The 2009 World Junior Championships continued on Saturday with a lighter two-game schedule, featuring four of the weaker teams in the tournament. In the afternoon game, Slovakia defeated Latvia by the score of 7-2. The game was very much a noisy fun event, with drums and loud support for both teams. It was Slovakia‘s first game of the tournament and the team showed that the players had more offensive prowess than expected, as well as a netminder who is attracting the attention of scouts.
The first period of this game was incredibly exciting as each team scored two goals and the period ended with the teams tied. From the opening of the second period, however, the game was all Slovakia. In fact, Latvia did not even get a shot on goal in that period. By the beginning of the third period, the score was 5-2, and the game was effectively over. Ondrej Rusnak, who scored two goals in the game, was named the Slovakian Player of the Game. However, netminder Jaroslav Janus, who plays for the OHL Erie Otters, looked very good in net, particularly in the last period. Goaltender Nauris Enkuzens won the Player of the Game honor for Latvia for the second day in a row.
In the second game of the day, Kazakstan took on Germany at Scotia Bank Place. It was Kazakhstan’s first WJC game, and by the time the first period ended, Germany had the players from Kazakhstan on their heels. The Germans 3-0 first-period lead was expanded by four more goals in the second, and then by two more in the third. The final score was 9-0, and the shot total bespeaks of the German’s total domination. The Germans managed 52 SOG, while only 17 of Kazakhstan’s shots got through to netminder Timo Pielmeier. Eduard Mazula was named Player of the Game for Kazakhstan. That honor was also given to German winger Garrit Fauser, who plays across the river for the QMJHL Gatineau Olympiques during the regular season. Fauser had posted one goal and three assists during the game.
By the end of Saturday, Russia, Sweden, the United States, and Canada all were undefeated and tied at the top of their respective groups. Each would play on Sunday, with one loss perhaps costing them the coveted quarterfinal game bye, which automatically places the group winner into the semi-finals.
In Sunday’s first game, Russia, which had soundly defeated Latvia on Saturday, battled Finland, which had lost to Sweden on the first day of the tournament. The final score was 5-2, but it does not really tell the story of the game. Finland was able to score the first goal early in the period, but then the team’s defense fell apart. Finland goalie Harri Sateri was often left totally exposed as the team’s defense disappeared in front of him. Russian forwards were allowed to almost walk into the slot at will.
It was amazing that the score of the game was not more lopsided. The reason it wasn’t was the very sloppy game of Russia. The Russians could not make crisp passes, and constantly turned the puck over to their opponents. Luckily for them, Finland was not able to convert most of the turnovers into goals. The Russians will need to tighten up their play if they expect to enter the playoff round in first place in the "B" Group.
Nikita Filatov was named the Player of the Game for Russia, for his two goals in the game, as well as for his speed and board work. However, special mention has to be made of center Nikita Klyukin, who thus far has five assists in the tournament, including three tonight. This is particularly of note because the Russians have not won their two games by enormous margins. Klyukin is a playmaker, who is aggressive and works very hard on Russia‘s top line. He is a player to watch in this tournament.
Joonas Nattinen, one of Finland‘s goal scorers was named the Player of the Game for that team, but at 0-2, the team has to worry about having to play in the relegation round. The game against Slovakia on New Year’s eve should determine Finland’s status. It’s hard to believe that Finland has even the possibility of being relegated to Division 1 next year.
The Sunday afternoon game at Scotia Bank Place was a total blowout. Canada defeated Kazakhstan by an embarrassing 15-0. With 23 goals in its two games, Canada has not been seriously tested yet, but the New Year’s eve contest with the United States is only four nights away. It will be at that point that we will know how good this team is and whether the loss of so many eligible players to the NHL will have taken its toll. Kelowna Rockets winger Jamie Benn had a hat trick in this game, and totaled five points on the afternoon. Benn was named the Canadian Player of the Game, however, Cody Hodgson, who had two assists in Canada’s first game, added six points (two goals, four assists), making him the leading scorer in the tournament. John Tavares continued his impressive tournament, showing his finesse and excellent on-ice vision throughout the game.
Not much can be said for Kazakhstan, who was thoroughly trounced in Sunday afternoon’s game. Bound for the relegation round and most likely relegation to Division 1, there is not much good to say about the team. Players of the Game are named for each team, no matter how good or bad the team is, and defenseman Yevgeni Boliyakin received that honor.
The evening matches were more competitive, with Sweden taking on Slovakia and the United States battling the Czech Republic. In the first game, Sweden defeated Slovakia by the score of 3-1. The score would have been much more lopsided had netminder Jaroslav Janus not had an outstanding game. With excellent lateral movement and the ability to stay very square to Sweden‘s shooters, Janus made this a game. Janus faced 44 shots on the night and saved all but three. The problem with his team was not how many goals go into their net, as Janus takes care of that. It is that the team made decisions that did not allow them to score. It’s true that Sweden’s goaltender Jacob Markstrom was very good in this game, but Slovakia had many scoring chances and just made the wrong decisions on where to place their shots. Defenseman Martin Stajnoch was named Slovakia’s Player of the Game for his four shots on goal, but Janus really should have taken that honor.
Mikael Backlund was named the Player of the Game for Sweden, and he certainly deserved it. Backlund scored the game-winning goal and assisted on his team’s third goal. In addition, he showed incredible speed, good positioning throughout the game, and excellent creativity with the puck. Victor Hedman was somewhat disappointing in this game. Although he played in all situations, he was overmatched several times along the boards and stripped of the puck on others. Hedman did show his heavy shot, but overall not the performance of a player that is in the mix for the No. 1 draft pick this coming summer.
Sunday’s final game, between the United States and the Czech Republic, was the closest of the tournament. The 4-3 result had all the fans in the stands on edge until the last moments of the game. The Czech Republic team, which never led all night, came within one goal with just over three minutes left in the contest. The USA hung on, but it was a different Czech Republic team that played Sunday than the one that faced Canada just two days before. Ondrej Roman, who has returned to Europe to play hockey this season, was named the Player of the Game for the Czech Republic, based on his solid play all night, and the goal and assist he posted.
For the United States, this tournament continues to be the coming out party for University of Minnesota freshman Jordan Schroeder. Named the US Player of the Game, Schroeder scored two goals, including the game winner, and added one assist on the night. Currently third overall in scoring in the tournament, Schroeder is an incredibly hard worker, who is creative, and has a nose for the net. On the top line with James vanRiemsdyk and Colin Wilson, the three have really developed chemistry. Of the 12 goals the United States has scored in this tournament, seven were scored by one of the three top-line forwards.
The tournament continues with a light schedule Monday. Latvia will play Sweden in the afternoon and Germany will take on Canada on Monday evening.