WJC: Team USA, Sweden on to the semifinals

Canada and the Czech Republic also punch their ticket and will compete for a medal

Brayton Wilson
January 03, 2018 - 12:14 pm

Photo: Micheline Michaelina (@MiMiV4682)

Thursday's semifinal round at the 2018 IIHF Under-20 World Junior Championship is set as four teams will compete for the chance to play for the gold medal on Friday night at KeyBank Center.

The United States, Canada, Sweden and the Czech Republic each punched their ticket after capturing wins in their quarterfinal matchups on Tuesday in Buffalo.

Perhaps the game of the night came between the United States and Russia as Team USA gets two goals from New York Islanders prospect Kieffer Bellows, including the game-winner with 7:29 to play, in a 4-2 win at KeyBank Center.

The U.S. took a 2-1 lead into the third period until Chicago Blackhawks prospect Andrei Altybarmakyan made a power move around defenseman Adam Fox (Calgary Flames) and tucked a puck around goalie Joseph Woll (Toronto Maple Leafs) for the game-tying goal.

The Americans went back on top with Bellows' goal when defenseman Dylan Samberg (Winnipeg Jets) threw a puck into the offensive zone in a place where Bellows can get to it using his speed. After the puck takes a favorable bounce off the corner boards, Bellows quickly fires a high slapshot that beats goalie Vladislav Sukhachyov on the short-side. The goal is Bellows' sixth goal of the tournament.

The Russians put up a flurry of chances in the dying minutes, with their best chance coming with just under five minutes when a point shot from defenseman Dmitri Samorukov (Edmonton Oilers) was redirected by Marsel Sholokhov off the goal post.

U.S. captain Joey Anderson put the Russians away with 41.2 seconds to play as he added an empty net goal to give the U.S. the win. For the first time since the 2010 tournament, Russia will not win a medal at the World Juniors.

Bellows was named as the Americans' Player of the Game with his two goals, while Russia's Sholokhov was named as their Player of the Game with a goal.

Buffalo Sabres' prospect Casey Mittelstadt added to his point total with an assists on a first period goal from Kailer Yamamoto (Edmonton Oilers). Mittelstadt is now up to 10 points on the tournament, and leads the field by one point.

With the U.S. win, it clinched a spot in the semifinal against Sweden, who took care of business against Slovakia at HarborCenter with a 3-2 win.

After a scoreless first period, Sweden got two goals from Isac Lundestrom (2018 NHL Draft eligible) and Fabian Zetterlund (New Jersey Devils) in the first seven minutes of the period to take a 2-0 lead. After a late second period goal from Slovak defenseman Martin Bodak to make the score 2-1, it was Lundestrom with another goal to put the Swedes up 3-1 with less than 10 minutes to play. Bodak added another goal for the Slovaks later, but Sweden went into shut down mode and completed the victory.

It was Lundestrom and Bodak who were named as the Players of the Game for their respective teams, but it is Sweden who will play the U.S. on Thursday at 4 p.m.

The other semifinal will feature powerhouse Canada against the surprise of the tournament, the Czech Republic.

The Czechs were the first ones to punch their tickets to the semifinals on Tuesday with a thrilling 4-3 shootout win over Finland at KeyBank Center.

Finland was dominant for most of the game, out-shooting their opposition 54-30 in the game, but the stingy Czechs kept fighting and clawed their way back twice to force the extra time. With the score 3-2 and time running out for the Czechs, head coach Filip Pesan took a gamble and pulled goalie Josef Korenar (San Jose Sharks) with 3:10 left to play in the game. The gamble pays off as with 1:26 left to go, Jakub Galvas' (Chicago Blackhawks) point shot is deflected by Filip Zadina (2018 NHL Draft eligible) on its way towards the net. The re-direction is enough to throw off Sabres prospect Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen in goal, and the puck goes right through his five-hole for the tying goal. The goal was Zadina's second of the game and fifth of the tournament.

After 10 minutes of overtime is not enough, the game needed a five-round shootout to decide a winner. The Czechs got goals in the first and third round to go up by a pair, but Finland answered with one in the fourth round to stay alive. After the Czechs failed to close it out in the fifth round, Korenar needed a clutch save to upset the Finns. He was able to get the job done with a kick save on Olli Juolevi (Vancouver Canucks), who was trying to go five-hole.

Korenar was named as the Player of the Game for the Czechs with 51 saves in the win. It was Juolevi for the Finns who got Player of the Game honors with a goal and an assist to go along with eight shots on goal.

As for Canada, their path to the semifinals was a breeze with an 8-2 beat down of Switzerland at KeyBank Center.

Canada got goals from seven different players in the win, while the defense only allowed the Swiss to throw a total of 15 shots on goalie Carter Hart (Philadelphia Flyers).

Drake Batherson (Ottawa Senators) scored twice for the Canadians, while Brett Howden (Tampa Bay Lightning) had a four-point night with a goal and three assists. It was Cale Makar (Colorado Avalanche) who was named Player of the Game with a goal and an assist, along with four shots on goal in the win.

On the losing side, Switzerland got goals from Dario Rohrbach (Player of the Game) and Axel Simic, while both Matteo Ritz and Philip Wuthrich faced a combined 60 shots on goal in the losing effort.

The Canadians and Czechs will face off at 8 p.m. on Thursday.

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