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WJC Roundup: Canada, USA Win Groups as Preliminary Round Ends

The preliminary round at the World Junior Championship is over with Canada and the United States winning their respective groups. Plus, the Czech Republic came up huge to secure a quarter-final spot.

Canada Puts in Dominant Effort Against Finns, But Piiroinen Kept It Close

It was a battle of two heavyweights at the World Junior Championship, with Canada and Finland having won six of the past seven gold medals. But it was definitely a lopsided affair in the puck-control department, as Canada put in a convincing effort in a 4-1 victory on Thursday.

With the win, Canada has won Group A and will meet up with the Czech Republic in the quarter-final on Saturday. Finland will challenge Sweden as the second seed in the group, and hopefully can use the rest to regroup and come out swinging after an otherwise positive round robin for the 2019 champions.

The score may have not indicated it, but the first half of the game was completely one-sided with Canada holding a 25-6 lead in shots - including a 23-2 advantage by the time the Canadians doubled their advantage. At 3:49 in the first, Dylan Cozens scored his fifth goal of the tournament on a 2-on-1 rush with Connor McMichael, sending a wrist shot short-side past Kari Piiroinen to make it 1-0. 

Dylan Holloway added Canada's second goal at 26:54 when Jakob Pelletier's shot deflected off of him and in, handing Canada the 2-0 lead. Peyton Krebs added one more goal with about eight minutes to go in the second to open Canada's lead to three goals. But if it wasn't for Piiroinen's play in the Finnish net, it could have been a different story as the Finns simply couldn't get control of the disk in the first 40 minutes.

Despite Canada's attack on the puck, it was actually the Finns who scored the lone goal of the third period. At 45:05, Brad Lambert, a Finnish phenom with Canadian ties, scored low-glove side on Devon Levi to give the Finns a bit of life. But it wasn't enough, as Cozens' scored an empty-netter to finish things off, helping Canada seal the deal.

USA In Full Control Over Sweden to Take Group B

A day after their 54-game round-robin winning streak came to an end at the hands of Russia, Sweden found themselves back in the loss column again after the Americans struck early and held on for the 4-0 win to take top spot in Group B.

The start was ugly for the Swedes, to say the least. Just 1:09 into the game, defenseman Drew Helleson retrieved the puck behind the Swedish goal line, spun and directed it towards the net. It looked more like it was supposed to be a pass, but it bounced off Hugo Alnefelt and in for the early 1-0 lead for USA. 

Three minutes later, the Americans got another tough-angle goal off of the fifth shot of the game when Trevor Zegras tied Canada's Dylan Cozens for first in tournament scoring (POINTS) along the right boards. 

The game continued to get worse for the Swedes. At 22:00, Ryan Johnson's wrist shot from the right faceoff dot blew past Alnefelt and in for Johnson's first of the tournament, only to have Alex Turcotte also score his first minutes later to chase Alnefelt. 2021 NHL draft goalie Jesper Wallstedt took over and finished the game and performed well, but by then, it was too late. The Americans had already done the necessary damage to take the win and the top spot in Group B.

With the win, the Americans will face off against Slovakia to kick off the medal round. Sweden will challenge their rivals from Finland as the third seed in the group, with Russia taking second with a date against Germany.

Czech Republic Advances, Austria Sent Home

The Czech Republic has clinched the final spot in the quarter-finals on the Group B side with a big 7-0 shutout over Austria on Thursday. The Czechs will play the United States, while the loss eliminated the Austrians from the tournament after scoring just one goal in four contests.

Despite a close score throughout the first half of the game, the Czechs were in true control of the contest. At 26:21, Simon Kubicek finally broke the deadlock after his wrist shot from the point bounced over the glove of Sebastian Wraneschitz and in. The goal was reviewed for a crease violation but was quickly ruled a good goal.

The second goal, though, was a little closer. At  32:05, Michal Teply was shoved on to Wraneschitz by Austrian forward Marlon Tschofen, taking the goaltender temporarily out of the play. Martin Lang would score from a tough angle, but the goal was quickly reviewed for any potential goaltender interference. The goal was called in the Czech's favor because Teply was shoved as opposed to initiating contact himself, giving the Czech Republic a 2-0 advantage.

By then, it was clear the Austrians were out of steam. At 38:11, Martin Lang grabbed his second after blasting a shot from the point, beating a screened Wraneschitz. Filip Prikryl added one more before the second came to a close, while Pavel Novak, David Jiricek and Jan Mysak added third-period goals to finish off the contest.

The focus for Austria this year was to build a strong lineup for 2022, so the experience should go a long way. Top Minnesota Wild prospect Marco Rossi will be too old to return next year, but Wraneschitz - the team's biggest revelation that faced 194 shots over three games - will be a highlight of the 11 players eligible for a second chance at staying up at the top division.

Three Stars:

1. Trevor Zegras, C (USA): A three-point night for an early tournament MVP favorite. Moves to fourth all-time in points by an American at the tournament. Tied with James van Riemsdyk for third on USA's all-time scoring list with 22 points.

2. Dylan Cozens, C (CAN): Cozens briefly had sole lead of the scoring race before Zegras went off later in the night. Two goals for Cozens, including an impressive empty-net effort that sealed the deal.

3. Pavel Novak, RW (CZE): A three-point effort marked Novak's best performance of the tournament and an important win for a team that was on the brink of elimination.

Quarter-final matchups:

Russia vs. Germany - 12:00 PM ET 

Sweden vs. Finland - 3:30 PM ET

Canada vs. Czech Republic - 7:00 PM ET

USA vs. Slovakia - 10:30 PM ET


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