The Hlinka Gretzky Cup final is set as Canada and Sweden prepare face off on Saturday.
The Canadians were victorious over Finland in their semifinal game, while the Swedes took down the Czechs. A full recap of the day's action can be found here.
These three players stood out in particular with the stakes high:
First Star: G Scott Ratzlaff, Canada
The Canadian netminder has been a wall for the Canadians in net and the semifinal performance against the Finns was his best game as of yet. Although he allowed his first goal of the tournament with about 20 seconds left in the game on a play where the Canadian defense just let a Finn free in the slot, Ratzlaff was stellar in net for the Canadian U18 squad. In three games at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup, Ratzlaff boasts a .983 save percentage, stopping 58 of 59 shots across three games. He hasn’t had a massive workload, but he’s been up to the task in every game thus far.
Ratzlaff was rock solid in his crease, with quick and decisive movement laterally and tracking the puck with proficiency. The Seattle Thunderbirds netminder isn’t the biggest, standing just 6-foot-1, but his athleticism helps him stay to shooters and stretch out for that desperation save as he did a few times in the games against Finland. Ratzlaff helped Canada go perfect on the penalty kill through four opportunities.
The second period was some of his best work, particularly on the Finns’ first power play with the game at 1-0 for the Canadians. Ratzlaff made four saves on the power play, with three coming from right in tight, in quick succession. The Finns were able to pass in behind the Canadian penalty killers by going low to high and Ratzlaff was up to the challenge. The Canadian netminder showed excellent post-integration, standing his ground and sealing off the bottom of the net while staying upright and closing off the top half as well. The Canadians will be hoping for at least one more big performance from Ratzlaff as they head to the gold medal game.
Second Star: D Axel Sandin-Pelikka, Sweden
Sometimes the simple play is the one that nets the best results; that was how Axel Sandin-Pelikka impacted this game. The one mistake he made throughout the game was on the powerplay, attempting to keep a puck in the zone on a race for it at the blueline and the Czech squad capitalized and scored a shorthanded goal but the backup coverage from his teammates was abysmal on the play so it wasn’t all on Sandin-Pelikka. The rest of the game, particularly at five-on-five, the young Swedish netminder was all over the ice defensively, using his four-way mobility and good stick to break up the opposing rush.
Offensively, Sandin-Pelikka was confident as a puck carrier, penetrating the offensive zone several times with the puck on his stick, looking to create offensively. However, it was his simple plays that garnered the best results. Manning the point, Sandin-Pelikka was walking the blueline and fired a shot towards the net late in period one that wound up getting to Zeb Forsfjäll who deflected it just enough to get it past the Czech netminder. His second assist came from a nice breakout pass, first providing support for his defensive partner who collected the loose puck deep in the defensive zone before moving east-west and dropping the puck off to Sandin-Peliika. That was when Sandin-Pelikka saw an opening and sent a cross-ice pass to the neutral zone, which immediately sent up ice to a streaking Noel Nordf who buried the puck.
Third Star: RW Ethan Gauthier, Canada
On a day when there weren’t many massive performances, a moment or two can be the difference in a game. That’s precisely why Gauthier gets the third star. His late first period goal against the Finns was not only a highlight reel goal but it also gave Canada the early advantage in what wound up being a fairly tight game. Gauthier is tied for the Hlinka-Gretzky Cup lead in goals and his finish on this one was a beauty.
With time winding down in period one, Gauthier raced to the offensive blueline as the Canadian defenders collected the puck in their own zone. Caden Price sends a pass up to Gauthier at the blueline who slowly enters, looking pass and showing it with his body positioning as well. As soon as a seam down the wall opened up, he took it. Picking up speed quickly to beat the Finnish defender and then cutting to the net front at the bottom of the faceoff circle, Gauthier used his own player as a pick on the other Finnish defender and cut across their face to the front of the net on his backhand.
Getting Finnish netminder Eemil Vinni moving laterally, Gauthier roofed the backhand shot to take a lead that Canada never relinquished. Gauthier remained involved in the offense throughout the game, using his strength on the puck and off-puck reads to put pressure on the Finns.
It wasn’t a massive performance but a couple of big moments helped the Canadians to the final.