There are just two games on the schedule for Day Three of the World Junior Championship, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be an exciting day of hockey. Friday’s slate features the return of the U.S. team, facing tournament underdog Kazakhstan, as well as the matchup of two 1-0-0 teams, Russia and the Czech Republic. By the end of the day, we’ll have a better picture of which teams in the tournaments are pretenders, and which are serious contenders.
Let’s take a look at Friday’s matchups.
Czech Republic vs. Russia (5:00 pm PST)
The Russian team didn’t shine in its debut against Denmark. The Danish team was coming off of a 14-0 defeat by host country Canada, but Russia played a very sloppy game with seven penalties and a total of 26 penalty minutes. That Denmark wasn’t able to capitalize is more of a statement about their shortcomings than about the Russians’ strengths. The 4-0 margin of victory was very misleading.
The good news for Russia is that their star players performed well. Alexander Romanov, an early second-round pick by the Montreal Canadiens in this past year’s draft, led the group with three points, a goal and two assists. The New York Rangers’ Vitali Kravtsov, whose stock was rising considerably even before the tournament, scored the game-winning first goal and added an assist. And team captain Klim Kostin added two more assists.
It took the Czech team until overtime to overcome a Swiss team that has proved to be a game opponent in both of its matchups so far. But they’ll be fresh coming in against the Russians, and ready to prove that their offensive firepower is enough to carry them deep into this tournament.
It will be interesting to see whether Colorado Avalanche prospect Martin Kaut can carry forward the momentum he built in the Czechs’ first game, where he collected a goal and an assist. He came into the tournament with less hype than his teammates Martin Necas (Carolina Hurricanes) and Filip Zadina (Detroit Red Wings), but he’s proved to be their equal in offensive talent so far.
With the Czech Republic coming into the game after a day’s rest, this should be one of the closer matchups we’ve seen on paper. Russia still has the slight edge, but no one could be surprised if the Czechs pulled out a victory here.
Players to Watch: Alexander Romanov, D, and Vitali Kravtsov, F (RUS); Martin Kaut, F (CZE)
Kazakhstan vs. United States (7:30 pm PST)
Kazakhstan drew a tough matchup against Finland in their WJC debut, and things won’t get any easier against the U.S. team that boasts the 2019 draft’s presumptive number-one pick. To compound matters, the U.S.A. will come in fresh off a day’s rest, while the Kazakhstani team will have played the night before. It’s not shaping up to be a very fun night for the tournament’s underdogs.
Jack Hughes showed many of the skills that make him such a promising prospect in the U.S.’ first game, and tallied an assist on the game-tying goal. Mikey Anderson, the team’s captain and a University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldog, scored that goal, which brought the Yankees even with the Slovaks.
Anderson will look to lead the team and keep them focused in a game they might be tempted to look past, particularly with a showdown against Sweden on the horizon. With Jack Hughes and his brother, Quinn, playing alongside Anderson, there should be plenty of firepower for the Americans to overcome the Kazakhs.
Favorite: United States
Players to Watch: Valeri Orekhov, D (KAZ); Jack Hughes, F, Mikey Anderson, D (USA)
Friday’s first matchup should be one of the tournament’s closest so far, as the rested Czechs are only slightly behind the Russians in overall talent. The evening showcase may not be as close, as the United States will enter as heavy favorites against an unknown Kazakhstan team.
The Russians, Czechs, and Americans all have some serious NHL prospects, both drafted and not yet drafted, so be sure to tune in on Friday for a glimpse at the future of hockey. And make sure to check back with the Hockey Writers for daily previews, recaps, and other articles digging into the World Junior Championship.
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.