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Pic from www.theglobeandmail.com

For the first time in the tournament, the iron grip of the favoured teams looked a little weaker.  Canada played as strongly as ever, but Slovakia played well against Russia, the Swiss forced Sweden to a shootout, and the Finns stunned the United States with a 4-1 win.

Along the way, we got injury updates on Olli Maatta, Tomas Myka and Tomas Nosek, some input from top undrafted prospects like Radek Faksa, Aleksander Barkov, and Jacob Trouba, as well as insight on drafted players like Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle and Miikka Salomaki.  There was also the coach’s take on what appears to be a brewing goaltending controversy for Finland.

Canada 5, Czech Republic 0

 The game was never really in question, but the Czechs put in a strong effort against a dominant Canadian team tonight.  Petr Mrazek’s save percentage doesn’t look especially good after allowing five goals, but the fact is he was outstanding for the Czechs – not just making saves, but also poke-checking and moving the puck.

As for Canada, there’s not much to say.  They were dominant in every area of the game.  Aside from taking a few too many penalties and having a slower start on the power play, there was nothing not to like.  The penalty kill was exceptional – and a big part of the reason Freddie Hamilton won player of the game honours for Canada – and the power play eventually connected for two goals.  Scott Wedgewood stopped every puck fired at him, and also made a nice pass to take advantage of a long Czech change and pick up an assist on Ryan Strome’s goal.  They outshot the Czechs 38 to 26.  It was another outstanding performance for the tournament’s best team.

Finland 4, United States 1

The question of how Finland would respond after losing in a rout to Canada has been answered, and in a positive way.  To be sure, the team caught some breaks – the U.S. held the edge in play for the first two periods, though not as much of an edge as the shot clock would indicate – but once they scored the go-ahead goal, they poured on the offense.  Buffalo draft pick Joel Armia scored the 2-1 goal for Finland and iced the game by scoring the Finns’ fourth goal with a little under four minutes left in the game, while Mikael Granlund scored the Finn’s insurance marker.  Armia also assisted on Finland’s first goal, by Miikka Salomaki, who was a thorn in the side of the U.S. with his determined physical play.

For the United States, this was a troubling loss despite the fact that they were the better team for two full periods.  They have now allowed seven goals in games against Denmark and Finland, and they imploded after giving up the go-ahead goal to the Finns.  Head coach Dean Blais was measured in his post-game remarks, but made it clear that his team’s performance was unacceptable.  “I thought we had too many passengers tonight,” he said.

Sweden 4, Switzerland 3 (SO)

The Swiss may not have come away with the win, but they did put a good scare into the Swedes.  Holding a 3-1 lead with seven and a half minutes remaining, they surrendered a two-man advantage to the Swiss.  The Swiss called a timeout, scored on the ensuing power play, and then scored again with a hair over two minutes left in the game.  The Swedes eventually prevailed in the shootout, scoring on both attempts while both Swiss shooters were stopped, but the end result was a lot closer than they would have liked.  The shot clock was much less close; the Swedes peppered Swiss stopper Lukas Mieli with 54 shots while only allowing 27.

On the Swedish side of things, two-way winger Max Friberg scored his fifth goal of the tournament, and then added another marker in the shootout.  In 28 games in Sweden’s top league, Friberg has just a single goal (playing in a checking role) but his offensive outburst at the tournament is an undeniable positive for the Anaheim Ducks, who drafted him 143rd overall in 2011.

Russia 3, Slovakia 1

Slovakia has never beaten Russia at the World Juniors, but they played well against them on Wednesday night, despite losing.  After a strong first period where the Russians outshot Slovakia 18-11 (but somehow found themselves down by one goal) two things changed: first, the Russians started scoring, popping three goals in the last two periods, and second the Slovak’s started shooting, firing 21 shots to the Russians’ 22.

Detroit Red Wings’ prospect Tomas Jurco was Slovakia’s best player, firing seven shots on Andrei Makarov, who won best player honours for Russia.  The win moves the Russians into first in Group A.

Around the Rink

Canadian coach Don Hay spoke very highly of Czech goalie Petr Mrazek, but thought that his team’s perseverance after some strong saves early reflected well on them: “When you play against a top goalie like that, he can beat you alone.  We didn’t let him beat us.  We found a way, and it was a real good team effort for us.”

