The IIHF World Junior Championships are down to just four teams. The tournament has reached the semifinal stage and the medal honors will be decided shortly.
Semi-Final One: Russia – Canada
The Canadian side has steamrolled past and into the semifinals without a hiccup. They went perfect 4-0 in the group stage with an impressive goal differential of +29 and nobody was there to stop them. It’s obvious that the Canadian side is the most talented of the teams in the tournament, starting from Dylan Cozens who leads the team in points with thirteen and ending with the guy that has impressed many – Devon Levi, five games, fives victories, and two shutouts. He’s averaging 0.64 GAA and has a 96.67 SVV%. It has been easy for Canada so far but can they sustain it? The mini-final before the big final against their biggest rivals – Team Russia.
The Russians have had some hiccups on their way having to deal with injuries, subpar powerplay, and having to play Russian style hockey that hasn’t seemed to help the team. They finished only second in group B with a shockingly bad goal differential of +5. Their best player is Yaroslav Askarov by a huge margin and the Russian side will have to hope for some sort of an offensive spark if they want to compete against the Canadian side. No pressure to the young Askarov from whom many will be expecting to steal the game. It’s not all about one player in hockey but sometimes it’s all you need and Russia will have to rely on their goalie. And who knows? Maybe after missing time with an injury Yegor Chinakhov might show up and try to do something offensively because he has been atrocious. Is it me or maybe he’s only good when there are players that can bring him the puck on the golden platter? Either way, there are two scenarios for this game – A very boring 1:0 victory for Russia or a high scoring affair and a win for Canada. The latter seems unlikely as both goalies have performed and haven’t been letting too many pucks spike past them.
Semi-Final Two: Finland – USA
The second semi-final won’t be a drag either. Group B winners USA will face-off against Group A’s second-best team – Finland. Statistically, both teams are as close as they can get, however, the USA has one slight advantage in this matchup. They have current tournaments leading scorer – Trevor Zegras. Their goalie, Spencer Knight, has also been really impressive and currently ranked number two just behind Canada’s Levi. Their offense is rolling and their defense is near perfect.
How can the Finns get over? They aren’t the most talented group as opposed to a few years ago, but they are still a contender and a team to fear. They proved just how good they are in their quarter-final game against Sweden. Finland was down 2:0 after the first period. In the second period Nikkanen got one back for his team, moments later it felt as if it’s 2:2, however, Aku Raty had his goal called back due to an offside. In the third period, the star of the team, Anton Lundell managed to tie the game, and then with just 25 seconds left in the third period, Roni Hirvonen called it a game, scoring the winning goal and sending his team to the semis. This team won’t back down and I’m pretty sure that Lundell and his crew still have something left to give. For no apparent reason, I can’t even tell you which way I’m leaning to take this one but whoever takes this game is unlikely to challenge for the gold because the teams on the other side are just a level above.