The quarterfinal featured two absolutely outstanding games that bookended two blowouts. Canada and Sweden fought to earn a spot in the semifinal while the Americans and Czechs eased their way into it. The beauty of the World Junior Championship playoff format is that each semifinal matchup will feature one team that fought to get there and one team that ran through their opponent.
The Canadians will face their arch-nemesis, the Americans. The Swedes will look to beat Czechia once again after an overtime win in the round-robin. Both semifinal matchups have plenty of intrigue and storylines abound.
Czechia and Sweden Meet in Rematch of Group Stage
Despite outplaying the Swedes earlier in the tournament, the only loss the Czech squad suffered at this year’s world juniors so far was their overtime defeat to Team Sweden. Czechia will look to avenge that loss and move onto the gold medal game for the first time since winning it all in 2001.
Czechia finished first in Group A and easily ran through their quarterfinal matchup against Switzerland. They come into the semifinal with a fresh roster and a number of players who have been major contributors. They have nine players scoring at a point-per-game pace, more than any other nation. The depth of the Czech roster is the strength of this team. They have the goaltending to beat anyone as Tomas Suchanek has been one of the best netminders in the tournament.
The Swedes come into the semifinal off an emotional, last-minute win over the rival Finns. Captain Victor Stjernborg scored a shorthanded goal at the end of regulation to move on. The Swedes were outplayed for much of the game, but they have the talent and skill to find the back of the net at any moment. One of their best players, Fabian Lysell, remains a non-factor thus far, but Ludvig Jansson has been outstanding for the Swedes on the back end. Carl Lindbom has been a stud in the net as well.
For the Czech squad to win, they will need their depth to attack in waves as they have throughout the tournament. Whether it’s Jaroslav Chmelar, Jiri Kulich, Jakub Brabenec or Eduard Sale, Czechia’s forwards have been outstanding. They have come up big in big moments. Defenders Stanislav Svozil and David Jiricek will also need to continue to be factors at both ends of the ice. They can rely on Suchanek in net. They’ll just need the help in front of him.
Sweden is going to need to play to their potential. It is as simple as that. They have one of the most talented rosters at this tournament on paper, but they haven’t figured out how to put it all together. They have been outplayed in every game against quality competition, only dominating against the bottom-tier teams at the tournament. Canada, Czechia and Finland all greatly outplayed Sweden, but they managed to find wins in two of those games. Having Lysell get going, along with the Djurgarden trio of Noah Ostlund, Liam Ohgren and Jonathan Lekkerimaki finding the scoresheet, will all go a long way.
Prediction: Czechia 4-2 Sweden
USA-Canada Renew Their Rivalry
Canada and the U.S. had somewhat similar round-robins. Both finished with nine points and 3-0-0-1 records, suffering an upset loss and then handling the rest of the group quite easily. The Canadians opened up the tournament with a disappointing loss to Czechia and then ran through the rest of the group. The Americans suffered their only loss to Slovakia, who put their sneaky skill and physical nature on display, but beat everyone else in the group with relative ease.
The Canadians have the tournament’s top player in Connor Bedard, the highest-scoring player at the World Junior Championship in 30 years. Bedard’s 21 points rank fourth all-time, and he is in striking distance of climbing into sole possession of second. Canada played in the game of the tournament so far as they beat Slovakia in the quarterfinal with an incredible overtime win thanks to Bedard’s magic. They have offensive firepower. The biggest question comes in net, where Thomas Milic has taken the reigns and has been good, but he’s been the second-best goalie in most games. That might be all he needs to be with Bedard scoring the way he has been.
The Americans have been an exciting team to watch.
Their defense is the most active in the tournament, often playing as if they have four forwards on the ice thanks to Luke Hughes, Ryan Ufko, Lane Hutson, Jack Peart and Sean Behrens all being more than capable of contributing offensively. Logan Cooley is second in tournament scoring with 11 points, a sizeable drop off from Bedard’s 21, but the Americans feature four of the top 10 scorers. They score by committee and rely on their defense to create.
Canada will need other players outside of Bedard (along with Logan Stankoven and Dylan Guenther) to step up and contribute offensively. They will need Milic to be as good or better than Trey Augustine, the Americans' young netminder. Canada has been an offensive machine, but it has largely been their top players doing the work. Canada can win this game, but they will need to be a much more refined team in their own end, particularly below the hashmarks.
The Americans must use their physicality up front to push around Canada’s defenders, and they will need to play a possession game. Keeping the puck off the sticks of Bedard, Stankoven and the Canadian forwards will do wonders for the Americans. Players like Tyler Boucher and Cutter Gauthier need to wear the Canadians down, while Cooley and Jimmy Snuggerud must use their skill to beat the Canadian defenders. Augustine is a talented netminder, and it could come down to which netminder outplays the other.
Prediction: Canada 5-4 USA