Day 4 of the WJC was finally a bit of a return to normal for a tournament that has seen plenty of chaos so far. All four of the presumed top teams coming into the tournament came out victorious, with Finland, Canada, and the United States dominating their competition. Now, as the final two days of the group stage play out, teams will be fighting for final positioning. But Day 5 is all about avoiding the relegation round. Let’s look at the matchups.
Slovakia vs. Latvia (1:30 PM ET)
Slovakia: Final Roster
Latvia: Final Roster
Slovakia and Latvia are currently the bottom two teams in Group B, though Slovakia has clearly had a much stronger tournament so far. They have an 8:8 goal differential and scored the massive upset over the United States on Day 3. Peter Repčik, an undrafted player on the Charlottetown Islanders, has had the best of the scoring so far, with three goals and an assist in two games. And Šimon Nemec, the second overall pick of the New Jersey Devils from this past draft, has been quietly leading his team, adding three assists in their upset over the United States.
Latvia might end up in relegation territory, but they have not been an easy opponent in this tournament. They managed two goals against the U.S., forced Switzerland to a shootout, and then limited the Finns to three goals in their last game. Still, they must have a win over Slovakia to stand a chance of avoiding relegation. One thing that has gone extremely well for Latvia is their penalty kill. They’ve had the best PK at the tournament, killing all seven of the power plays they’ve surrendered. Gustavs Ozolinš, a defenseman, has been a big part of that penalty kill and has also managed three assists. They will also want more from Dans Locmelis, a fourth-round pick of the Boston Bruins in 2022. He has just one goal so far.
Slovakia will enter this game as the favorites, but Latvia will be fighting for their lives to avoid the relegation round. Expect this one to be close, but look for Slovakia to take the upper hand.
Players to Watch: Peter Repčik, F, Šimon Nemec, D [NJD] (AUS); Gustavs Ozolinš, D, Dans Locmelis, F [BOS] (LAT)
Germany vs. Austria (4:00 PM ET)
Germany: Final Roster
Austria: Players to Watch
On paper, this might be the ugliest matchup of the tournament. But at least we have national rivals on the docket. Neither Germany nor Austria has managed a point so far, though Germany has been a bit less of a sacrificial lamb than their counterparts to the south and has only played two games thus far. They’ve struggled to find the back of the net, with only Phillip Sinn and Roman Ketcher scoring so far. Nikita Quapp, a 2021 sixth-round pick of the Carolina Hurricanes, had a fantastic start in net against Sweden and should get the start against Austria as well.
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The lack of parity has always been a criticism of the World Junior Championship, and Austria is making a strong case for those that want a smaller group stage at the top level. They’ve played three games, scoring no goals and allowing 31. Hopefully, Vinzenz Rohrer — Austria’s only NHL-drafted player — will pull a rabbit out of a hat and at least get Austria on the board.
This game is Austria’s last chance to avoid the relegation round, but it’s also their best. Germany’s last game is against Czechia, who has been red hot, so the team that loses this game is likely to be Group A’s representative in the relegation round. Germany is the clear favorite, based on how badly Austria has played so far. But whichever team wins here virtually guarantees their place in the tournament next year.
Players to Watch: Nikita Quapp, G [CAR] (GER); Vinzenz Rohrer, F [MTL] (AUS)
Two Days to Go
We’ve reached the final two days of the group stage when pretenders are separated from contenders, and final seeding comes into focus. Day 5 might not provide the highest quality of team, but it offers the most drama of any day of the tournament so far. The teams that win their games will pretty much secure a spot in the 2024 tournament, while the losers on Day 5 will likely play each other in the relegation round. There is a lot on the line and plenty of reasons to tune in to the penultimate day of the preliminary round.