The World Junior Championships have been every bit as fun as advertised so far, and day four features four more matchups, some of them with big implications. Let’s take a look at the slate.
Denmark vs. Switzerland (1:00 pm PST)
Denmark has had a tough tournament so far, as they’ve gone goalless in two games while allowing 18 against, 14 to the Canadians and four the following night to the Russians. They’ve had a day off to regroup, and will need to put their work boots on and bring it against the Swiss if they’re hoping to avoid potential relegation from the WJC, meaning they would not appear in next year’s Championship.
The Swiss, for their part, are winless, but have an overtime loss to their credit, and will also be coming off a day of rest. They’ve played much closer games, taking the Czech Republic to overtime on day one and, perhaps surprisingly, challenging the Canadians in a 3-2 game on day two.
Now, two of the tournament’s winless teams will enter their third game hoping to preserve their future at the WJC. Both teams are at risk of entering the relegation fight at the end of the tournament, but a clean win here will help them significantly.
The Swiss will look for more help from Blackhawks’ prospect Philipp Kurashev, who had both goals in the game against Canada and added an additional point on Switzerland’s other goal in the tournament. Denmark will take a goal from anyone’s stick at this point, and are looking for more help from their goaltenders, who are combining for a .734 save percentage. It will likely be William Rorth in net, and he’ll need to be a stalwart to give the Danes a fighting chance.
Players to Watch: Philipp Kurashev, F (SUI); William Rorth, G (DEN)
Slovakia vs. Finland (3:30 pm PST)
The second game of day four features another winless team, Slovakia. They are also at risk of potential relegation, but will have an opportunity to face Kazakhstan to avoid that fate, a team they should be able to beat.
In the meantime, they’re facing a Finnish team that is loaded with talent, and will be coming off a day of rest following a 5-0 defeat of those same Kazakhs. Finland’s top scorer has been the Canadiens’ prospect Jesse Ylönen, who has three assists, but the top goal collector is team captain Aarne Talvitie of the Penn State University squad.
Slovakia will look to counter Finland’s firepower. Could Martin Fehervary, a second round pick of the Washington Capitals, be the key to stopping the assault? He is probably Slovakia’s best defenseman, and will be relied upon to play big minutes. He’ll need to have a big game to hold off the Finnish squad, but the Slovaks will certainly enter the matchup as underdogs.
Players to Watch: Jesse Ylönen, F, and Aarne Talvitie, F (FIN); Martin Fehervary, D (SVK)
Canada vs. Czech Republic (5:00 pm PST)
The Czech Republic was narrowly defeated by the Russian team in day three’s action, which leaves them at 0-1-0-1. A win over the Canadians would be huge, but how likely is it that the Czechs will be able to stop a squad that has been red hot all tournament?
They’ll need help from their top scorers to do it, and it’s time for Martin Necas and Filip Zadina to begin to show why they were such highly touted prospects entering the WJC. Necas was a top scorer last year, but has been largely invisible in this year’s games, recording just one assist — and that’s one more point than Zadina has collected so far.
They’ll face a Canadian team that’s had no shortage of goals, as three of their players, Maxime Comtois, Cody Glass, and Morgan Frost are tied for the tournament lead in points so far with five apiece. But, could this game be a coming out party for Alexis Lafrenière, the presumptive first pick in 2020’s draft who is just 17 at this year’s Championship? Despite the Canadians’ 17 combined goals, Lafrenière has yet to record a single point, and he’ll need to get going quickly if he wants to stand out on this loaded team.
It will be a tall order for the Czechs to take down the Canadians, but if they do, it will make for very interesting drama in the final days of the first round. Expect Canada to continue its roll and come out on top in this one.
Players to Watch: Martin Necas, F, Filip Zadina, F (CZE); Alexis Lafrenière, F (CAN)
Sweden vs. United States (7:30 pm PST)
The marquee matchup of the evening features two 2-0-0-0 teams squaring off for group supremacy. The United States will be rolling in off of an 8-2 defeat of Kazakhstan on Friday night, and will be looking to carry that momentum through against a tough Swedish team.
The Americans have been led in scoring by Jason Robertson, who was one of the less talked about players entering the tournament. The Dallas Stars prospect has four points, all of them assists, in the team’s two games, an unsurprising accomplishment for those that have seen him rake in points with the Kingston Frontenacs of the OHL. His teammate Joel Farabee, a Philadelphia Flyers prospect, collected a hat trick in the space of about seven minutes in Friday’s game against Kazakhstan. Can he continue that momentum against the Swedes?
Though Rasmus Dahlin is no longer part of the Swedes’ under-20 team, they still have seen significant scoring from their back end. Adam Boqvist, a Chicago Blackhawks first-round pick this past summer, leads the team with three assists, while his fellow defenseman Erik Brännström, has collected three goals. Just a teenager with the Chicago Wolves of the AHL, Brännström is a very impressive young prospect for the Vegas Golden Knights, whose stock is rising.
Can the Swedish defense continue to hit the back of the net? Or will the loaded American team be able to hold them off? Either way, this should be one of the best games of the tournament so far, as two perennial powerhouses square off.
Players to Watch: Jason Robertson, F, Joel Farabee, F (USA); Adam Boqvist, D, Erik Brännström, D (SWE)
Saturday’s night cap is a can’t miss game that could be one of the best games of the whole tournament, but the afternoon’s action should be compelling as well. The Danes and the Swiss will fight to stave off a trip to the relegation zone. Slovakia will try to upset the loaded Finnish team. And the hottest team in the tournament, the host nation Canada, will look to continue its momentum against a game Czech Republic team. It should be a great day of action.
As always, be sure to check back with the Hockey Writers for daily previews, recaps, and all the other news you need for the WJC.
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.