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World Junior Championship: Quarterfinal Preview

We're down to eight teams at the World Junior Championship, with every game serving as an elimination bout. Tony Ferrari breaks down all four of Wednesday's matchups.
Team Canada Celebrates

The preliminary round is over and the real fun is just beginning.

If you need a bit of a recap: Canada took the top spot in Group A, while the Americans won Group B, with both teams going undefeated. Sweden and Finland looked like their typically strong selves, finishing second in their respective groups. 

The Latvians made the quarterfinal for the first time ever, finishing third in Group A. Germany looked a bit stronger than expected thanks to strong play in the crease, while Switzerland and Czechia closed out the field.

Here's a look at the four matchups and what'll take for each team to advance:

Canada vs Switzerland

The Canadians are heavily favored in this matchup. They have the advantage in every aspect of the game from offensive firepower to defensive aptitude. The goaltending also favors Canada as both Kevin Pasche and Noah Patenaude are near the bottom of every statistical category, while Canada’s Dylan Garand ranks near the top.

It will take a bit of an implosion from the Canadian side and a legendary performance by whoever starts in net for Switzerland to take the victory. Maybe a massive game from Attilio Biasca, one of the team's better forwards and the man credited with the game-winner over Austria, would help. They'll need a few breaks, some luck, and the performance of a lifetime. Nothing is impossible.

For Canada, they need to stick with what has worked. They had a perfect run for a reason, and with Mason McTavish, Connor Bedard, Olen Zellweger, and Kent Johnson leading the way, they look to be in good shape. The Canadian squad is the gold medal favorite for a reason. They should walk into the semifinals with ease.

Finland vs Germany

The Finns are the favorite in this matchup, but you can't count out the Germans. The Finnish U-20 squad certainly has the deeper team, especially offensively. Germany just can’t simply match up with offensive might that includes Aatu Raty, Roni Hirvonen, Kasper Simontaival, and Joakim Kemell. Aleksi Heimosalmi and Topi Niemela highlight the Finns blueline that has proven difficult to penetrate, for the most part.

If the Germans have a chance at winning this game, it'll be on the back of their goaltending. Florian Bugl has been the better of the two German netminders, but Nikita Quapp has played against the stiffer competition in the United States and Sweden. Whoever plays should be able to go toe-to-toe with Leevi Merilainen at the other end. The Germans will need some timely scoring and solid goaltending to advance to the semifinal, but this is one of the more interesting matchups in the quarters.

The path to victory for the Finns is a bit more cut and dry. They'll need to keep a sharp defensive game and Merilainen will need to stay relaxed and focused. The Finns need to take advantage of the talent gap between the two teams, and if all goes well, they should skate away with the win. However, don't expect this to be a cakewalk by any means.

Sweden vs Latvia

The Swedes have been the shakiest of the four hockey powers thus far. They haven’t dominated any opponent beyond a 6-0 win over underwhelming Austria. 

On the other hand, the Latvians are the tournament's darling at this point, winning their first preliminary game by beating Czechia to advance to the quarterfinals for the first time. Originally slated to not even be at this tournament, getting in only because the Russians were suspended, the fact they made it this far is an accomplishment on its own.

The Swedes need to get their act together. They should win this game, and they have a large talent advantage, but getting a complete effort has been a challenge given how much skill this group has. Simon Edvinsson missed Monday's game, so if he's back, that's a big boost. Fabian Lysell, Isak Rosen, and Oskar Olausson will be the players to watch up front, while Emil Andrae has been a point-producing machine from the back end. Jesper Wallstedt has been good for the Swedes and should get every start moving forward.

The Latvians will need some bounces to go their way if they're going to steal this one. Latvia has scored by committee, led by captain Ralfs Bergmanis. Bruno Bruveris will have to continue his strong play in net, and he showed he can be a game-saver at this tournament. Could Latvia actually take advantage of Sweden's inability to dominate games? Unlikely, as Sweden should win this, but Latvia has nothing to lose here.

USA vs Czechia

On paper, this may seem like the closest matchup of the bunch, but with the U.S. throttling teams and Czechia unable to stop a puck at times, it might not end up being close. 

Czechia has quite a few high-end prospects, such as Jan Mysak, David Jiricek, Jiri Kulich, Tomas Hamara, and Stanislav Svozil, among others. The only ones who have truly lived up to expectations thus far are Kulich and Mysak, the Czech captain. Jan Bednar has been fairly dysfunctional in net, while backup Tomas Suchanek has performed better, so he'll likely get the start. Many of the big-name underperformers - Jiricek and the defensive core as a whole specifically - need to play much better. Maybe the pressure of an elimination game is what they needed.

The Americans, statistically, have been the most dominant team in the tournament. They’ve had many players step up, from the stars such as Luke Hughes and Thomas Bordeleau to the unexpected forces like Carter Mazur and Landon Slaggert. Kaidan Mbereko has gotten the job done in net but hasn’t been tested heavily yet. All signs point to the Americans coming out on top unless Czechia can get a full team effort.


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