2023 WJC Day 4 Preview

After just three days, the 2023 World Junior Championship (WJC) might be one of the most fascinating tournaments to date. In our Day 3 Preview, we argued, “With Canada’s disappointing outcome on Day 1, it’s tough to argue against the Americans as the odds-on favorites to win gold right now,” but warned, “‘[they] can’t take Slovakia lightly.” Now, 24 hours later, the U.S. is picking up the pieces after a 6-3 defeat by the underdog Slovakians.

Each day of the tournament so far has had a shocking upset of one of the presumed medal favorites, with Finland falling to Switzerland on Day 1, Canada losing to Czechia on Day 2, and the United States folding to Slovakia yesterday. What surprises will Day 4 of the tournament have in store? Let’s look ahead to today’s action.

Latvia vs. Finland (11:00 AM ET)

Latvia: Final Roster

Finland: Final Roster

After two games, Latvia is at the bottom of Group B, which is not a shock to most observers. But they do already have a point after forcing Switzerland to a shootout on Day 2. Still, their path to avoiding the relegation round seems very slim, as they’ll need a win over either Finland or the United States after each has already suffered a shocking upset. Team captain Gustavs Ozolinš (no relation to Sandis Ozolinš, arguably the greatest-ever player Latvian in the NHL) has led the way on the score sheet as well, managing three assists in the team’s first two games. But they need more scoring, which could be tough to find against the Finns.

For their part, the Finns have found depth scoring, with undrafted 19-year-old forward Sami Päivärinta leading the way with a goal and two assists. But Brad Lambert, often criticized for his inconsistency, has managed only one goal in two contests, and top scorer Joakim Kemell has only managed one goal and one helper. The Finns need more from their stars.

Joakim Kemell JYP
Joakim Kemell, JYP (Photo: Jiri Halttunen)

Finland has already dropped points to Switzerland. They won’t plan to do it again facing Latvia. They’ll still be heavy favorites, despite their start-and-go beginning to the campaign. Latvia has a real uphill battle here, but no one is going to rule out an upset at this WJC.

Favorite: Finland

Players to Watch: Sandis Ozolinš, D (LAT); Joakim Kemell, F [NSH], Brad Lambert, F [WPG] (FIN)

Sweden vs. Czechia (1:30 PM ET)

Sweden: Final Roster

Czechia: Final Roster

Of the four presumptive gold medal contenders entering the tournament, only Sweden has yet to suffer an upset. But the Czechians — who currently lead Group A with a 14:2 goal differential — are rolling and ready to prove they’re the unlikely team to beat at this tournament. One of Sweden’s top stars is in top form, with 2022 27th-overall pick Filip Bystedt scoring two goals and two assists. His teammate Carl Lindbom, taken two picks before the end of the 2021 NHL Draft, has put up the best goaltending performance of the tournament so far, stopping all 41 shots he faced against Austria in Game 1. In fact, Sweden has yet to allow a goal at this tournament, carrying on their stalwart defensive performance from last year’s tournament. But their inability to score multiple goals against Germany is a concern.

Related: 2023 WJC 3 Up, 3 Down: Sweden vs. Germany

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Czechia has had a tournament of dreams so far, with their huge upset over the host Canadians on Day 1 followed quickly by a dominating 9-0 defeat of Austria on Day 2. After a day of rest, they’ll be right back at it, and Tomas Suchanek, who has stopped 44 of 46 shots so far, should be back in net. Defenseman Stanislav Svozil, a 2021 third-round pick of the Columbus Blue Jackets, is second in points with a goal and four assists, and David Spacek (2022 fifth-round Minnesota Wild) and Matyas Sapovaliv (2022 second-round Vegas Golden Knights) aren’t far behind with four points apiece.

Recency bias is a powerful factor, but it’s hard to argue that Czechia isn’t the favorite coming into this game. Sweden has been the far better team historically, but Czechia is rolling, has played terrific defense, managed a lot of goals, and have had solid goaltending. They are the best team at the tournament through two games. Sweden has to prove that they’re still a threat to win gold. But if Czechia wins here, it will be time to start taking them very seriously as a medal favorite.

Favorite: Czechia

Players to Watch: Filip Bystedt, F [SJS], Carl Lindbom, G (SWE); Stanislav Svozil, D [CBJ], Matyas Sapovaliv, F [VGK] (CZE)

United States vs. Switzerland (4:00 PM ET)

United States: Final Roster

Switzerland: Final Roster

Switzerland is the leader in Group B after two games, not an outcome anyone saw coming. But they have earned it, managing a big win over Finland and holding off Latvia, winning both games in overtime. Now they face their toughest test yet: an angry team of Americans determined to right the wrong of a huge upset. The defense fell to pieces for the U.S. against Slovakia, but one player shined despite their struggles, as Tyler Boucher, the 10th overall pick of the Ottawa Senators in 2021, scored the first and third American goal of the game. He received assists on each of those goals from Cutter Gauthier, the fifth-overall pick of the Philadelphia Flyers in 2022.

Tyler Boucher USA Hockey NTDP
Tyler Boucher, USA Hockey NTDP (Rena Laverty/USA Hockey’s NTDP)

Switzerland may have needed overtime both times, but they have two wins, which is more than can be said for Finland, Canada, or the United States. Attilio Biasca, 19-year-old captain of the Halifax Mooseheads, has been one of the heroes so far, scoring the game-winner against Finland and managing two points in two games.

The United States will be looking to wash the taste of defeat out of their mouths quickly, and Switzerland provides a good opportunity for them to get back to the top of the group. They’ll be the favorites, and they should be wise enough not to take another game off on Day 4.

Favorite: United States

Players to Watch: Tyler Boucher, F [OTT], Cutter Gauthier, F [PHI] (USA); Attilio Biasca, F (SUI)

Austria vs. Canada (6:30 PM ET)

Austria: Players to Watch

Canada: Final Roster

Austria have had a brutal tournament so far, allowing 20 goals and scoring none of their own. If anyone is going to get them on the score sheet, it might be Vinzenz Rohrer. The 2022 third-round pick of the Montreal Canadiens is Austria’s only NHL-drafted player. But, whether Rohrer shows up or not, their prospects on Day 4 look bleak.

Canada bounced back from their upset by the Czechians with a resounding 11-2 defeat of Germany. Connor Bedard, the presumed first-overall pick in the upcoming draft, has been earning his plaudits and then some. He netted a natural hat trick against Germany, adding four assists in the process, and leads the tournament with eight points in two games. Shane Wright, the one-time presumed first-overall pick from this past draft, has managed two goals and two assists of his own.

Connor Bedard Team Canada
Connor Bedard, Team Canada (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)

Even though this tournament has been full of surprises, Austria would need a Herculean result to even give Canada a scare in this game, let alone upset them. Never say never, especially in 2023, but the deck is stacked against the Austrians in this one.

Favorite: Austria

Players to Watch: Vinzenz Rohrer, F [MTL] (AUS); Connor Bedard, F, Shane Wright, F [SEA] (CAN)

Time to Get Back on Track

All four of the tournament’s presumed medal favorites play on Thursday, and it is high time they get back on track. Finland, Canada, and the United States have all suffered a surprising defeat so far, and Sweden has its toughest test yet against the soaring Czechians. The WJC tournament is never without upsets, but this tournament has been especially volatile so far. Either the top teams need to get back on track during Day 4, or we’ll have to seriously reevaluate the projected favorites in Halifax and Moncton.