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World Junior Roundup: USA Wins Group, Finland Still Perfect, Latvia Nabs Historic Victory

USA has clinched top spot in Group B, Finland will battle for the top spot in Group A against Canada and Latvia managed to record its first preliminary round game ever during the penultimate day of round-robin action at the World Junior Championship.

Finland Set to Battle for Top Spot in Group A

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Finland will look to secure the Group A round-robin title after beating Slovakia 9-3 on Sunday afternoon.

The Finns will battle Canada for a chance at taking the top spot in the group, allowing them a favorable quarterfinal matchup. The Slovaks have finished the preliminary round with two points and will advance to the playoffs after Latvia's loss to Czechia.

The Finns needed just 35 seconds to open the scoring. Roni Hirvonen helped create the damage after drawing a defenseman behind the goal line before setting up Kasper Simontaival in front of the Slovakian net. Goaltender Simon Latkoczy didn't detect Simontaival's rush and the LA Kings prospect managed to shoot high for the 1-0 goal.

Slovakia, in a position to spice up Group A with a victory, answered back at 7:42. After a scramble in front of the Finnish net, Simon Groch found Peter Repcik in the high slot and Repcik fired a shot past Juha Jatkola for the 1-1 goal. The tie remained for just under seven minutes when Boris Zabka gave the puck away to Joel Maatta near the Slovak net, and Maatta made no mistake blasting the disk past Latkoczy for the go-ahead marker.

The Finns grabbed their first two-goal lead just 24 seconds into the second. On the heels of a five-minute power play thanks for an Adam Sykora game misconduct penalty, Hirvonen and Simontaival connected again, with Hirvonen scoring this time.

The Slovaks got a big goal at 27:04 to gain some momentum back. Servac Petrovsky scored after blocking Rayen Petrovicky's shot in front of the Finnish net, turning around and beating Jatkola blocker side.

The momentum wouldn't turn into anything tangible, as the Slovaks managed just two shots in the following 13 minutes, while Finland scored on three of the team's next four shots. Maatta grabbed his second of the night on the man advantage at 31:42 to make it 4-2, while Aatu Raty and Oliver Kapanen scored each in the final four minutes to make it 6-2.

The floodgates continued to remain open in the third period. Kalle Vaisanen, Simontaival and Kasper Puutio all added goals for the Finns, while Libor Nemec gave the Slovakian faithful at Rogers Place one more reason to celebrate.

Latvia Pulls Off Big Upset Win Over Czechia

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Latvia will play in the quarterfinal for the first time in tournament history after beating Czechia 5-2 on Sunday.

The move secures them third place in Group A, overtaking Czechia and bumping Slovakia out for the rest of the tournament.

Latvia had never won a preliminary round game before Sunday, going 0-27 all-time. For more on Latvia's big night, click here.

Martins Lavins surprised everyone when on Latvia's second shot, he managed to get the puck from a backdoor pass from Harijs Brants and fire it five-hole on Jan Bednar. At 12:21. Rainers Rullers proved Latvia's lead wasn't a fluke, scoring on the fourth shot after going top shelf off of a Raimonds Vitolins feed.

Czechia was looking to take back the momentum, and at 16:43 on the man advantage, Jan Mysak found Michal Gut on the doorstep, beating Bruno Bruveris for the 2-1 goal. The Czechs scored next, when Stanislav Svozil skated in and backhanded it over the Latvian goalie, temporarily ending Latvia's advantage. But two minutes later, defenseman Ralfs Bergmanis managed to get a floater past Bednar, only to score again on the power play at 37:38 to make it 4-2, a lead that excited the Latvian faithful in attendance.

Czechia made a goalie swap for the third, replacing Bednar after allowing four goals on 14 shots. In came Tomas Suchanek, who only had to stop two saves in the third. Unfortunately for Czechia, they didn't have the firepower to rally the comeback, and Bergmanis' third of the night -- this time on the empty net -- secured the historic win for the proud hockey nation.

USA Stops Sweden to Close Out Preliminary Round

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The United States has clinched the top spot in Group B thanks to a 3-2 win over Sweden to finish the weekend's action.

USA had a perfect 4-0-0-0 record in the round robin, with the team outscoring its opponents 23-3.

Brett Berard got the scoring going at 6:35, beating Jesper Wallstedt with an in-close wrister on the power play. Matthew Coronato ended up being the star of the show, scoring a tight-angle goal at 25:37 and giving USA a bit more breathing room with a third-period goal at 45:26. 

The Swedes found a bit of life late. At 51:38, Emil Andrae outlasted a defensive effort from Carter Mazur before firing the puck on net. Kaidan Mbereko stopped Andrae's shot, but the American netminder bobbled the shot and it bounced in slowly, making it a 3-1 game.

With 1:15 left in the game, Ake Stakkestad scored a big one for the Swedes with the man advantage and an empty net. After Andrae's scoring attempt was stopped, Stakkestad got the puck past a stickless-Mbereko for the 3-2 goal, forcing an exciting final minute of play. Unfortunately for the Swedes, Mbereko stopped everything sent his way in the dying seconds, ensuring the win after a shaky final few minutes in the American zone.

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