2022 WJC Day 8 Preview

After a day of rest, the 2022 World Junior Championship knockout rounds are set to begin. It’s win or go home at this quarterfinal stage, and everyone who advances from here will get at least a chance to play in a medal game. It’s a loaded day of action, the tournament’s busiest, with four games ready to go, so let’s hop to it.

Finland vs. Germany (12:00 PM)

Finland: Team Roster

Germany: Team Roster

Normally a dominant force at the WJC, Finland didn’t have their best opening round, needing overtime to beat the Czechians and losing in their last contest to Canada (6-3). Even so, they’ve had two standouts on offense, with Joakim Kemell and Aatu Räty tied for second in the tournament in points with nine apiece (three goals, six assists for each). Kemell fell to the Nashville Predators with the 17th overall pick in this year’s draft. There are some questions about his game, but he’s demonstrating the dynamic scoring ability that made Nashville fall in love with him. And prospect fans will be well familiar with Räty’s story. Once viewed as the potential first overall pick in 2021, he plummeted all the way to the New York Islanders late in the second round. Both Kemell and Räty are happily making a few teams that passed up on them nervous about what they might have missed out on, and they’ll be key to powering their nation past Germany.

Germany entered this tournament lacking the star power of recent years. Gone are the Moritz Seiders and Tim Stützles of the world. They’ve had to make do with a group of mostly undrafted, unheralded players. But they’ve done very well, managing two wins in the qualifying rounds — good for a third-place finish in Group B.

The “reward” for their success is a matchup with Finland, which isn’t much of a reward at all. But at least they avoid Canada for now. Alexander Blank has led the way on offense with three goals and an assist in the tournament. He’ll need to be big for his team to have a chance. Goaltenders Florian Bugl and Nikita Quapp have been just okay so far. Whichever gets the nod today (presumably Bugl) will need to be sharp to stop Kemell, Räty, and their compatriots.

Finland enters as the obvious favorite in this game, but a careful reading of the tournament so far suggests that viewers should be on upset watch in this one. Finland has not been its normally dominant self in most games, and Germany has been a plucky opponent throughout. It would not be shocking at all to see Germany emerge victorious.

Favorite: Finland

Players to Watch: Joakim Kemell, F [NSH], Aatu Räty, F [NYI] (FIN); Alexander Blank, F, Florian Bugl, G (GER)

Sweden vs. Latvia (3:30 PM)

Sweden: Team Roster

Latvia: Team Roster

Sweden had a terrific first round. Their outrageous and historic 52-game winning streak is a thing of the past, but they were still one of the teams to beat, winning three games and giving the United States by far its toughest test in a 3-2 loss. Now, they enter a matchup with the team that seems to be the easiest matchup of the tournament, hoping to take advantage of a fortunate draw. Emil Andrae, a 2020 second-round pick of the Philadelphia Flyers, has been a star so far, with three goals and four assists in four games. His performance should challenge other blueliners, like highly-drafted Red Wings prospect Simon Edvinsson, to up their games as the medal rounds approach.

Jesper Wallstedt has been another story of the tournament. Viewed as one of the best goaltending prospects in the world, he was extremely hard on himself following the loss to the United States — in which he made 38 saves on 41 shots — saying, “I’m disappointed in myself. I think I betrayed the whole team.” Obviously, the Minnesota Wild prospect has nothing to apologize for, but if he’s motivated to play at his very best in the quarterfinal, that’s a scary thought for his opponent.

Latvia, for their part, has been the Cinderella story of the tournament so far. Not even meant to be at the WJC, they made the most of it, playing well in every game and garnering just enough points to reach the quarterfinal and knock out Slovakia. Girts Silkalns leads Latvian forwards in scoring with three assists, but defender Ralfs Bergmanis has been the star with five points (three goals, two assists). The 20-year-old defender is hoping to build on a season in which he already helped the Sioux City Muskateers win the USHL’s Clark Cup Championship. But the road won’t be easy. Getting past Sweden will be a tall mountain to climb, and it seems more than likely that the Cinderella story ends here.

