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World Junior Championships: Semifinal Preview

We're down to four teams left at the World Junior Championship. Tony Ferrari takes a look at the two semifinal matchups and what you need to know.
Tomas Suchanek

With four rather close matchups, the playoff round at the World Junior Championship started off strong.

If you want a full recap, check out Steven Ellis' report from Edmonton. There's no more elimination games left -- everyone is guaranteed two games left, but two teams will be much happier than the others when the semifinal concludes on Friday.

Here's a look at both matchups, and what you need to look for:

Canada vs. Czechia - 4:00 PM ET

Canada went about their business without much major issue, but the game was closer than anticipated in the quarterfinal. Canada has been dominant from start to finish, overwhelming most opponents with their speed, skill, and physicality. The ability to blend all three at the highest level is what makes Canada such a dangerous team.

We don't currently know the status of Ridly Greig, who missed most of the game on Wednesday with what looked to be a shoulder injury. Thankfully they have a number of players who can provide that physicality from captain Mason McTavish to Will Cuylle. The player that may play the most similar style of game, blending skill and physicality along with the element of being a pest, is Brennan Othmann.

Czechia took down the defending gold medal winners who looked as dominant this time around. The Czech squad was routinely underperforming with Jiri Kulich and Czech captain Jan Mysak playing with any consistency. While both of them were good against the Americans, they won because of a full committee effort.

Czechia’s defensive core led by David Jiricek, the 2022 sixth overall pick, had been struggling at the world juniors. They were allowing opponents to penetrate the slot and accumulate chances from high danger far too regularly. This was fixed in the game against the United States, allowing just seven shots from the home plate of the 30 they gave up. This made the job of Tomas Suchanek much easier in net, adding to what has been an impressive tournament for him thus far.

Canada is going to have to avoid the mistake the United States made by allowing the Czechs to dictate the tempo of the game early. The Canadians are the better team on paper, but the Americans seemed favored over Czechia, too, and look how that turned out. Canada is going to have to force their speed, skill, and physicality onto Czechia early and often to advance to the goal medal game.

For Czechia to win, they need to understand that they can win. Coming out hot and taking away the neutral zone, defending the slot, staying on the right side of the puck defensively, and matching the Americans' physicality are all things that they will have to repeat if they want to continue their run. They can beat Canada if they play a near-perfect game and get contributions throughout the lineup. The Canadians might be favored, and already won this matchup earlier on, but Czechia isn’t going to go down easy.

Finland vs. Sweden - 8:00 PM ET

It's always a good time when these two teams meet internationally.

The Finns had a few flashes of brilliance against the Germans that they showed throughout the preliminary round but it was far too inconsistent. They struggled mightily at 5-on-5, allowing the Germans to dictate play. The Finns were fortunate to get six power plays, scoring on four of them thanks to some excellent play from Roby Jarventie, among others.

The Finns had been led offensively to this point by their captain Roni Hirvonen, Aatu Raty, Joakim Kemell and Jarventie. Up to this point, they had been throttling teams in a way that Finland rarely does in tournament play, all while showcasing the skill and structure they're known for. Joni Jurmo and Aleksi Heimosalmi have been excellent at moving the puck up ice, blossoming the offense from the back end.

The Swedes have looked a bit off all tournament long. They have one of the most talented rosters in the tournament with the likes of Simon Edvinsson, Emil Andrae, Fabian Lysell, Isak Rosen, and Oskar Olausson leading the way. The inconsistency from just about everyone outside of Andrae has been an issue for the Swedes. Thankfully, Jesper Wallstedt has gotten the job done in net which has given them the ultimate safety net but relying on any goalie too much for too long is a recipe for disaster.

Against Latvia, the inconsistencies continued to show themselves. The Swedes had a difficult time generating scoring chances from high danger, getting just six of their 27 shots from the home plate area. If the Swedes continue this trend of settling for outside shots, it could be catastrophic against the Finns who have defended fairly well and been able to score in bunches.

The Finnish path to victory is to get back to the way they played in the preliminary round. They need to set the tone of the game. They need their talent and skill both upfront and on the back end to come to the forefront. Most of all, Finland will need goaltender Leevi Merilainen to outduel one of the best goalies in this age group.

For the Swedes, they need to simply play better. That sounds like an oversimplification but they haven’t put together a single effort at the World Junior Championship where they played to their capabilities. A big game from a player such as Jonathan Lekkerimaki or Daniel Torgersson could go a long way. 

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