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World Junior Championship notebook: Canada, Russia set to meet in gold medal game

After trouncing Finland, Canada has punched its ticket to the gold medal game, where they will meet a Russian team that defeated Sweden in an instant classic. Meanwhile, the relegation series will come down to a do-or-die game.

Hot start leads Canada to gold medal game
A year ago, Finland put an end to Canada's pursuit of gold. But one year later, Canada's semifinal victory was never in doubt as three goals before the five-minute mark put the Canadians in total control of the outing almost from the moment the puck was dropped.

In what was arguably Canada's best five-minute stretch of the entire tournament, Connor McMichael struck less than two minutes into the opening period when he fired a wrist shot past Justus Annunen to get Canada on the board early. Less than 90 seconds later, Alexis Lafreniere took a feed from Nolan Foote at full speed and backhanded the puck past Annunen to double the lead. Jamie Drysdale then added to the offensive bonanza when he stepped up and fired home his first of the tournament 50 seconds after Lafreniere's marker. Before the frame was out, Ty Dellandrea added one to make it 4-0 for the Canadians.

The story turned to the tremendous effort of Canadian netminder Joel Hofer with Canada in full control. After stopping 16 shots in the first period – many of them in succession after Finland began to push back – Hofer turned aside all nine in the second and another 10 Finnish shots in the third. The contest was already out of reach, but Lafreniere scored once more on the man advantage to put a bow on the semifinal affair.

With the win, Canada will look to win gold on European ice for the first time since 2008 – coincidentally, a tournament that was also held in the Czech Republic. Standing in their way will be the same Russian team that beat Canada 6-0 in round robin play, and the two U-20 teams have plenty of history in the gold medal game. Since first squaring off for gold in 1995, Canada and Russia have played for top spot nine times, with Canada owning a 5-4 record. The two teams last met for gold in 2015, when Canada defeat Russia 5-4 in Toronto.

Russia going for gold after instant classic
In one of the most memorable games in recent years at the World Junior Championship, Russia will play for gold after an incredible back and forth affair resulted in a 5-4 overtime victory over Sweden.

The first period was complete mayhem, kicked off by a Swedish goal less than 20 seconds following the opening faceoff. After David Gustafsson won it cleanly to defenseman Rasmus Sandin, the Swedish blueliner beat Russian netminder Yaroslav Askarov over the glove to open the scoring before fans could even settle into their seats. Despite the early deficit, Russia's Ivan Morozov wasted no time levelling the score, beating Sweden's Hugo Alnefelt five-hole on the power play.

It was at that point that things looked as though they were about to completely unravel for the Swedes. Nils Hoglander, one of the tournament's top players and its leading scorer, was ejected for elbowing Grigori Denisenko in the head, giving Russia a five-minute advantage. Alexander Khovanov scored on the power play to make it 2-1 Russia, only for Yegor Sokolov to add to the lead later in the period when he made it 3-1.

Before the frame was through, though, Samuel Fagemo scored on the power play to bring Sweden within one and help them settle things heading into first intermission. That was a valuable tally, too, as it allowed Sweden to draw level midway through the second when Sandin scored his second of the night. Setting the table for that goal, too, was the play of Alnefelt, who was spectacular in the second half of the game and made a few highlight-reel saves to keep Sweden in the battle.

As for Alnefelt's counterpart, 17-year-old phenom Yaroslav Askarov struggled. After allowing his fourth goal against, a Nils Lundkvist power play goal, he was pulled in favor of Amir Miftakhov. And the goaltending change paid dividends, as Miftakhov slammed the door shut the rest of the way. That allowed Russia to put pressure on the Swedes and eventually knot the game up at four when Yegor Sokolov scored with roughly 11 minutes remaining.

With regulation settling nothing, the contest required overtime, and after great opportunities at both ends, Russia punched their ticket to the gold medal game when Ivan Morozov beat Alnefelt from a tough angle. It marks the first time since 2016 that Russia will play gold, while yet another Swedish team that powered its way through the round robin will finish with no more than bronze.

Kazakhstan stays alive, forces final relegation game
After being shut out in the first of the three-game relegation series, Kazakhstan has forced a do-or-die contest with a 4-1 win over Germany.

An illness took potential top 10 pick Tim Stutzle out of the German lineup, and while they still managed to outshoot Kazakhstan 44-22, a goal less than five minutes in by Stanislav Alexandrov gave Kazakhstan its second lead of the tournament and set the tone for the affair. Oleg Boiko scored the lone goal in the second period, while goaltender Vladislav Nurek stopped all 24 shots he faced through 40 minutes. In the third, Alexandrov scored his second and Denis Chaporov added Kazakhstan's fourth, while Luis Schinko scored Germany's lone goal in the dying minutes.

The two teams will square off for survival prior to the bronze medal game in Ostrava Sunday. The loser will be demoted to Division IA in 2021.

Draft Watch
With Bowen Byram out with an illness, defenseman Jamie Drysdale stepped up and was one of Canada's best defensemen. He led Canada in ice time through most of the game and was rewarded with his first goal of the tournament. Despite being the youngest defender on the team, does Drysdale get an elevated role in the final?

Three Stars

  1. Rasmus Sandin, Sweden (2G, 2A, 4P) – Did everything in his power to contribute for Sweden, but it just wasn't enough.
  2. Alexis Lafreniere, Canada (2G, 0A, 2P) – May have played his way onto the tournament all-star team despite missing two games.
  3. Stanislav Alexandrov, Kazakhstan (2G, 0A, 2P) – Both goals took the momentum away from Germany. Kept Kazakhstan alive.

Sunday – Jan. 5, 2019
Germany vs. Kazakhstan, Game 3, 5 a.m. ET
Sweden vs. Finland, 9 a.m. ET
Russia vs. Canada, 1 p.m. ET

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