Day 1 of the World Junior Championship (WJC) is in the books, and it was every bit as exciting as advertised. The Czech Republic, the tournament’s host nation, won a thrilling upset 4-3 over Russia, while the United States suffered an agonizing defeat to archrival Canada, 6-4. In other action, Switzerland beat a game Kazakhstan 5-3 and Sweden eeked out an overtime victory against rival Finland, 3-2.
Day 2 of the WJC will feature just two games, but each should be interesting. A pair of tournament underdogs will start the action at 9:00 AM EST.
Kazakhstan vs. Slovakia (9:00 AM)
Kazakhstan opened this year’s tournament in an impressive showing against Switzerland. While neither nation is necessarily a hockey powerhouse, Switzerland advanced to the semifinals in last year’s tournament after an upset victory over Sweden. So for Kazakhstan, appearing in its first consecutive tournament in over a decade, and whose only wins last season were in the relegation games, a 5-3 loss was still a moral victory.
Maxim Musorov, an 18-year-old forward who plays for Snezhnye Barsy Astana in Russia’s junior league, the MHL, scored two of Kazakhstan’s three goals. He will look to stay hot against Slovakia, who will be making their 2020 tournament debut.
The Slovakian squad is led by just one player associated with an NHL farm system, which gives them one more than the Kazakh team. The Tampa Bay Lightning drafted Maxim Cajkovic in the third round of the 2019 NHL Draft, and he has had an exceptional season with the St. John Sea Dogs of the QMJHL despite an injury, scoring 22 points in 16 games before leaving for the tournament.
Cajkovic will join just four other players in this game with North American experience: a potential linemate, Martin Fasko-Gudas, has struggled to break out with the Everett Silvertips of the WHL this season. Two of Slovakia’s goalies also have North American experience: Samuel Hlavaj plays with the Sherbrooke Phoenix in the QMJHL and Samuel Vyletelka with the Lincoln Stars of the USHL. Kazakhstan features the final player: defenseman Tamirlan Gaitamirov, who plays for the USHL’s Des Moines Buccaneers.
Even with the relative dearth of known commodities, this should still be a fun game. A win for either team likely means avoiding relegation, and for Kazakhstan in particular, that would be a major accomplishment. Can they ride the wave of momentum to the upset?
Players to Watch: Maxim Musorov, F (KAZ); Maxim Cajkovic, F [TBL], Martin Fasko-Gudas, F (SVK)
United States vs. Germany (12:00 AM)
United States: Roster
Despite jumping out to a 2-0 lead in the first period, the United States ultimately fell to archrival Canada on the opening day of action, 6-4. Shane Pinto led the squad with two power play goals and an assist. The Ottawa Senators prospect, selected 32nd overall in the 2019 Draft, is having a strong freshman season at the University of North Dakota, with 14 points in 17 games.
Like Slovakia, Germany will be making its 2020 WJC debut on Friday. However, for Germany, the debut is particularly meaningful, having won promotion to the WJC’s top division last year.
Germany is led by two NHL first-round draft picks. Moritz Seider, whom the Detroit Red Wings selected sixth overall in 2019, surprising many analysts, will center the defense. Meanwhile, Germany’s most talented forward will likely be Dominik Bokk. The St. Louis Blues selected him 25th in 2018 before trading him to the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for Justin Faulk.
Germany will enter the game as heavy underdogs, but surprises are always possible at the WJC. Will the United States be able to rebound from a painful defeat to handle their business and get back in form?
Favorite: United States
Players to Watch: Shane Pinto, F [OTT] (USA); Dominik Bokk, F [CAR], Moritz Seider, D [DET] (GER)
Day 2 Summary
Day 2 features two games with clear favorites, although the gap between Kazakhstan and Slovakia may not be as wide as some assume. Still, the Slovaks and the Americans should coast to victory; however, an upset for either team could massively reshape the expectations for the tournament.
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.