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World Juniors Notebook: Canada, USA start strong, Czechs shock Russia

A look at the first day of the 2018 World Junior Championship.

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CANADA HOLDS OFF FINLAND

If the whole playing defense thing doesn’t work out for Cal Foote (TB), he might have a future as a goaltender as it was he, not netminder Carter Hart, who made the biggest save of the game as Canada opened the World Juniors with a 4-2 victory over Finland.

The stop in question came in the third period with Canada protecting a two-goal lead and the Finns pressing to force a frenzied finish. A shot off the stick of Joona Koppanen (BOS) came from the right circle, was stopped by Hart, deflected off of Foote, off of Hart’s skate and trickled perilously close to the goal line. As Hart scrambled to find the puck, Foote dove into the crease and swept the puck to safety. The play was reviewed shortly thereafter, too, with the overhead angle showing how close the puck came to crossing the line.

The review of Foote’s stop wasn’t the most important of Tuesday’s contest, however, as a review of the game’s opening goal also went in Canada’s favor. During an early power play for Finland, Canada’s Boris Katchouk (TB) got on the end of a Robert Thomas (STL) pass and drove to the net, knocking it off its moorings as the puck slid by Finnish goaltender Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen (BUF). Called a goal on the ice, replay seemed to show the puck crossing the line at nearly the exact same moment the net was knocked off. After review, the goal stood and was the first of three Canadian tallies as they took a 3-1 lead into the first intermission.

In the second, Finland drew within one thanks to a Henri Jokiharju (CHI) power play goal, but Taylor Raddysh (TB) answered back five minutes later, settling a bouncing puck before knuckling a shot from high in the Finnish zone that beat Luukkonen to re-extend Canada’s lead to two. From there on out, it was all Hart and the Canadian defense. Finland, despite having two power plays, was held to just eight shots in the final frame, and Hart finished the outing with an impressive .936 save percentage. 

USA SCORES EARLY, OFTEN IN ROUT OF DENMARK

Little more than two minutes into the first frame of USA’s first game of the tournament, Max Jones (ANA) opened the scoring for the host country. Two and a half minutes later, Keiffer Bellows (NYI) doubled the American lead. And almost as soon as the contest had started, the rout was on. By the time the first period had concluded, USA had padded their lead with three more goals, two coming off of the stick of Casey Mittelstadt (BUF) and one from Kailer Yamamoto (EDM).

Across the final 40 minutes, there were times where it appeared there was next to nothing the Danes could do to slow down the American attack, with long stretches of play where USA cycled and maintained possession with Globetrotter-esque precision. There were often moments where Denmark stacked the middle of the ice with all five skaters, simply hoping to keep any and all shots to the outside in an attempt to stifle the American attack. And there may have been no better representation of how tilted the ice seemed than an early stretch in the second period where USA had two Grade A scoring chances only second apart. Both, it should be noted, came while the Danes were on the power play.

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USA added another two goals in the second – the first coming by way of a beautiful deke and finish by Bellows on a penalty shot, the second on an accurate wrist shot by Patrick Harper (NSH) — and Andrew Peeke (CBJ) and Dylan Samberg (WPG) scored to extend the lead to 9-0 by the time the contest ended. Seven American skaters had multi-point nights, while Joseph Woll (TOR) made 17 saves for the shutout victory.

SWEDEN DISMANTLES BELARUS

A tough draw in their first game back in the top division pitted the Belorussians against the powerhouse Swedes, and while the final result was as expected, the opening frame may have put a scare into Sweden. After Elias Pettersson (VAN) opened the scoring for the Swedes, Belarus’ Yegor Sharangovich answered back with a shorthanded marker. Over the remainder of the contest, though, it was all Sweden. Across the second and third frames, Sweden outshot Belarus 26-7 and scored five goals to skate away with a 6-1 victory. Six Swedes had two-point games, including Petersson, Lias Andersson (NYR), Erik Brannstrom (VGK), Alexander Nylander (BUF), Frederik Karlstrom (DAL) and projected 2018 top selection Rasmus Dahlin.

CZECHS SURPRISE RUSSIANS

For more than a decade, the Russian and Czech junior teams have been heading in vastly different directions, the former medalling in all but one of the past dozen World Junior tournaments with the latter finding the podium once. But to open the 2018 competition, the underdog Czechs pulled off the upset, shocking the Russians 5-4. Tied at two after the first, Czech Republic scored three goals across 26 minutes of play before holding off a late charge that saw the Russians score twice in the final 2:15 of the game. Leading the way for the Czech Republic were Martin Necas (CAR), Filip Chytil (NYR) and a pair of 2018 eligible prospects, Martin Kaut and Filip Zadina, the latter a potential top-five pick. The four Czechs combined for three goals and nine points.

THREE STARS

1. Martin Kaut (CZE): Primary assists on three tallies — the Czechs’ first goal, third goal and fifth goal, which was the game-winner.
2. Carter Hart (CAN): Stopped 29 of the 31 shots he faced in Canada’s victory over Finland.
3. Casey Mittelstadt (USA): Two goals and a few dazzling offensive displays in USA’s dismantling of Denmark.

MUST-SEE PLAY

Foote’s save, for your viewing pleasure (via TheFlintor):

ON TAP:

Wednesday, Dec. 27
Switzerland vs. Belarus, 3 p.m. EST
Canada vs. Slovakia, 7 p.m. EST

Thursday, Dec. 28
Denmark vs. Finland, 12 p.m. EST
Switzerland vs. Russia, 2 p.m. EST
Czech Republic vs. Sweden, 4 p.m. EST
Slovakia vs. United States, 8 p.m. EST