When we previewed Saturday’s World Junior Championship action, we predicted a Sweden vs. Canada final. But Russia had other ideas. Sunday will now feature a gold medal rematch of a game that saw Russia annihilate Canada 6-0 earlier in the tournament, but for many reasons, this rematch will be a different story.
Two other matchups will occur on Sunday: the final relegation game between Germany and Kazakhstan, and the bronze medal game between Finland and Sweden. They are all intriguing rematches, so let’s get straight to the preview.
Relegation Game 3: Germany vs. Kazakhstan (5:00 AM)
In the last several WJC tournaments, Kazakhstan has refused to say “die,” and this year is no exception. Backed against a wall and facing relegation, they orchestrated a 4-1 defeat of the German team, thanks to two goals by Stanislav Alexandrov and two points from Maxim Musorov. Now, we come to a winner-take-all final game where the loser will be knocked down a division in the 2021 tournament.
Still, Germany feels like the favorite in this scenario. They are a hockey program on the rise, and have star players like Dominik Bokk (Carolina Hurricanes) Moritz Seider (Detroit Red Wings) and J.J. Peterka (a top 2020 Draft prospect).
But Kazakhstan will always fight their hardest to remain in the top tier of international hockey. They proved on Saturday that no one should overlook them or take them lightly. Now it’s time for one of these teams to prove they deserve to stay.
Players to Watch: Stanislav Alexandrov F, Maxim Musorov F (KAZ); Dominik Bokk F [CAR], Moritz Seider D [DET] (GER)
Bronze Medal Game: Sweden vs. Finland (9:00 AM)
Sweden’s bad misfortune continues. The country that has an incredible 52-game winning streak in the group stage is somehow once again in a position where a bronze medal is their best outcome. They reached that position after falling 5-4 in overtime to Russia. The early ejection of top-scorer (coming into the game) Nils Höglander certainly played a major role in that outcome.
Finland’s up-and-down tournament was down again on Saturday, as they were unable to score at all against Canada, losing 5-0. Their scoring has dried up in recent days, with just one goal in their last two games. Unfortunately, Justus Annunen, the Colorado Avalanche prospect who pitched a shutout against the Americans on Thursday, was not as strong against Canada, allowing five goals on 39 shots.
Archrivals Sweden and Finland went to overtime in game one, with Tre Kronor taking the game 3-2 on a goal by Alexander Holtz. Both teams are now coming off a loss, but Finland cannot buy a goal right now. Kristian Tanus and Patrik Puistola (Hurricanes) are their leading scorers, but they’ve gone silent in recent games. Unless they can find their form fast, or Annunen can pitch a shutout again, Sweden may be winning once again.
Players to Watch: Nils Höglander F [VAN], Rasmus Sandin D [TOR] (SWE); Kristian Tanus F, Patrik Puistola [CAR] (FIN)
WJC Final: Canada vs. Russia (1:00 PM)
Canada has looked increasingly unstoppable in this tournament, winning their last four games by a combined score of 22-4. But it was the game before that, a 6-0 loss to their opponents in the final, that still haunts them. To win their second gold medal in three years, they’ll need to exorcise their biggest demon in recent memory.
Joel Hofer, a goalie selected by the St. Louis Blues in the fourth round in 2018, has looked positively stellar in recent games. He saved all 32 shots against Finland, good for just the fourth shutout in the tournament. Now, he will carry the weight of Canada’s expectations on his back facing Russia, against whom he did not start in the group stage.
Russia saw two goals from Yegor Sokolov, a 2020 prospect playing with the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles in the QMJHL, in their 5-4 defeat of Sweden. Sokolov tied the game with 11:25 left in the third period, setting up Ivan Morozov (Vegas Golden Knights) to score the game-winner in the overtime period.
The Russians will also need to find a solution for Alexis Lafrenière. The presumptive number one overall pick in 2020 is showing why scouts are so high on him. He’s tied for sixth in tournament scoring with four goals and four assists, despite missing several games due to an injury suffered in the first meeting between these two teams. That injury is believed to be responsible for the Canadian collapse, and now, with their leader and best player back, they will be a different animal altogether.
Russia seems to be gaining momentum. But Canada has been the best team in this tournament and will be hungry to right the one wrong on their report card. It’d be easy to say this is a coin flip and play it safe, but that’s no fun. Canada is the favorite here, but either team could certainly win.
Players to Watch: Joel Hofer G [STL], Alexis Lafrenière F (CAN); Yegor Sokolov F, Grigori Denisenko F [FLA] (RUS)
Final Day Summary:
All eyes will be focused on the gold medal game on Sunday, but fans should not ignore the other matchups. Germany and Kazakhstan will be full of passion and desire to demonstrate that their program belongs at the highest level. The bronze medal game features archrivals and two teams hoping to grab something worth carrying home from this tournament.
Canada and Russia have a history in this WJC. It’s an ugly history that Canada would like to erase. They’ll get their chance in the gold medal game. And if they’re going to do it, they’ll need a big showing from Alexis Lafrenière. A game-winning performance from him will give the presumptive number one overall pick the kind of WJC performance hockey fans will be talking about for years.
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.