Favorite: Sweden

Players to Watch: Emil Andrae, D [PHI], Jesper Wallstedt, G [MIN] (SWE); Ralfs Bergmanis, D (LAT)

Canada vs. Switzerland (7:00 PM)

Canada: Team Roster

Switzerland: Team Roster

As expected, Canada looks like one of the two teams to beat once again this year. The hosts are undefeated and carry an absurd plus-20 goal differential so far. Mason McTavish, the top Anaheim Ducks prospect, is leading the tournament with seven goals, six assists, and 13 points, outpacing any other scorer by four points. Canada’s next highest scorer is Connor Bedard, the 17-year-old dynamo projected to go first overall next summer. he has seven points with three goals. Beyond that, there honestly isn’t too much to say about Canada. They were expected to be dominant, they are looking dominant, and the only obvious possible threat they face is the United States.

Mason McTavish Hamilton Bulldogs
Anaheim Ducks prospect Mason McTavish leads the tournament with 13 points, outpacing second place by four points (Brandon Taylor/OHL Images)

Switzerland won just one game in the qualifying round against the hapless Austrians (who were outscored 20-4 in four games). Attilio Biasca and Dario Allenspach both have four points for the Swiss. Both forwards are 19 years old and undrafted, but they’ve been the pride of their nation up to the knockout round. Now, they face a seemingly insurmountable test, and a Swiss victory here would be one of the biggest WJC upsets of all time. Never say never, of course, but Canada looks to have a fairly easy road to the semifinals here.

Favorite: Canada

Players to Watch: Mason McTavish, F [ANA], Connor Bedard, F (CAN); Attilio Biasca, F, Dario Allenspach, F (SUI)

United States vs. Czechia (10:30 PM)

United States: Team Roster

Czechia: Team Roster

The United States has been nearly as dominant as Canada but looks to have a tougher road forward than its neighbors to the north. They have four players with six points or more: Thomas Bordeleau (San Jose Sharks, 2020, Round 2, pick #38) has seven, Matthew Coronato (Calgary Flames, 2021, Round 1, pick #13) Carter Mazur (Detroit Red Wings, 2021, Round 3, pick #70), and Luke Hughes (New Jersey Devils, 2021, Round 1, pick #4) all have six. Of those, Hughes is the highest-rated prospect. The younger brother of Jack and Quinn is one of the highest-rated prospects anywhere and may well be manning the blueline in New Jersey this season.

Luke Hughes of the USDP
Luke Hughes of the USDP (Photo: Rena Laverty)

Czechia hasn’t had the tournament it hoped to, and the players probably feel they should have switched places with Latvia in the final standings. But there’s no time to sulk. The United States is a powerhouse, and they have to find an identity quickly to stand a chance. Czechia is eighth in scoring efficiency and ninth in save percentage (SV%), and they’ll need more from Jan Bednar, the 2020 107th overall pick of the Red Wings. He’s had a .851 SV% so far, and if the Czechians are going to have any chance of stymying the Americans, they will have to rely on him. Even so, it feels like a tall order. But Czechia’s history at the tournament, performance so far, and quality of roster make them a tougher test than Switzerland will be for Canada.

Favorite: United States

Players to Watch: Luke Hughes, D [NJD], Matthew Coronato, F [CAL] (USA); Jan Bednar, G [DET] (CZE)

WJC Do or Die

After a grueling qualifying process, the rubber meets the road at the WJC on Wednesday. The teams that win enter the medal rounds, where winners go on to fight for gold and losers at least get a shot at bronze. No one wants to lose at this stage. While there may be clear favorites in each matchup, no one is going to be an easy opponent. Don’t miss a minute of today’s action.

Team CanadaPlayers to WatchRoster
Team USAPlayers to WatchRoster
Team AustriaPlayers to WatchRoster
Team CzechiaPlayers to WatchRoster
Team FinlandPlayers to WatchRoster
Team GermanyPlayers to WatchRoster
Team LatviaRoster
Team SlovakiaRoster
Team SwedenPlayers to WatchRoster
Team SwitzerlandPlayers to WatchRoster

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