World Junior Playoff Preview

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The World Juniors are through the Round Robin section of the tournament as the teams were divided. The bottom four teams move into the relegation round that has some changes this year. Instead of two teams being relegated there will only be one this year and the round robin results will carry over. This means that there will be few games in the relegation round making most of them important. The relegation round this year will see a surprise and one game that is more important than all others to see who will not be back in the tournament next year and instead will fall to the Division I tournament. The top six teams in the round robin will move on to the playoffs where the single elimination format begins to wreak havoc on the conventional thinking. With only one game to play every goal can become very important as it could mean the difference between moving on and moving out. As the playoffs look to begin here is my preview of what the playoffs and relegation rounds will hold for all hockey fans.

 

Playoffs:

This year the playoffs will see much of the same players as many of the teams that made it in were expected to do so. The one team that may be a surprise is the Czech Republic as they faced off in the toughest pool of the tournament that included the Canadians, Americans, and Finns. The Czechs took two losses to Finland and Canada but got in to the playoffs thanks to their wins against Denmark and the very important win against the USA. The Czechs are led by their great goalie Petr Mrazek (2.75 GAA, .917 SV%) who has faced a total of 132 shots in the tournament, second to Sebastian Feuk from Denmark. The Czechs are not overpowering though and will need Mrazek to have more of his great performances if they hope to get into the gold medal game. Another team that may need some amazing performances to get out into the medal rounds will be Slovakia. Slovakia got in to the playoffs with a gutsy comeback against the Swiss in their last game that put them in third place in Pool A. The Slovaks are a team that scores by committee with Tomas Jurco (1 G, 4 A) leading the way in points for the team. These two teams will likely not make the medal rounds but could have great performances to earn their spot in a medal game, although a number of teams will need to step up to do this. Meanwhile It has gotten very crowded at the top with four teams all having the ability to win the gold medal. The Finns started off their tournament in a bad way losing to the Canadians in a one sided affair but they recovered to win every other game to finish in second place in a tough Pool B. The Finns are led by Teemu Pulkinnen (5 G, 3 A) and goalie Sami Aittokallio (.50 GAA, .987 SV%) who has been lights out. The Finns have the talent to win a medal in this tournament but they seem to be on the outside of the top talents in the tournament although they could pull out an upset against one of the top three. The top three starts with the Russians who have seemed to be a little less than enthusiastic at the start of the tournament but are still one of the most talented teams. Led by Yevgeni Kuznetsov (3 G, 6 A) and Nikita Gusev (3 G, 6 A) as well as great goaltending by Andrei Vasilevski (1.31 GAA, .968 SV%) the Russians came within one goal of going undefeated in the round robin as they lost to the Swedes in their last game. The Swedes are another of these top three teams as they finished first in their pool to earn the first round playoff bye. The Swedes are led by a breakout performance by Max Friberg (7 G, 1 A) and Sebastian Collberg (3 G, 3 A) but received a scare early in the tournament against the Swiss when they went to a shootout against a team that they should have beat easily. The last of the big three is the Canadians who were the only team to win every game in regulation and were really only challenged once against the USA when they held off a third period comeback to win 3-2. The Canadians have outscored their opponents 23-5 in the tournament as they have rarely looked in trouble. The Canadians have gotten contributions from many of their players but none more than Mark Stone (7 G, 2 A) who has not had a goal touch but more of a push as he scores goals by playing in the toughest parts of the ice. These three teams are all more than capable of winning gold this year with some major talent at all parts of the ice. The Russians will have to play one extra game and will need to go through the Canadians to get to the gold medal which will be a rematch of the gold medal game last year. The Canadians look much better than last year and may have found their goaltender in Scott Wedgewood as they will fight a hard battle with the Russians and will likely move on to the Gold Medal Game. The Swedes have a slightly easier rout to the gold medal game but could be playing their regional rival in Finland that will add some fire to the game. Sweden seems too talented to let the Swiss game happen again and will likely make the gold medal game to take on the Canadians. The Canadians will have faced their biggest rivals and will need to avoid a fall off when they play a very talented Sweden team. Don’t be surprised if this game goes right down to the wire or even overtime as the Canadians look more determined than ever and will win the Gold Medal.

 

How They Will Finish:

1. Canada (Gold)

2. Sweden (Silver)

3. Russia (Bronze)

4. Finland

5. Czech Republic

6. Slovakia

 

Relegation

The Relegation will see some familiar faces but the biggest surprise in the tournament will be the disappointing finish of the USA. The USA has been one of the top teams in past years but this year two losses in the round robin forced the Americans into relegation for the first time since 199 when they finished 8th. This year the Americans did not have the defence they were hoping for and Jack Campbell (3.38 GAA, 884 SV%) has not been as dominant as they had hoped. Their offence was better than some though led by Jason Zucker (2 G, 4 A) but it was not ggod enough to compete with the top teams. The Americans should dominate the Relegation round as their results against the Danes will carry over giving them a 1-0 record before playing others. The rest of the teams will breathe a little easier knowing that only one team will be relegated this year as the Swiss, Danes, and Latvians will all be competing to stay out of the bttom spot. The Swiss are in a good position along with the Americans as they will be 1-0 after a win against the Latvians. Led by Joel Vermin (4 G, 0 A) the Swiss look to take home the 8th spot behind the Americans. The Latvians are one of two teams in real danger of being relegated as they finished the round robin without a win. They did battle hard against every team and could pull off some surprises to gain their first win in the relegation rounds. The Danes are the other team in real danger of being relegated as they have not won a game this tournament and have rarely posed any problems to any team in the tournament. The biggest game could be Denmark vs. Latvia as both will be playing to stay out of the relegation spot with the loser returning to the Division I tournament. The Danes do not look to be good enough for the big tournament right now as the Latvians look like they will stay in the tournament for next year.

 

How They Will Finish:

7. USA

8. Switzerland

9. Latvia

10. Denmark (Relegated)

 

Quarter Finals:

Slovakia vs. Finland (January 2nd; 5:00 pm)

– Finland looks to continue their hot streak after losing the first game of the tournament as they take on the Slovaks who are coming off of a big comeback win against the Swiss when they scored 4 goals in the third period and will look to start the playoffs with an upset of the Finns

 

Czech Republic vs. Russia (January 2nd; 9:00 pm)

– Russia lost a tough game against the Swedes and their mental toughness will be tested as they will need to recover and take on the Czechs who have one of the best goalies in the tournament in Petr Mrazek who will need to withstand the constant pressure of the Russians to pull off an upset

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