The World Junior Championship is always chaotic and unpredictable. But the 2020 installment has seemed even more unhinged than usual, as underdogs and top contenders seem more evenly matched than ever before.
Sunday’s results weren’t out of the ordinary, but a glance at the standings shows that Group B is still anyone’s game. Teams like Russia and Canada are genuinely at risk of playing in the relegation games, which would be viewed as a total humiliation for either program.
Monday and Tuesday will both feature a full slate of four games, as every team has at most two games left to prove where they belong and avoid relegation. After that, an eight-team, single-elimination tournament will commence crowning the medalists, and the two remaining teams will play a two-game aggregate matchup to escape relegation.
Kazakhstan vs. Sweden (9:00 AM)
Kazakhstan remains the only team in this tournament without a point, and the road ahead won’t get any easier with hockey mega-power Sweden on the horizon. Maxim Musorov remains the leading scorer for Kazakhstan with his three goals in the tournament, but apart from him, the Asian nation of just over 18 million hasn’t had much to cheer for. Sunday’s 7-1 loss to Finland was especially hard to watch.
Sweden’s last game was a strong 5-2 defeat of Switzerland, with Los Angeles Kings prospect Samuel Fagemo scoring the first two goals. Goaltender Hugo Alnefelt, a Tampa Bay Lightning draftee, was good enough when he had to be, stopping 25-of-27 shots.
It would be nice to suggest that Kazakhstan has a fighting chance in this one, but with first place still in the balance for Sweden, it seems unlikely. Short of a miracle, they are heading for the relegation matchup once again.
Players to Watch: Maxim Musorov F (KAZ); Samuel Fagemo F [LAK] (SWE)
Germany vs. Canada (9:00 AM)
Canada has had a day to recover from their shocking 6-0 loss to the Russians, but there’s no doubt that defeat still stings. The only question now is whether they will rally — without the aid of top star Alexis Lafrenière — or whether they will crumble.
Their opponent, Germany, has been one of the true surprises of this tournament. Despite being the newest team after earning promotion last year, the Germans have been in every game and gutted out a gritty 4-3 win over the host nation the Czech Republic thanks to Dominik Bokk’s two goals.
If Canada makes the mistake of thinking this should be an easy game to win, they will be in serious trouble. Germany has been tough competition for everyone, including Canada’s archrival, the United States, against whom the Germans built a 3-2 lead before the American offense raced out ahead.
Still, Canada are the heavy favorites. But they’ll need should-be stars like Quinton Byfield (top 2020 prospect) and Dylan Cozens (Buffalo Sabres) to step up in Lafrenière’s stead. Joel Hofer, who did a good job in mop-up duty against Russia, figures to get the start in net, his first on a major international stage.
Players to Watch: Dominik Bokk F [CAR] (GER); Quinton Byfield F, Dylan Cozens F [BUF], Joel Hofer G [STL] (CAN)
Slovakia vs. Switzerland (12:00 PM)
Slovakia and Switzerland have both won one game, but are both coming off difficult defeats. The winner will finish with at least six points, which would be a decent result for either team.
Slovakia has not been an offensive juggernaut but has done well on the power play, scoring twice on eight attempts. Their leading scorer, Robert Dzugan, has just two goals. Fortunately, they’ve received some strong goaltending from top-QMJHL netminder Samuel Hlavaj. He carries a .921 save percentage (SV%) and a 2.11 goals against average (GAA) in two games (one in cleanup duty).
Switzerland hasn’t fared much better, with Matthew Verboon leading the way with two goals and an assist. And Luca Hollenstein, who had a great tournament in 2019, has not been good in net, boasting (if you can call it that) an .806 SV% and a 4.72 GAA.
While Switzerland may seem like the mild favorite here, assuming Hlavaj and Hollenstein both start, it may well be a game where the better goalie wins. And if that is the case, the favorite is anyone’s guess.
Players to Watch: Samuel Hlavaj G (SVK); Luca Hollenstein G (SUI)
United States vs. Czech Republic (12:00 PM)
United States: Roster
Czech Republic: Roster
The United States is entering Monday coming off back-to-back convincing wins, 6-3 over Germany and 3-1 over Russia. A win today practically guarantees a first-place finish in Group B.
In Sunday’s win over Russia, Arthur Kaliyev led the way with two goals, while Nicholas Robertson, a Toronto Maple Leafs prospect, scored the other and led the team in minutes. All told, it was a convincing win over the team that had just dominated Canada the day before.
The hosts of this tournament have a win and a loss against Russia and Germany respectively. Both results are surprising, especially in light of one another. Has Martin (Washington Capitals) Michal Teply (Chicago Blackhawks) and Jan Jenik (Arizona Coyotes) lead the way with three points apiece.
Even with home-ice advantage, the Czechs are underdogs entering this contest. A win would be huge for their morale and their fortunes going forward, but it will take a big showing from the entire team to get it done.
Favorite: United States
Players to Watch: Arthur Kaliyev F [LAK], Nicholas Robertson F [TOR] (USA); Has Martin D [WAS], Jan Jenik F [ARI] (CZE)
Day 5 Summary
Most of Monday’s games have a clear favorite, with Sweden, Canada, and the United States all expecting a smooth path to victory. But this year’s tournament has been anything but smooth, even for the top contenders. The smart fan would anticipate at least one upset, and make sure not to miss a game of this year’s spectacular matchups.
Stephen Ground is an author with The Hockey Writers and is co-host of the Two Guys No Cup Podcast. He enjoys studying the numbers and providing fresh looks at various stories.