Battles for First Highlight New Year's Eve at U20 WJHCs


I'll do a recap of the Spengler Cup, which played its final today at an ungodly hour, and considering I'm not feeling 100% this New Year's Eve and needed the rest, I apologize for not getting up a GDT in time for that.  SKA St. Petersburg became the third straight KHL team to win the event, beating Team Canada (who were playing their fifth game in five days) 4-3. 

The World Juniors highlights New Year's Eve, just as it does every year for the international hockey fan. And it set up nicely for the teams, with battles for the top seeds, and an automatic berth in a medal game.  There's also a battle for the final playoff spot in Group B.

Slovakia Sk_medium  (0-1-0-2) vs. Finland Fi_medium  (2-0-1-0), 12:30 PM EST at HSBC Arena in Buffalo

Finland could still finish first in their group, but would need a Swiss win over the Americans to accomplish this, along with a win of their own.  For Slovakia, they're heading to the relegation round with two points from their OT win over Germany, having being beaten by Switzerland two years in a row now, with the difference being an awful goal against on a neutral zone dump in.  You may remember that in my preview, I pointed out goaltending was a huge concern, and Riecicky was the wildcard that probably was their best option.  Whoops.  With this game meaning so much for Finland, and so little for Slovakia, expect Finland to take this quite easily.  This game is being broadcast on STV3 in Slovakia, and MTV3 in Finland.

Canada Ca_medium  (3-0-0-0) vs. Sweden Se_medium  (3-0-0-0), 4:00 PM EST at HSBC Arena in Buffalo

It's how the organizers of the tournament (but mostly TSN) wanted it:  the top two teams in Group B meet up for a showdown on New Year's Eve.  The winner takes gets a spot in the semifinals, while the loser likely has to take on Switzerland in the quarterfinals on Sunday.  Olivier Roy will get his chance to prove himself in goal for Canada once and for good, while Robin Lehner gets a chance to truly prove he's the top goalie at this tournament against the high powered Canadian offence (wait, weren't they supposed to have no talent?).  The Swedes are down top draft prospect Gabriel Landeskog, while Canada is down Jayden Schwartz, who suffered a fractured ankle against the Czechs.  Brayden Schenn is coming off back to back five point games, so he might be one to watch in this game for some reason.  The game is on TSN in Canada, SVT in Sweden, NTV+ in Russia and Eurosport across Europe.  Side note:  this is Sweden's first game at HSBC Arena, having played their first three games at the 2100 seat Dwyer Arena.

Czech Republic Cz_medium  (1-0-0-2) vs. Russia  Ru_medium  (1-0-0-2), 7:00 PM EST at Dwyer Arena in Niagara

It's a shame such a large game is going to get such a small audience, in terms of both the arena size and TV availability.  Martin Frk scored twice yesterday against the Swedes, giving the Czechs another offensive weapon to go along with Antonin Honejsek who led the team in their first two games.  Lars Volden gave the Russians a scare yesterday, stopping a lot of rubber in the first fourty minutes before ultimately the Russian offense finally broke through.  2010 first rounders Vladamir Tarasenko and Evgeni Kuzentsov finally got their first goals of the tournament, so all is well for the Russians heading into this big game.  The loser goes to the relegation round, the winner to the quarterfinals, likely to play Finland.  This game is being broadcast on CESKE in the Czech Republic and NTV+ in Russia, an hour or two after the ball drops in Prague and Moscow. 

Switzerland Ch_medium (2-0-0-1) vs. USA Us_medium  (2-1-0-0), 8:00 PM EST at HSBC Arena in Buffalo

The last game of the preliminary round should see the home side win their group, as although the Swiss have a winning record, they just squeaked by both Germany (4-3) and Slovakia (6-4) to qualify for the next round.  It's technically possible entering today for the Swiss to finish first in the Group, but that will probably be out of reach after the Finns play the Slovaks, so the motivation may not be there for the Swiss.  Still, it's a measuring stick game for them, so they don't want to put up a stinker.  This game will be on TSN in Canada and the NHL Network in the USA, while the North American audience gets ready for their evening New Year's plans. 

Whacky potential scenarios:  There is no chance of a three way tie for the Group A lead, but there are potential tiebreakers involving the USA and Finland, or Finland and Switzerland.  The USA could technically finish third in Group A with a regulation loss to Switzerland and a Finnish win.  In the event of any ties, the USA would be placed ahead of Finland by virtue of their OT win on Boxing Day against the Finns, while the Finns would hold the tiebreak against the Swiss by virtue of their 4-0 win on Dec. 28. 

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