2009 World Junior Championships — Days 4 and 5

By Leslie Treff

The showdowns are set, as two of the four undefeated teams will lose their first game sometime today. Canada, United States, Sweden and Russia have each won three games, and today, Sweden faces off against Russia and the United States against Canada.

Over the last two days, these four teams have separated themselves from the rest and will almost certainly vie for the top four spots in the tournament. Sweden battled Latvia on Monday afternoon and the game was a complete rout. Even the 10-1 final score did not tell the story of how complete the domination was. But Latvia never gave up and every shot on goal was greeted with loud cheers and drum rolls by their many supportive fans. The team was just not up to the task of taking on a Swedish team that continues to improve as the tournament goes on.

It was clear that Sweden was going to win the contest from the game’s second minute, when winger Mattias Tedenby put the puck past Latvia’s backup netminder Raimonds Ermics. It was the first of five successive Swedish goals in the period, and while it was the hope of most everyone in the crowd that Latvia’s lone goal at the end of the period would rally the troops, it was really beyond their capability to do so. For Sweden, Magnus Svensson-Paarjarvi, a top prospect in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, finally seemed to come alive. Until Monday, the 17-year-old winger had only one assist in the 2009 WJCs, and had not done anything to catch anyone’s attention, but in this game, Svensson-Paarjarvi scored two goals and two assists. Named Player of the Game for Sweden, Svensson-Paarjarvi’s performance was impressive, but his play against more challenging opponents will be under the scrutiny of all the NHL scouts here for the rest of the week.

By far the most impressive Swedish skater in tournament has been defenseman Erik Karlsson. Playing in front of many of the same Ottawa fans that he hopes to entertain when he becomes an NHL regular, Karlsson has five points (two goals, three assists) and is tied for the team lead in points with Svennson-Paarjarvi. More impressive is the fact that he is second among defensemen in the entire tournament. Karlsson is excellent quarterbacking the power play, with great vision and a very good shot from the point.

The other game on Monday featured Germany and Canada. Germany had been badly defeated by the United States on the first day of the tournament, but had come back and beaten Kazakhstan 9-0 on Saturday. That win gave the Germans quite a bit of confidence, and it was a different Germany that took the ice against Canada. Canada’s strength on Monday was on the power play, and in the first two periods, that was the only time the host team scored. Despite few shots on goal, Germany‘s defense was excellent, and the netminding of Phillip Grubauer was a pleasure to watch.  Games last 60 minutes, however, and Germany only played for 40. In the first minute of the second period, it was Canadian defenseman PK Subban who used his puck handling and skating skills to break the game open. Although Evander Kane got Canada’s third goal, it was Subban who set the goal up and sparked his teammates to pull away from Germany in the contest. Canada then put in two more goals during the final period and defeated Germany by the score of 5-1.  Grubauer’s great play in the first two periods garnered him Germany’s Player of the Game award. Defenseman Thomas Hickey received it for Canada.

There was quite a bit of anticipation for the Russia/Slovakia game on Tuesday afternoon, because although Slovakia had lost to Sweden on Sunday, that game was quite close. Additionally, although Russia had played well in its two previous tournament appearances, the team did not look unbeatable. But Russia put on an incredible performance, defeating Slovakia by the score of 8-1. The team dominated in every area — skill, tactics, hitting. Russia had it all. One of the most impressive performances yet during this tournament was turned in by winger Nikita Filatov. Besides the fact that the winger had a hat trick in the game, he was all over the ice. His hands and vision are superb, and Filatov’s positioning was so good that the puck found him continuously. When Russia’s skilled smaller players are combined with some of the large bodies, and the offensively gifted blueliners, this is a formidable team. One of those defensemen, Maxim Goncharov, scored two goals on Tuesday, including the game winner, and was awarded the Player of the Game honor. The Russians are getting better and better by the game, and could sneak up and win this tournament. Much more will be known after today’s game with Sweden, but Russia could really be the surprise team next Monday. 

Although Slovakia is 1-2 in the "B" Division standings, this is a good team, which right now is just a step below Russia and Sweden. A test of character for Slovakia will come today in its game against Finland, who are also 1-2 in the standings. If Slovakia can shake off Russia’s domination yesterday and play its game, it has a good chance to beat Finland and play for fifth place.

Finland played on Tuesday against the almost surely relegated Latvia, and defeated them by the score of 5-1. Latvia’s netminder Nauris Enkuzens faced 56 shots on goal, and should have been the Player of the Game for Latvia. Instead the honor went to Roberts Jekimovs, who scored Latvia’s only goal and had six of Latvia’s 18 shots on goal in the game. The honor for Finland was given to Mikael Granlund, who really was the best player on the ice for his team. He scored two goals, including the game-winner, and put eight shots on net. They were Granlund’s first points of the tournament. Defenseman Jesse Jyrkkio is also a player to watch during the rest of this tournament. Solid defensively, with good puck movement, Jyrkkio recorded two assists on Tuesday evening.

Germany’s loss to Canada on Monday night seemed to have a huge effect on the team on Tuesday afternoon, as they came out sluggish against the Czech Republic, and never got into the game. Germany looked tired and took penalties that were the result of their inability to keep up with the Czech team, which had not played since Sunday. The Czechs converted on their first two power plays and basically by the end of the first period the game was over. Ondrej Roman had two goals and an assist, which earned him the Czech Player of the Game award. Roman is having an excellent tournament on a mediocre team, and is a player to watch in the future. Also of mention too was the play of defenseman Tomas Kundratek, who has gotten better and better as the tournament has gone along. With two assists on Tuesday, Kundratek also had five shots on goal and a +2 plus/minus rating. A big right-handed defenseman, Kundratek has a very heavy, accurate shot, which set up two goals yesterday and one in the close game with the United States on Sunday.

In the final game Tuesday, the United States took on Kazakhstan. There is no doubt that Kazakhstan is the weakest team in this WJC, and that the United States was going to win this game handily. The crowd was sparser than for any of the other evening US games this week, and those fans who were in attendance were rooting for Kazakhstan to do well. Unfortunately, the team is just not good enough to compete for any length of time. But despite taking several penalties due to the inability to keep up with the American skaters, Kazakhstan was in the game for the first 17 minutes. The strategy of playing a completely defensive game, shut down the US shooters entirely. Kazakhstan was excellent in getting in the shooting lanes, and netminder Andrei Yankov played extremely well during that time.

However, Kazakhstan took one too many penalties and the wheels came off. After Ian Cole’s goal, on the power play, at 16:26 of the first period, the United States got three goals in rapid succession before the period ended. The United States continued the onslaught and won the contest by the score of 12-0. With two assists, defenseman Cade Fairchild was named Player of the Game for the United States, however, the most noticeable player on the ice was Aaron Palushaj, who had two goals, two assists, and a total of eight shots. Palushaj seems to make things happen, in the way that good things seem to happen around winger James vanRiemsdyk. He does not always look like the best player on the ice, but he is always around the opponent’s net and involved in a scoring play. The big winger is second on the team in total points and first in goals scored.

Today’s games will have a huge effect on the playoff round, as the team that is in first place in each division will get a bye into the semi-finals on Saturday.