Swedish defenseman Oliver Kylington. "You need to have confidence in the group. I think that’s really important. We have confidence right now and I think we showed it today."
It was the third loss of the tournament for the Czechs, who continue struggling to find consistency. They’ll need to find it, and fast, if they hope to advance through the quarterfinals. David Kase and Filip Hronek had their goals versus the Swedes.
United States 3, Canada 1
It was the most anticipated match of the round-robin, another classic New Year’s Eve collision between two hockey superpowers, and it was the Americans that came out on top, skating away with a 3-1 victory.
They opened up a 2-0 lead just 6:04 into the first period thanks to two powerplay goals and never looked back, with the latter tally standing as the game-winner. Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Joseph Woll was stellar in net, making 25 saves to preserve the win. Power forward Jordan Greenway was also a dominating force, picking up a goal and two helpers.
Colin White gives USA a 1-0 lead over Canada pic.twitter.com/qB1OLAwBjl— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) December 31, 2016
The U.S. finished the preliminary round with a perfect record and the top spot in Group B.
It was the first loss of the year for the Canadians, who will now have to face the Czech Republic in the quarterfinals on Monday.
Finland 2, Switzerland 0
Their path in this year’s World Juniors still leads to the relegation round, but Finland nevertheless scored a moral victory on Saturday with a 2-0 shutout over Switzerland.
2017 draft-eligible prospect Eeli Tolvanen had a goal and an assist, as did center Aapeli Rasanen. Veini Vehvilainen stopped all 17 shots that he faced for the shutout.
Despite the loss, which saw them get badly outshot by a margin of 51-17, Switzerland still advances to the quarterfinals. They’ll now face the United States.
Russia 2, Slovakia 0
Denis Gurianov scored the game-winning goal in the second period and Ilya Samsonov made all 15 saves that he faced as Russia dropped Slovakia 2-0.
It was a game that Russia was expected to win, and they were better than the score alone suggested, but the question still remains as to just how good this team is. They also defeated Latvia, a 9-1 thrashing, but lost their matches against the United States and Canada. They’re now on to face Denmark in the quarterfinals, but will they be good enough once they have to face another top team?
Slovakia remains alive in the tournament, thanks solely to their win over Latvia on Friday, but they’ll need nothing short of a miracle once they face Sweden in their elimination game on Monday.
What’s Up Next:
Monday is going to be a hectic day for the World Juniors, with five games taking place, including four elimination games:
- Finland versus Latvia at 10:00 AM (relegation game one of three)
- Denmark versus Russia at 12:00 PM
- Sweden versus Slovakia at 2:30 PM
- United States versus Switzerland at 4:30 PM
- Canada versus Czech Republic at 7:00 PM