The first day of the 2018 World Junior Championships is in the books. The winter barrens of Buffalo and the harsh chill may have kept some fans at bay, for attendance was rather sparse. This was particularly the case for the USA versus Denmark showdown as the last game of the day. Somewhat disappointing considering the fact that USA is the host nation and Buffalo, normally weather-hearty, could not outdo the turnout of the Canadian fans for Canada versus Finland.
The hockey, however, was spot on at each of the games. For those who skipped Day One because of the chilly weather, well, you missed out. Don’t worry – you still have eight more days of games to catch some of the action in person.
THW takes a look at the five main takeaways from this earliest portion of the tourney:
#5. The Czechs Garner a Stunning Victory Over Russia
The unthinkable happened as the Czech Republic got the better of Russia. At one point the Czechs were up 5-2. Russia came back to make the score 5-4 but it was too little too late. This was only the second time that the Czechs have defeated the Russians in their previous 11 meetings at this tournament.
The teams traded goals throughout the first period and ended up locked at 2-2 going into the 2nd period. This is where the Czechs got the jump. A power play tally by Filip Zadina followed by a Filip Chytil tally put the Czechs up 4-2 at 37:26 of the game.
The Czech’s Vojtech Budik shared the following in an IIHF recap: “We scored five times against the Russians, so that was big for us,” said Budik. “They’re always such a good team, but our coaches prepared us really well for this game, and we played with a lot of intensity.”
By the end of the game Czech forward Martin Kaut had three assists and three shots on goal. Filip Chytil had a goal and an assist, and led the way for the Czechs with a plus-two. Filip Kral, whose goal turned out to be the game-winner, tied for the team lead in shifts by Czech defensemen with 35.
The Czechs can certainly skate with a bit more confidence now getting that first win under their belts.
#4. Cal Foote Makes a Diving Save for Canada
While Canada may have defeated Finland by a score of 4-2, if it were not for some heroics by one of their hardest working D-men, the Finns could have mounted a bit of a comeback against Canada. In the 3rd period with a puck having fallen in behind Canada goaltender Carter Hart, Cal Foote came to the rescue. Hart made the initial save but the puck ricocheted behind him and began tumbling into the net.
Seemingly out of nowhere, Foote came flying through the air to help his goaltender out. With one fell swoop, he batted the puck safely away from Canada’s net. At least a portion of the puck had crossed the goal line as Foote swatted it, but not enough for it to have counted as a goal.
— TSN (@TSN_Sports) December 26, 2017
Not only was this save by Foote just plain cool to behold, it also kept Finland permanently at bay. Had the puck crossed the line, the game could have been much different. The score would have been 4-3, and Finland still would have had plenty of time to knot it up at 4-all.
Foote’s batting away of the puck seemed to depict the proverbial “Not in my house!”
#3. Denmark’s Krog Plays Too Deep in His Net
One of the knocks against the great Vladislav Tretiak was that he played too far back in his goal crease and that was why he could not have made it in the NHL. Don’t know how true that is, but Denmark’s Kasper Krog should truly pay attention to that.
Make no mistake – Kasper Krog is a talented goaltender. At the 2017 tournament he had a terrific showing. Krog garnered a win against over Finland and made 48 saves in a shootout loss to Switzerland. By tournament’s end, he had a .920 save percentage. So Krog can certainly get the job done.
For whatever reason though, against the United States he played way too far back in his net. What does not help matters is that Krog is 5-foot-9. He truly needs to play his angles better and challenge his shooters at the top of his crease. The USA was eating him alive and made the score 7-0 by the end of the second period. One of which was a penalty-shot goal. Now, the United States is of course a powerhouse and that has something to do with it, but Krog is not helping himself.
— USA Hockey (@usahockey) December 27, 2017
For example, on the USA’s second goal of the game Kieffer Bellows fired a shot that hit Krog mostly in the chest. Had Krog been out just slightly more, the puck would have deflected harmlessly into the corner. But because he was so entrenched in his net, the puck caromed right into the net after he made the initial save.
For the 3rd period, Denmark changed goalies and Emil Gransoe was put in. If Krog is going to be a difference maker, he needs to play at the top of his crease.
#2. Tkachuk’s First WJC Point Makes It a Family Affair
Father Keith Tkachuk played in two World Junior Championships, and even captained the USA team for the 1992 tournament. In 14 World Junior games the elder Tkachuk scored nine goals and seven assists. Older brother Matthew Tkachuk played in one World Junior and was phenomenal. During the 2016 tournament, he had four goals and seven assists for 11 points in seven games. Keith took home a bronze in 1992. Matthew nabbed the bronze in 2016. So how will son/younger brother Brady Tkachuk fair in 2018?
— TSN (@TSN_Sports) August 6, 2017
THW had a chance to speak with the younger Tkachuk after USA’s 9-0 shellacking of Denmark. We posed this question to him, as to what his first WJC point meant to him, knowing that he is following in his dad’s and brother’s footsteps:
“It’s definitely awesome to be a part of that,” Tkachuk said. “But more happy about the big win tonight. It was definitely a very good start for our team. We know that we can be a lot better too, so that’s awesome to see. We’re just really excited to keep going”.
#1. Mittelstadt on Fire in Front of Buffalo Fans
If there is still any doubt as to whether the Buffalo Sabres made the right decision in drafting Casey Mittelstadt as the eighth overall pick in the 2017 draft, then it needs to be quelled. Denmark or not, Mittelstadt looked excellent on the ice for USA. This was likely the first opportunity that most Buffalo area fans had of seeing him play in person. He did not disappoint.
Mittelstadt was named Player of the Game for Team USA. He notched a pair of goals for his team and did so on on three shots. Mittelstadt’s tallies came as the third and fifth goals for USA in the routing.
Asked after the game about his performance in front of Buffalo fans, Mittelstadt shared with the media:
“I think any time I come, no matter where the tournament may be at, I have really high expectations of myself, and I expect myself to play to the best of my ability.”
Mittlestadt is certainly doing a fine job of that. His 18:43 of ice time was second highest of all USA forwards by game’s end. Only Riley Tufte had more time among forwards, and that was only be a mere four seconds.
Heading Into Day Two
There are two games on tap for Day Two of the World Juniors. Switzerland and Belarus square off for a matinee game, while Canada takes on Slovakia for the evening game at the Key Bank Center. While Canada and Belarus have each played a game already, this will be the first time seeing Switzerland and Slovakia in action.
THW is on site for all of the games throughout the tournament, and will provide you with extensive coverage each day.