Well… that was unexpected.
It was an absolutely crazy first round of knockout action at the World Junior Championship. With multiple upsets and outrageous finishes, it was a great day to be watching hockey.
The day started off with the battle to not get relegated. This is a best of three series between Denmark and Kazakhstan.
Kazakhstan drew first blood and won the game 4-3 despite getting outshot 43-19 by Denmark. They will faceoff again on Friday night as Kazakhstan is looking to punch their ticket to next year’s championships.
The second game of the day is where things started to get really interesting. Sweden was first in group B so they were facing off against Switzerland, who was fourth in group A.
Switzerland got off to a hot start and was able to strike first in the first period. Sweden appeared to be stunned and wasn’t expecting this type of push from Switzerland. Sweden breezed through the round robin (minus the little hiccup against the USA) and most people expected them to come roaring back to beat the Swiss. The comeback never materialized as Switzerland scored again in the second period to take a 2-0 lead into the third. Sweden couldn’t mount any sort of comeback and the Swiss were able to take them out in the quarterfinal. It was a massive upset to begin the knockout round of the tournament.
Gustafsson and the Swedes are now bounced from the tournament. Gustafsson had two PIM, and four shots on net in 15:28. For the tournament, he finished with three assists, six PIM and a +4 rating.
The next game was team Canada taking on Finland. This game was supposed to be fairly even as both teams were still searching for their best performances. Team Canada scored the first goal, as per usual, but it took them until the second period to do it. Canada wasn’t at their best throughout this game, especially in the defensive zone as Michael DiPietro had to make save after save on many dangerous rushes. Canada was able to hold the 1-0 lead until the final minute of the game where Tolvanen took the puck behind the net and shoveled it out front. It bounced off the leg of Heponiemi and into the back of the net for the tying goal with the goalie pulled.
With the game off to overtime, it was Canada with the best chance to win it. Bouchard got hooked on a breakaway and was awarded a penalty shot. Under IIHF rules, Canada could choose any shooter, and Comtois was given the chance to lead Canada to the semi final. With 18,000 fans holding their breath, he got stopped on the penalty shot to keep Finland alive. Moments later, Canada missed the net on a backdoor pass as the stick shattered in the hands of Dobson. Finland capitalized on the missed chance and had a partial 2 on 1. Utunen took the shot from the circle and it glanced off a stick and over the shoulder of DiPietro to send the Canadians home. It was pure elation for Finland in the second major upset of the day. Virtanen was quiet for the Finns as he didn’t touch the scoresheet at all in his 17:07 minutes.
With all of these upsets happening, Czech Republic was gaining confidence by the minute as they were set to take on the USA. The US was on the other side of the coin and they didn’t want to be another upset in the making. They came out strong and scored in the first and second period to take a 2-0 lead into the third. Czech Republic was able to score midway through the third and it appeared that another late goal with the net empty might be in the cards.
Luckily for the US, they were able to score as the Czech’s pulled their goalie as they avoided the third straight upset for the day. Dylan Samberg had one shot and was a +2 in 18:46 as the States are now in the semi finals.
The last game of the day was the game that actually went according to plan. Russia had a great first period and scored four goals in the first eleven minutes of the game. They kept it going as they scored four more on route to an 8-3 victory.
The semi finals are now set as Switzerland takes on Finland, and Russia faces off against the USA. Both of these matches happen on Friday with the winners playing for gold on Saturday.