WJC: Team USA downs Finland, Sweden wins Group B

The preliminary round came to a close at the World Juniors on Sunday

Brayton Wilson
January 01, 2018 - 1:07 pm

Photo: Mark Blinch - The Canadian Press via AP

Preliminary game action has wrapped up at the 2018 IIHF Under-20 World Junior Championship, and the field is set for the quarterfinal round set to begin on Tuesday at KeyBank Center and HarborCenter.

It was almost another collapse from the United States on Sunday at KeyBank Center, but thanks to Casey Mittelstadt (Buffalo Sabres) and Adam Fox (Calgary Flames), the U.S. manage to get by Finland, 5-4, to capture second place in Group A.

Mittelstadt led the Americans in scoring once again, netting a first period goal and adding two assists to help lead the U.S. to an important win in Group A. The biggest play Mittelstadt made was with less than two minutes to play as he found Fox joining an offensive rush. With the defense cheating toward Mittelstadt, he fed Fox a pass that allowed him to speed past the defenseman and get a chance on goal. Fox finished the play with a shot that beat Sabres prospect Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen through the five-hole to give the Americans the 5-4 lead.

Mittelstadt is now the leading scorer in the tournament with nine points in four games, and is among the leaders in goals with four and assists with five. 10 players sit behind Mittelstadt for second place in scoring with six points. 

Fox also had a three-point game for the Americans with a goal and two assists, while captain Joey Anderson (New Jersey Devils) scored twice and was named as the Player of the Game for the U.S.

Joseph Woll (Toronto Maple Leafs) returned to the net for the U.S. after a losing effort on Thursday night against Slovakia. He faced a furry of action throughout the game, and managed to turn away 20 of 24 shots faced in the win.

For Finland, Luukkonen was also tested by the Americans for most of the night. He faced 37 shots in the loss and stopped 32, but made a number of great saves to keep the Finns alive all game.

The Finns got three of their four goals from their four goals from players on their top line, including Eeli Tolvanen (Nashville Predators), Kristian Vesalainen (Winnipeg Jets) and Aapeli Rasanen (Edmonton Oilers). Tolvanen and Vesalainen both put up a two-point night for the Finns, with the Predators prospect taking the Player of the Game honors with two shots on goal in 16:33 of total ice-time.

With the loss, Finland will capture the third spot in Group A behind Canada and the U.S.

The only other game in Group A on Sunday was to determine who would play Belarus in the relegation round of the tournament.

With a Denmark win in regulation, they would send Slovakia to play the Belarusians for a chance to stay in the top division of the Under-20 tournament. A Slovakia win or overtime loss would be enough for them to advance to the quarterfinals.

Denmark has had it rough in a stacked Group A of the tournament, being out-scored 21-1 in the first three games of the tournament.

They got out to a hopeful start against the Slovaks, getting the first goal of the game from Joachim Blichfeld (San Jose Sharks) just 4:46 into the game.

Nearly seven minutes later, Milos Roman scored for the Slovaks to tie the game and they didn't stop from there. Denmark would play them tough for the rest of the game, but Slovakia scored four more unanswered goals en route to a 5-1 win.

Blichfeld was named as Denmark's Player of the Game with his goal and six shots on goal in 20:47 of total ice-time. The Slovaks got two goals from Roman, who was named as their Player of the Game. Roman scored twice on two shots in 16:29 of ice-time.

The relegation round is a best-of-three round with the loser being relegated to Division I in favor of Kazakhstan for the 2019 tournament in Vancouver and Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. That round begins on Tuesday at HarborCenter with game two on Thursday and game three on Friday.

Over in Group B, Sweden wrapped up the group on Sunday evening with a 4-3 shootout win over Russia at KeyBank Center.

The game was a constant back-and-forth affair with the Russians having to come back from a one-goal deficit on three separate occasions. The score was 2-2 late in the third period when the Swedes went back on top with a goal from Glenn Gustafsson of a rebound in front of the Russian net at the 14:21 mark. A little less than two minutes later, Russia tied the game again as Alexei Polodyan put home a rebound of his own in front of the Swedish net.

With the game heading to overtime, Sweden officially clinched Group B of the tournament as Russia had no chance of catching the Swedes in the standings.

After overtime did nothing to decide the game, a five-round shootout would be needed to determine the winner of the game. The Russians took the early lead as Vitali Abramov (Columbus Blue Jackets) scored in the second round, but Linus Lindstrom (Calgary Flames) scored in the next round for Sweden to tie the shootout. In the fourth round of shooters, Sweden went ahead as Oskar Steen (Boston Bruins) beat Russian goalie Vladislav Sukhachyov through the five-hole with one more Russian shooter to beat. Artur Kayumov (Chicago Blackhawks) needed to score on his next chance, but Filip Gustavsson (Pittsburgh Penguins) made the kick save to seal the win for Sweden.

Sabres prospects Alexander Nylander and Marcus Davidsson each picked up an assist in the win for Sweden. Nylander finished the night with four shots on goal 23:49 of total ice-time, and now has six points in four games of this year's tournament. Davidsson played in 13:53 of total ice time, but his line was playing very well once again the entire night.

Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Timothy Liljegren was named as Sweden's Player of the Game with a goal and an assist on six total shots in 21:41 of total ice-time. Russia's captain Yegor Zaitsev was named as their Player of the Game.

The final game of the day was the early game between the Czech Republic and Switzerland at KeyBank Center.

The Czechs finished off their impressive preliminary round with a 6-3 win over the Swiss, and coupled with the Russian loss to Sweden, they are the second-seeded team in Group B.

Switzerland kept things close through the first two periods, even coming back from a 3-1 deficit to tie the game at the 3:55 mark of the period. However, the Czechs started to run away with things from there as Martin Kaut (2018 NHL Draft eligible) scored to give them the lead. The Czechs added two more goals in the third period to finalize their win and end group play on a good note.

Kaut ended the evening with a goal and an assist on two shots on goal in 15:01 of total ice-time, and was named as the Player of the Game for the Czechs.

Sabres prospect Vojtech Budik added another point to his tournament with an assist on Jakub Lauko's (2018 NHL Draft eligible) first period goal. He now has three assists in four games played for the Czechs in this year's tournament. He skated a team-high 21:26 in the win.

Swiss goalie Philip Wuthrich faced a barrage of shots in the loss, getting the puck thrown at him a total of 60 times in the contest. He was named as the Player of the Game for Switzerland with 54 saves.

With preliminary play all wrapped up, here is a look at the schedule for the quarterfinal round starting on Tuesday:

  • Czech Republic vs. Finland - 12 p.m. (KeyBank Center)
  • Canada vs. Switzerland - 4 p.m. (KeyBank Center)
  • Sweden vs. Slovakia - 6 p.m. (HarborCenter)
  • United States vs. Russia - 8 p.m. (KeyBank Center)
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