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World Junior Championship notebook: USA sent home early, Canada wins big

The pre-tournament favorites are going home early as the United States was downed by Finland in quarterfinal action. Meanwhile, Canada won big over Slovakia and Sweden and Russia also advanced.

Lafreniere brings life to lineup as Canada dominates Slovakia
Canada had no issue tackling Slovakia in Thursday's quarterfinal, advancing to the semifinal by way of a comfortable 6-1 victory.

The win didn't come without some early controversy, however. Less than one minute into the contest, Canadian winger Nolan Foote was ejected for head contact, but it appeared upon further review that Foote's hit Kristian Kovacik was to the shoulder and not the head. Penalties are not reviewable in an IIHF contest, though, which meant Canada needed to kill the five-minute major. And after the successful kill, Canada exacted some revenge as Alexis Lafreniere – in his first game back from a leg injury – found Barrett Hayton, who sent the puck over goaltender Samuel Hlavaj to make it 1-0.

That score held through the remainder of the first frame, but the wheels on the Slovakian bus fell off in the second. One minute into the middle frame, Connor McMichael doubled Canada's lead with a perfectly placed over Hlavaj's blocker, and Jacob Bernard-Docker grabbed his first point of the tournament minutes later when he deked past a Slovakian winger before rifling one home to give Canada a commanding 3-0 lead. Not long after, Liam Foudy and Alexis Lafreniere scored a minute apart around the midway mark of the period to make it 5-0 and all but seal the deal. Hayton scored another early in the third to chase Hlavaj, and Slovakia's Oliver Okuliar scored late in the game, but it was academic at that point.

Canada is now set for a semifinal meeting with Finland, who beat the Canadians in the quarterfinal last year en route to a gold medal.

Finland shuts out USA in surprising quarterfinal result
One year ago, this was the gold medal matchup. Now, fans were treated to two powerhouse squads going head-to-head in a quarterfinal battle. And it didn't disappoint.

Through the first 40 minutes, the story was one of controversy. Mere minutes into the game, Finland's Kristian Tanus delivered an elbow to the head of Jack Drury, but play was allowed to continue without the check drawing a penalty, and only minutes after Tanus' ugly hit, USA's John Beecher levelled Eemil Erholtz from behind. Beecher escaped with a minor penalty.

Once the game settled, it turned into a goaltending duel with American netminder Spencer Knight and Finnish keeper Justus Annunen stealing the show. Neither netminder showed a single crack through the first two frames and it became apparent that the game could be decided by whichever team struck first. And in the third period, it was the Finns who delivered when Joonas Oden scored on the power play 4:23 into the frame. On the goal, Tanus faked a pass to the point and instead found Oden in the slot, and he made no mistake, sending a one-timer past Knight to make it 1-0 Finland.

From there, Finland clogged up the ice and shut the Americans down. They struggled to generate much in the frame, mustering only five shots through the first 16 minutes, and Annunen stood tall when tested, posting a 30-save shutout.

With the victory, Finland advances to the semifinal against Canada, and if the Finns can move on to the final, they will have a chance to win gold in consecutive years for the first time in tournament history.

Russia's power play powers victory over Switzerland
Russia will play for a medal for the 23rd time in the past 28 years after skating to a 3-1 victory over Switzerland in the quarterfinal.

Despite controlling the opening period, outshooting the Swiss 10-3 through the first frame, the Russians failed to get on the scoreboard, but that changed in the second period. Little more than 70 seconds into the second, Dmitri Denisenko fired home a power play goal to open the scoring and give Russia a 1-0 lead. That lead held for mere minutes, however, as Gaetan Jobin got the Swiss on the board with one of their own to knot the game at one apiece. Before the period was out, though, a pair of late Russian goals buried Switzerland. With roughly six minutes left in the second, Alexander Khovanov stole the puck from behind the net, found Denisenko, slipped out front and finished off the play to restore the Russian lead, and Dmitri Voronkov pushed the lead to 3-1 with Russia's second power play tally of the outing four minutes later.

The two-goal deficit was too much for the Swiss, who failed to crack Russian netminder Yaroslav Askarov in the final frame and were sent packing in the quarterfinal. Following the win, Russia will advance to take on Sweden in the semifinal.

Czechs no match for Sweden
It wasn't ending for which the hosts had hoped as the Czech Republic fell 5-0 to Sweden in quarterfinal action.

Special teams were a factor in the first, with Nils Hoglander putting Sweden on the board first with a power play goal 13 minutes into the contest, and two minutes later, this time on the penalty kill, Sweden's Hugo Gustafsson capitalized on Czech goaltender Lukas Dostal's puck-playing gaffe and deposited one into an empty net to put Sweden ahead 2-0 after the first period.

Hoglander, among the tournament's top scorers with three goals and seven points through round robin play, was on it in the second. The Swedish winger notched his second point of the game and tied Trevor Zegras for the tournament scoring lead by one-timing a feed from Rasmus Sandin past Dostal just 45 seconds into the middle stanza to make it 3-0 Sweden. Later, Victor Soderstrom added a penalty shot goal and David Gustafsson deposited a Hoglander feed put a bow on the game.

With the win, Sweden will challenge Russia for a chance to advance to the final. The U-20 sides have split the two international meetings this season, but Sweden has outscored the Russians 7-2 in those meetings.

Kazakhstan on brink of relegation following loss to Germany
After suffering a 4-0 loss to Germany in Game 1 of the three-game relegation series, Kazakhstan finds itself in a must-win situation if it wants to remain in the top tournament.

Kazakhstan started strong in Game 1, taking a 7-6 shot advantage into first intermission, but a handful of penalties suffocated the Kazakhs' momentum as they managed only three shots in the middle period while Germany's trio of 2020 draft prospects – Tim Stutzle, Lukas Reichel and John Peterka – each mustered multiple points throughout the final 40 minutes, the latter two potting goals. Louis Brune and Dominik Bokk had the other goals for Germany.

Germany has a chance to secure its spot in the 2021 tournament with a victory Saturday. If Kazakhstan wins, a third game will take place prior to Sunday's bronze medal game.

Draft Watch
Russian goaltender Askarov has taken the starting gig back from Amir Miftakhov. With a 14-save effort against Switzerland, Askarov did exactly what he needed to secure the role moving forward, too. The youngest goalie in the tournament, Askarov, 17, is projected to go in the top 10 of the 2020 draft and has been the top goaltender in nearly every previous international event in which he has participated. He's eligible for two more World Junior Championship tournaments and should earn some more hardware before it's all over.

Three Stars

  1. Barrett Hayton, Canada (2G, 1A, 3P) – With Canada back at full strength, Hayton was back with Lafreniere and deadly against Slovakia.
  2. Dmitri Voronkov, Russia (2G, 0A, 2P) – Take Voronkov's contributions out of the equation and it's a 1-1 game. He led Russia with six shots, scoring on two of them.
  3. Justus Annunen, Finland (30-save shutout) – If it wasn't for Annunen's heroics, the Americans' skill would have been overpowering.

Saturday – Jan. 4, 2019
Germany vs. Kazakhstan, Game 2, 5 a.m. ET
Sweden vs. Russia, 9 a.m. ET
Canada vs. Finland, 1 p.m. ET

Sunday – Jan. 5, 2019
Germany vs. Kazakhstan, Game 3 (if needed), 5 a.m. ET
Third-place game, 9 a.m. ET
Championship game, 1 p.m. ET

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