The second day of the Hlinka Gretzky Cup featured closer games than day one which was a welcome sight after a couple of massive blowouts, with Czechia’s 7-2 win over Germany the lone uncompetitive game.
There were plenty of standouts throughout the day, but these three stood above the rest:
First Star: LW Eduard Šalé, Czechia
At last year’s U-18 World Championships, Jiri Kulich received all of the praise because he was the one putting the puck in the net but we saw Eduard Šalé creating the offense for most of the tournament. He racked up three goals and an assist against Germany, showcasing his speed, skill, and incredible awareness.
Šalé opened the scoring in the game against Germany and then absolutely dominated the second period with two goals and an impressive one-touch pass assist. His second goal was the perfect display of his speed as an area pass was sent up ice with Šalé and a German defender racing for it. Without breaking stride, Šalé took the inside lane, established body position, and had enough agility to pull away from the diving defender for a short break away. He then one-upped himself a few short minutes later, streaking up ice down the wing before cutting to the net and finishing with a deft touch on the backhand.
The Czech team has looked like one of the best in the tournament through two games and Šalé has been their best player, despite not scoring in regulation against Finland on day one. The budding Czech star has the speed and skill that translate to the NHL game. The 6-foot-1 forward take excellent routes to the puck, has the change of pace ability that some of the game’s most dangerous players have, and he has both the playmaking and finishing ability that could allow him to play high up an NHL lineup in a few years. Don’t sleep on Šalé.
Second Star: LW Emil Järventie, Finland
The Finns had a great performance against the Americans, redeeming themselves from their opening night shootout loss to Czechia. Emil Järventie was the catalyst offensively for the club with Tuomas Uronen playing sidekick while netminder Eemil Vinni putting up a wall in net after allowing a lone goal three minutes in. Järventie’s ability to use his speed and puck skill to create space was evident in this game.
Järventie used changes of pace in transition to create space for himself, shifting gears up and down to open up skating and passing lanes through the middle of the ice. The young Finn’s willingness to draw opposing players into his orbit before gashing them with cross-ice passes was the big difference maker for him in this game. Both of his assists came from Järventie attacking space in transition, identifying where the defenders were vacating space in order to defend him, and sending a pass to his linemate, Uronen, who had time and space to finish.
When Järventie is at his best, he is using his hands to evade pressure and attack the play up ice. When he isn’t the puck carrier in transition, he is actively engaged in finding space and cutting through levels of the defensive structure to present passing options throughout his route. Against the Americans, Järventie consistently stayed engaged and made life difficult for the U.S. defense.
Third Star: G Noah Erliden, Sweden
Stopping 32 of 33 shots against Slovakia, Erliden was a big reason why the Swedes were able to play the game they did yesterday. To top it off, he collected an assist on the game’s opening goal, making a couple of massive saves before play was quickly turned up ice, and Zeb Forsfjäll finished on the breakaway.
In a game where both teams had momentum swings go their way and streaks of play where they seemed to hem their opponents in, Erliden did an excellent job of staying square to shooters and preventing too many big rebounds. The 5-foot-10 netminder battled hard throughout the game, with a run of saves through the middle half of period one that could have easily allowed the Slovaks to get out to a lead. Erliden was calm and calculated in his movement, not often seeming as if he had to make up for being out of position. He was a big reason why seven Swedish penalties didn’t come back to bite them.
Erliden and Slovak netminder Samuel Urban were locked into a goalie dual through two periods and it wasn’t until the third period when Urban cracked and Erliden stood his ground, securing the Swedish victory. Otto Stenberg and Zeb Forsfjäll were the offensive catalysts for the Swedes but the majority of their scoring came late in the game. Without Erliden’s steadiness in the Swedish crease, they may have never had the opportunity to pull away.