BUFFALO NY - JANUARY 05: Members of Team Canada stand on the ice after losing to Team Russia 5-3 during the 2011 IIHF World U20 Championship Gold medal game between Canada and Russia at the HSBC Arena on January 5 2011 in Buffalo New York. (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)
My dad is a big proponent of renaming the semifinal games at tournaments that award medals the Silver Medal games, to kind of get rid of the stigma that you win gold and lose silver. I've taken to that mentality, especially since it kind of leads to a backwards mentality that you'd rather win bronze than silver, since at least you won the game to get you that medal. Because, you know, losing the big game is better than not being good enough to be in it at all. You have to win a lot of games to win a silver medal, and the semifinal of the IIHF World Junior Championship game is the true must win game to achieve what is still an impressive accomplishment. So today the teams play for silver. Later, the two teams of silver medallists will try and trade up for the gold, while the losers have to settle for a shot at the bronze.
First up on the game lists, though, is that pesky relegation round. Sorry, USA Hockey fans, this is your fate this year.
This, on paper, shouldn't be much of a game. The Americans are too good for this spot, and Latvia is a team that should be focused on tomorrow's big game vs. Denmark to stay up with the big boys. Still, you've got to play the game out. The game is being webcast on NHL.com for American viewers, and on Fasthockey for the rest of us. A USA victory guarantees a return to the elite pool, which Switzerland did yesterday with a 4-3 OT win over Denmark.
This is a classic rivalry, and Sweden's juniors will be looking to avenge for the men's team which lost in the IIHF World Championship Final last May. Sweden hasn't won at this tournament in 30 years, while Finland is back in the medal games for the first time since 2006. Both goaltenders have a lot to prove: Johan Gustafsson has been the worst starter of the elite nations so far in this tournament, yet Sweden has played so well in front of him they have yet to lose. Sami Aittokallio was awful in the quarterfinals after two strong preliminary round games. Up front, it is a battle between Max Friberg and the Granlund brothers, who are starting to take over the tournament and make good on my pre-tournament prediction of Mikael Granlund for MVP. Sweden has the better team overall, but Finland has improved a lot from the start of the tournament to now, especially on defence.
Does it get any better? Canada has been perfect so far, extending Don Hay's win streak as junior team Head Coach to 11 games. Scott Harrington and Nathan Beaulieu suffered injuries in their final preliminary game against the Americans, but should be good to go tomorrow. Scott Wedgewood will likely be tapped as the starting goaltender, though it wasn't official when I wrote this up, and Canada has the best line in the tournament in Jonathan Huberdeau, Ryan Strome, and Mark Stone. Russia is coming off an exhausting quarterfinal overtime win against the Czechs, and have some big time injury concerns up front with Mikhail Grigorenko almost certainly out after attempting to come back from a probable ankle sprain, while Ivan Telegin suffered a wrist injury in the quarterfinal game and is questionable. The team's MVP is goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy, who has helped the team to a 100% PK unit that will face a tough test in Canada. It'll be important for the top defensive pairing of Zakhar Arzamastev and Artyom Sergeyev to keep Canada's top line in check, which would go a long way to pulling off the upset here as Canada hasn't proven to have dependable scoring depth so far. Russia will need all hands on deck offensively, led by Yevgeni Kuznetsov, Nikita Gusev, Nikita Kucherov, Alexander Khokhlachev and Nail Yakupov.
Who will emerge victorious and into the final?
Silver Medal Games Broadcast: TSN/RDS (Canada), SVT (Sweden), MTV3 (Finland), NTV Plus (Russia), Eurosport2 (Europe, only CAN/RUS).