We've got two quarterfinals going today at the IIHF World U18 Championships, which offer up differing levels of intrigue.
In the early semifinal, Russia meets Finland, the same two countries who met up in the U20s back in January. Russia is full of high end talent, with the underrated Nikita Kucherev and top 2012 draft prospects Mikhail Grigorenko, Nail Yakupov and goaltender Andrei Vasilievski leading the charge. Finland is a solid team built around winger Joel Armia, Markus Granlund, defenseman Olli Määtta and goaltender Samu Perhonen. Finland probably alsois more battle tested, having to endure a sound loss to Sweden, a close defeat to Canada, and a come from behind win over the Czechs. However, Russia has had its share of adversity as well: they almost came back to beat the USA with a third period push, and ran into penalty and goaltending trouble against the host Germans before ultimately winning that game in a shootout. There's some thought that Armia needs to come up big at some point in this tournament to help his draft rating, while Russians are just in a race to get noticed by scouts as NHL teams continue to ignore their nationals for financial considerations (which is fine by the KHL). Russia's the favourite, but I wouldn't mind seeing Finland win here after what happened in that U20 game. The winner plays Sweden in a semifinal tomorrow.
On paper, the challenge for Canada is pretty small, admittedly. However, Canadian U18 teams have a tendency to underwhelm, and playing against the Germans in front of a boisterous home crowd is a daunting task... as those who watched last year's World Championships can attest. The Germans will have to rely on their goaltender, the underaged Marvin Cupper who is having a spectacular tournament to date. For Canada, they'll need Malcolm Subban to forget the quick late goals by Sweden that forced them into a quarterfinal, but mostly they'll just need continued production from the two Ryans on D (Murphy and Murray) and the two Marks up front (Schiefele and McNeill). If Canada can force Germany to take some penalties, they should be able to make life miserable for Cupper and take the crowd out of the game. If Canada is the one taking penalties, well... all bets are off. The winner gets the Americans in the semifinal, so life doesn't get any easier.
In Dresden, the relegation round begins, with Switzerland (1-0-0-0) taking on Norway (0-0-0-1) in the early game, and followed up by the Czech Republic (1-0-0-0) facing Slovakia (0-0-0-1). Norway is likely on borrowed time, while Slovakia needs to get some points in this game to stay up as well.
Stick around today for updates in the comments. You can watch online via FastHockey and the Canada/Germany game will be on TSN.