Day 3 of the World Junior Championship in the Czech Republic was thrilling. The Russians Canada and the world by beating the Canadians 6-0, with potential first-overall pick Alexis Lafrenière suffering a frightening injury in the process. The Finnish team also collected a massive 8-1 victory over Team Slovakia.
On Sunday, there will be just two games, but the triumphant victors from Saturday’s action will both get the opportunity to keep rolling. Finland will meet tournament underdogs Kazakhstan, while the Russians will look for the North American sweep against the United States.
Kazakhstan vs. Finland (9:00 AM)
After an overtime loss to rival Sweden, Finland’s 8-1 beatdown of Slovakia was a reminder to everyone why the small nation of only 5.5 million has dominated this tournament for the last decade. There were plenty of goals to go around, although the Raty brothers, Aku and Aatu, combined for four points, three of them goals. Aku notched two, while his younger brother Aatu, who could be the top pick in 2021, added a goal and an assist.
Justus Annunen also looked good in goal, stopping 25-of-26 shots. The Colorado Avalanche 2018 third-round pick has impressed in Finland with Kärpät, but has struggled some before in international play. It looks like he’s changing those fortunes at this tournament.
Kazakhstan’s last game was on Friday against the Slovakian team that Finland just bludgeoned. They lost 3-1, with Maxim Musorov scoring his third goal of the tournament.
Kazakhstan is the only team still looking for its first points in the standings, and a loss here would likely find them in the relegation games for a second-straight year. Can they climb the mountain and score a huge upset on Sunday?
Players to Watch: Aku Raty F [ARI], Aatu Raty F, Justus Annunen G [COL] (FIN); Maxim Musorov, F (KAZ)
United States vs. Russia (12:00 PM)
United States: Roster
Russia is one of the world’s premier hockey powers, but even so, their 6-0 victory over Canada was one of the most shocking outcomes in recent WJC memory. Now, Group B is a five-way tie at three points, with Russia in first and Canada in last on the goal differential tie-breaker. The United States is in second, so this matchup will be a fight for first place.
St. Louis Blues 2019 second-round draft pick Nikita Alexandrov notched two points with a goal and an assist. Minnesota Wild draftee Alexander Khovanov and Florida Panthers’ blue-chipper Grigori Denisenko joined him in that category. Goaltender Amir Miftakhov was also hot, stopping all 28 shots and recording the first shutout of the tournament.
For the Americans, Saturday was a day to rest after an up and down first two contests. They lost a lead against the Canadians and ultimately lost 6-4, then they even went down 3-2 to the heavy underdogs, Germany. But they found their rhythm in the second half of that game and roared back to a commanding 6-3 victory.
Shane Pinto (Ottawa Senators) and Trevor Zegras (Anaheim Ducks) are the first and third leading scorers in the tournament with 6 and 5 points, respectively. They will need to stay hot, but the Americans will also want to see more contributions from top prospects like Cole Caufield (Montreal Canadiens) who is still remarkably without a point.
Presumably, Spencer Knight (Panthers) will return to the net after a disappointing start in Game 1 against Canada. With a strong performance, he could be the difference in a game for Group B control that appears too close to call.
Players to Watch: Nikita Alexandrov F [STL], Amir Miftakhov, G (RUS); Shane Pinto F [OTT], Spencer Knight G [FLA] (USA)
Day 4 Summary
Sunday is a lighter day of action and it features two very different matchups. The morning game should be a massive victory for Finland, but as we saw on Saturday, surprises are always possible. The afternoon game will be a different story: two teams riding a wave of momentum and one (the United States) off a day of rest will battle for the pole position in Group B. The winner of that affair is anyone’s call, and it is precisely games like that that make the WJC so electric.
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.