The action is non-stop in the 2019 World Junior Championship, hosted by Canada in British Columbia. Day four featured three victories by four goals, but rewarded viewers with an incredible game between Sweden and the United States to close out the night.
There are only two games in Sunday’s slate of action, but the results will help bring the final standings into clearer focus, and will also give us a better understanding of who might face relegation.
What is Relegation?
For those who do not know, the World Junior Championships is actually a series of tournaments with three different divisions. Most of the focus goes to the top division, where perennial contenders like Canada, Sweden, and the United States play. But the two lower divisions play for the opportunity for promotion to a higher division. The winning team in each of those divisions moves up for the following year’s tournament, as Kazakhstan did last year.
The consequence of that promotion is that someone has to be relegated to clear a spot for the incoming team. After the first round in Division I, the top four teams from each group will enter a single elimination tournament for the championship, while the bottom team from each group will play in a best of three series. The loser of that series will be relegated to Division II.
Russia vs. Switzerland (5:00 pm PST)
With Switzerland’s commanding victory over Denmark, they have safely removed themselves from the relegation discussion, but they still will need to give Russia a tough game. They’ll have help from their top scorer, Philipp Kurashev, a prospect in the Chicago Blackhawks’ system. He recorded a hat trick in Friday’s game against Denmark, and has five goals on the whole tournament.
Russia is coming off of a day of rest, which could give them an edge. They have two wins on the whole, but haven’t seemed to escape first gear. They will need more help from their scorers to begin to build momentum as the quarterfinals approach. Look for captain Klim Kostin, a St. Louis Blues’ 2017 draft pick, to take the lead and build on the two assists he’s already collected.
Russia will be the favorite entering this game, but don’t write off Switzerland entirely. They’ve been a tough opponent in all three of their games and have serious momentum after dismantling Denmark. A win here would put them in an unexpected second place entering the final day of the first round.
Players to Watch: Philipp Kurashev, F (SUI); Klim Kostin, F (RUS)
Kazakhstan vs. Slovakia (7:30 pm PST)
The late game on Sunday will probably determine one of the two teams that enters the relegation series. Both Kazakhstan and Slovakia are winless entering the game, and it will be the latter’s last chance at points. Kazakhstan will have another opportunity, but with a dominant Sweden on the horizon, the loser of this showdown is likely going to be the loser of the group.
Kazakhstan put up a fight, despite losing 8-2 to the United States on Friday. They were the team that was promoted after last season’s tournament, and will hope to avoid taking an immediate return trip to Division II. Dmitri Mitenkov has been one of their better players. and has one of the two goals, alongside Andrei Buyaiski.
The Slovaks should, theoretically, enter the games as favorites, but haven’t had much more success than the Kazakhs so far. They have had four goals, one off the stick of Martin Fehervary, who was selected at 46 in the 2018 draft by the Washington Capitals. He’s maintained an even plus-minus, and along with Adam Liska, Slovakia’s top point producer, has been one of the team’s better players.
Slovakia should have what it takes to defeat the Kazakhstani team here, but an upset isn’t out of the question. The underdog Kazakhs have shown some fight in the tournament, and could do wonders for their hockey program with a win in this game.
Players to Watch: Dmitri Mitenkov, F (KAZ); Martin Fehervary, D, Adam Liska, F (SVK)
By the end of day five, we will probably know one of the two teams that is entering the relegation series at the end of the tournament — either Kazakhstan or Slovakia. We will also have a better idea of who might be the best team in Group A behind Canada. Will the Russians find their groove, or could the Swiss pull off a surprising upset?
The penultimate day of the first round of the WJC will start to give us some answers. As the tournament continues, stay tuned to The Hockey Writers for daily previews, recaps, and analysis.
Stephen Ground is a veteran of over three years at THW, focusing on the St. Louis Blues, NHL goaltending, and the annual World Junior Championship. He is the co-host of the Two Guys One Cup Podcast, a hockey podcast focused on the Blues.