It's the final day of the preliminary round at the 2012 IIHF World Junior Championships in Edmonton and Calgary, marking the end of the tournament at Rexall Place in Edmonton as the scene will shift completely to Calgary in the New Year. It's a bit of a bummer for fans eagerly anticipating a meaningful, hotly contested Canada/USA matchup but the improbable came true: the Americans are already eliminated after each of the teams had played only three games. But we do have three very meaningful games aside from the most hyped matchup to look forward to instead.
The Czechs and Finns sure shocked the Americans into making this game not a battle for 3rd place as had been anticipated, but a battle for 2nd place in Group B. The winner of this game gets to play the 3rd ranked team in Group A in the quarterfinals, and that will be either Switzerland or Slovakia, while the loser has to play either Russia or Sweden. So there's a ton at stake here. Sami Aittokallio vs. Petr Mrazek will be the goaltending matchup, while we have yet to see a dominating performance from the Granlund brothers so far for the Finns, although we did see a breakthrough from Teemu Pulkkinen against Denmark yesterday (four goals in the third period). The Czechs have been carried offensively by the trio of Tomas Hertl, Petr Holik, and Tomas Filippi.
Broadcast: MTV3 (Finland), Ceske Televisie (Czech Rep.), TSN (Canada), Viasat (Sweden)
This is a battle to get into the quarterfinals: winner plays the winner of the Czech/Finland game, while the loser heads to the relegation round, carrying forward a regulation win vs. Latvia. Switzerland has competed hard in every game, but had a hard time disposing of Latvia, getting 2 late goals after allowing Latvia to tie the game in the third period. Slovakia is coming off an embarassing 9-1 loss to Sweden. This should be a good game, as although the Swiss are favourites, being without Sven Bärtschi is a huge loss for them. In the meantime, Christoph Bertschy has led the Swiss offensively, while Tomas Jurco has been one of the tournament's better forwards for Slovakia.
Broadcast: Fasthockey only.
The action in the Alberta capital wraps up with the Battle of the 49th parallel. The Americans, fresh off their embarassing defeats to Finland and the Czechs, want to make this a statement game, a point of pride. Meanwhile, Canada might just be looking to not get hurt in this one. Scott Wedgewood takes over as Canada's #1 goaltender, a place he can solidify with a big win here. American captain Jason Zucker is talking big, hoping to rally his team to a victory. Hopefully the fans that were paying in excess of $500 for a ticket before the tournament began for this one get their money's worth. No matter what happens, Canada is in the semifinals, while the Americans are in the relegation round.
Broadcast: TSN/RDS (Canada), NHL Network (USA), Viasat (Sweden), NTV Plus (Russia), Eurosport2 (Europe).
This is the big event now. A trip to the semifinals is at stake, and it could be a bit more of a sweetheart spot than the teams had anticipated. Currently the IIHF schedule seems to be wrong, as usually the 2nd place team in a pool would have to play the 1st place team in the opposite pool to reach the gold medal game, which would mean the loser of this game would have to go through Canada to make it to the gold, while the winner would face one of FIN/CZE/SVK/SUI in the semis. I'm assuming that is still the case, but we'll see when it is all said and done. Russia obviously got a huge performance from Yevgeni Kuznetsov against Latvia, who tied an IIHF record for assists in one game with six and had the second most points in a game with 9, but Nikita Gusev has been a story on his own. Sweden, meanwhile, has had Max Friberg lighting the lamp with six goals so far, and have gotten big performances from Sebastian Collberg, Erik Thorell, and Ludvig Rensfeldt. Andrei Vasilevskiy has yet to surrender a goal in this tournament, while Mikhail Grigorenko remains injured for the Russians. Johan Gustafsson is the player to watch in goal for Sweden, as he needs a big performance to solidify his #1 role heading into the playoff rounds.
Broadcast: NTV Plus (Russia), SVT (Sweden), TSN2 (Canada).