Latvia Hangs with Junior Hockey's Elite

Woe, Denmark. Denmark knew what they were in for in this tournament. They were the fodder of the Group of Death, with no chance of victory against the likes of Canada, USA, Finland and the Czech Republic. They had some nice moments, like Sebastian Feuk keeping the team in their game against the Americans through twenty minutes, and they scored goals in three of their four games. But their real tournament was always going to be in the relegation round, where they had a long shot against the likes of Switzerland or Slovakia, but could legitimately beat Latvia to stay in the Top 9 for another year. Denmark had a big game against Switzerland, forcing them to overtime, before losing. It was a great result that gave them confidence heading into their final game against a slightly more favoured Latvian team. Unfortunately, their fate was sealed in overtime again. They needed a hero in one of their games to stay up, and they didn't get it.

Nikita Jevpalovs scored for Latvia in the extra frame, sending Denmark back to Division 1A. That means that Zegmus Girgensons will get to come back a year older next year in Ufa, Russia, and Latvia's home fans could make the trip and help support their boys. It's a good moment for the team, and they have a shot at being in this tournament more frequently now that there is only one team demoted. They've won at least one game in each World Junior Championship they've appeared in, so if they keep that streak up, they should be able to measure themselves against the top nations every year.

For Denmark, a return to Division 1 isn't a horrible fate. Sure, it's disappointing, and it means that star forward Nicklas Jensen won't get another shot at the top nations, but the team will get a shot to earn their way back to the main group against the likes of Norway, Belarus and Austria next year instead. And that's a big deal, since the 2014 World Juniors are scheduled to take place in Malmö, Sweden, which in a lot of ways is a suburb of Copenhagen, a quick drive over the bridge/tunnel that connects the two nations. I hope Denmark applies to host the tournament next year as a result to give them the best possible chance at promotion. They came oh so close to winning their first game at this level twice, and I think it's only a matter of time for them.

In other action Wednesday, the expected teams did win, although it was closer than anticipated for the Americans. The disappointing finish for them concludes at 7th place, with a 2-1 win over Switzerland. Both teams expect to do better next year, and by the looks of things, the Americans will have an easier draw in 2013 than they did this year. That's because the Czech Republic did as expected and won the Fifth Place Game 5-2 over Slovakia. Sometimes this game can be a little whacky, as it is really there only so that every team gets to play at least 6 games at the tournament. Two years ago, Finland beat a completely disorganized and toxic Russian team in the game, and last year Switzerland upset Finland. That led to tough draws for the 7th place finisher than the 8th place finisher in a lot of ways, so it's nice to see the pools get distributed a bit more evenly this time around. We'll know next year's pools after the medal games on Thursday.

I'll have full recaps for every team over the next little while as we leave the day-to-day coverage.

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