Backhand Shelf will be running a daily recap of the major stories and events during the World Junior Championship thanks to our man on the ground in Alberta, Jonathan Willis. You can follow him on Twitter here.
It was a good night for the favoured teams, as all of Canada, the U.S., Sweden and Russia won their contests – all save the Russians by lopsided scores.
Canada 8, Finland 1
The Canadians dominated the Finns in every area of the game – from goals to scoring chances to physical play, there was never any doubt as to which team was the better in this contest. Asked after the game whether the Canadians had seen the Finn’s best effort, forward Brett Connolly (on loan from the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning) took a long moment to pause before answering that he felt Canada dictated the play in the match. A diplomatic answer to an obvious, if not especially diplomatic, question.
Then again, Connolly wasn’t the only one who couldn’t answer the question. Finnish head coach Raimo Helminen looked positively shell-shocked as he sat next to Don Hay at the post-game press conference. Given how outmatched his team looked, perhaps that wasn’t surprising.
The line of Stone, Huberdeau and Strome led the way offensively, combining for five goals and seven assists. Mark Stone scored a trio of goals and found chemistry once again with Jonathan Huberdeau. Brett Connolly, Brendan Gallagher and Dougie Hamilton rounded out the scoring for Canada.
USA 11, Denmark 3
A close game early gave way to a blowout as the U.S. expanded a 3-2 lead over the Danes to an 11-3 final score. Charlie Coyle, dealt from San Jose to Minnesota over the summer, scored a hat-trick and combined for six points with team captain Jason Zucker. All but two players scored at least one point for Team USA.
Of concern for the Americans coming out of this contest will be the penalty kill. While the Danes aren’t entirely bereft of talent – first round NHL draft pick Niklas Jensen picked up three points in a losing effort – three power play goals against one of the weakest teams in the tournament simply should not happen, and in a game where the talent is a little more evenly balanced that sort of thing could prove costly.
Sweden 9, Latvia 4
It was a night of superlative offensive performances, and while the Canadians and Americans both saw one of their skaters record a hat-trick, Sweden’s Max Friberg managed to put on the most impressive show, tallying four times. Friberg was a fifth-round pick of the Anaheim Ducks last summer, and in his first season of play in Sweden’s top league after putting up decent totals in junior hockey. His four goals against Latvia already represent twice the output he managed in the entire tournament last year.
The Swedes out-shot Latvia 40-to-13 but got some shaky goaltending from Johan Gustafsson. The 6’2” Minnesota Wild prospect has strong numbers back in Sweden and will presumably round into form as the tournament progresses.
On the Latvian side, 17-year old Zemgus Girgensons - a quality draft prospect currently playing in the USHL – managed a goal while MHL’er Roberts Lipsbergs managed a pair. Team captain and Oilers’ prospect Kristians Pelss was held off the score sheet but led the club with three shots.
Russia 3, Switzerland 0
While a 3-0 victory for Russia over Switzerland isn’t a surprise, the way they won is. Instead of dominating the Swiss in a complete game, the Russians leaned heavily on their goaltender, 17-year old Andrei Vasilevski. Vasilevski, a 6’3” goaltender sporting a gaudy 0.920 SV% through 14 MHL games (that’s one league below the KHL) is no stranger to success in international competition – he put up the best save percentage of any goalie at last year’s U-18 tournament and looks to be a mainstay in net for Russia for the next few years. He was the 7th overall selection in this summer’s KHL Draft.
The Swiss had five different players with four or more shots, including Calgary Flames prospect Sven Bartschi (with 5).
Around the Rink
- Devante Smith-Pelly is done for the tournament. While in the immediate aftermath of the game it was not clear what the total damage was, Hockey Canada released a statement late Monday evening stating that a broken bone in Smith-Pelly’s left foot will sideline him for the remainder of the competition. It’s a heavy blow, given Smith-Pelly’s importance to the team, and all the more so because IIHF rules prohibit the Canadians from replacing Smith-Pelly with a healthy player on the roster.
- Canada wasn’t the only team leaving the game with an injured player. Finland coach Raimo Helminen confirmed that 2011 Draft-eligible defenseman Olli Maatta suffered a concussion on a vicious hit by Boone Jenner, who was active physically throughout the contest.
- The speculation about whether Mark Visentin or Scott Wedgewood was Canada’s starter as the tournament got underway was answered when Don Hay turned to Visentin for the start against Finland. Visentin allowed one goal on a beautiful shot by Alexander Ruutu (side point: Ruutu and Visentin are both Phoenix prospects, and Visentin joked afterward that he’d let Ruutu have one because he was a good guy) but made several key saves while the game was still within reach and generally looked solid. After the game, Visentin didn’t come across as completely happy with his performance, saying that he had some minor goalie things to work on that the media “wouldn’t understand.” Despite those comments, a solid performance against the Finns helps allay the concerns of those who don’t fully trust Canada’s goaltending.
- Hay declined to confirm whether Visentin or Wedgewood would get the start in Canada’s next game, Wednesday night against the Czechs. It does seem clear that Wedgewood will likely see action at some point in the tourney.
- Freddie Hamilton didn’t have a big impact on the score-sheet – he picked up a single assist – but there was no doubting his impact on the game. Hamilton drew the difficult task of shadowing Finland’s Mikael Granlund, both at even-strength and on the penalty kill, and succeeded in keeping Finland’s top offensive threat in check. When I asked Hay after the game whether Hamilton would continue to draw the top offensive threats on opposing teams, he nodded and elaborated at some length about Hamilton’s work Monday night – particularly in the faceoff circle, where Hamilton won 11 of 18 draws. Hay wasn’t the only one praising Hamilton – in his post-game comments Visentin gave full credit to Hamilton and Canada’s other penalty-killers for their work in shutting down a Finnish power play capable of scoring goals.