  • Penalties were the lone negative for the Canadian team, but they were the focused on by many after the fame.  Hay said, “You can’t take that many penalties.  You just can’t take that many penalties,” while Jamie Oleksiak was even more specific about the team’s needs: “The rules are a little different and we have to make the adjustments.  The stuff after the whistle is what they’re really aiming for.  We can still play hard whistle to whistle, obviously and it’s a big part of our game being physical and using our size and our speed to our advantage.”  Brendan Gallagher pointed to the difference between the CHL and international rules, saying, “We have to be aware on the ice of how they’re going to call it and we have to make smarter decisions.”
  • Hay went into the rationale behind choosing Mark Stone for the penalty shot, a fairly straight forward decision. “Mark’s been our best shootout player throughout the camp.  We’ve had a lot of shootouts every game in the selection camp and in Banff we did that a lot.”
  • The one thing Mrazek did that attracted some negative attention was his fist pump after stopping Stone.  The crowd booed loudly, but realistically it was entirely understandable that Mrazek was excited after making the big stop, and there certainly wouldn’t have been any negative reaction from Canadian fans had things been reversed and it were Scott Wedgewood celebrating a save.
  • Wedgewood played defense up until the age of 11, at which point he made the decision to switch to goaltending.  Asked if he could have made this team as a defenseman, he laughed and said, “I was pretty good back in the day.”
  • I got the opportunity to talk briefly 1-on-1 with Czech head coach Miroslav Prerost, and I asked him about the health of Tomas Myka and Tomas Nosek.  Both players took heavy hits in the game against Denmark, and Myka sat this game out while Nosek went down hard a couple of times.  Prerost felt that Nosek played very well despite perhaps not being at 100%, but the news was less good on Myka.  Asked if we would see Myka again in this tournament, Prerost said, “Good question, but the question belongs to our doctors.  Tomorrow we have our practice.  [Myka has] had the pains in the head when he moved and the pressure… I hope that tomorrow he can try to practice, and after practice we’ll decide about him next game.”
  • With their win over the United States, there could be a goaltending controversy brewing for the Finns.  The entire team didn’t play well against Canada, but Christopher Gibson did allow eight goals.  Meanwhile, against the United States the team played better, but Sami Aittokallio was superb, earning player of the game honours for his team.  Asked which goaltender would get the start on Friday when Finland plays the Danes, head coach Raimo Helminen said, “It’s a couple of days, we’ll see who it’s going to be.”
  • There was some good news on Finnish defenseman Olli Maatta, who missed the game against the United States after being concussed on a hit from Canada’s Boone Jenner.  Helminen said that Maatta “is doing pretty good” and that he was hopeful he would return before the end of the tournament.
  • Finnish star Mikael Granlund was hyped by many (including yours truly) entering the tournament but to date has not lived up to expectations.  I got a chance to talk to him about playing against the other team’s best defensive lines and the pressure he’s under.  Granlund said “It’s fun to play against the best players.”  He also said, “I don’t think there’s any pressure, I just play hockey and try to enjoy it every time I’m on the ice.”
  • Charlie Coyle matched against Granlund for virtually the entire game, a fact he acknowledged afterward.  Asked what he had done to keep Granlund in check (for the bulk of the game, Finland’s best forward was a non-factor), Coyle said, “I’m pretty responsible defensively, and I take pride in that, especially against a kid like Granlund and his line.  We just tried to contain him and not give him any space.”
  • Miikka Salomaki, who was one of the Finns best players against the U.S., felt his team tried to be a little too fancy, saying “I think we have to shoot more.  Maybe a little bit too much passing, we just have to shoot more.”  He also enjoyed the reversal in crowd support – after being booed against Canada, the Finns were roundly cheered against the States.  Asked if he’d played in that kind of atmosphere before he grinned broadly and said, “No, it was awesome!”
  • 2013 Draft-eligible Aleksander Barkov, whose father Alexander played a decade in Finland, is the youngest player on the team.  He acknowledged that his defensive game needed to be better – saying he’s working on it every game and every practice, but when asked what the main strength in his game was said, “I’m very smart,” before quickly correcting himself, “no, not very smart, but smart.  I’m a good passer.”  Barkov has seven goals and 12 points in 21 games against men in the top Finnish league.
  • American defenseman Jacob Trouba, a top prospect for this year’s NHL draft, felt his team deserved better than they got against the Finns but recognized the need to improve: “We all played pretty well, we got 40 shots on net but just one goal to show for it.  It is what it is, we just need to come out stronger next game.”
  • Trouba, who <a href=http://www.thehockeynews.com/articles/38737-Prospect-Watch-Jacob-Trouba.html>has been compared to Anaheim defenseman Cam Fowler</a>, laughed humbly when I mentioned that juxtaposition to him saying, “I’m no Cam Fowler, that’s for sure.  It’s an honour to be compared to him, that’s cool, but I don’t really know who I play like.”  Trouba’s a physical player, but against the Finns he only took the hit if it left him in good position defensively.