Sunday, January 1, 2012

2012 World Junior Championships Update

The Preliminary Round of the 2012 World Junior Championships has now concluded and the bracket for the Playoff Round has been set, as have the teams in the Relegation Round.

With Sweden having won Group A, thanks to their dramatic 4-3 win over Russia last night with a tying goal in the final minute forcing overtime, they will face the winner of the Finland vs. Slovakia game on Monday.

Meanwhile, Canada delighted the home fans by going undefeated in Group B, challenged only by the United States, who were trying to save some pride after a disastrous first round which sees them place in the relegation round with Switzerland, Latvia and Denmark.

Canada thus earns the customary bye into the semifinals, where they will face the winner of the Russia versus Czech Republic game.

Sweden won Group A with 2 dominant wins over first Latvia and then Slovakia, their overtime win over Russia and a shootout win over Switzerland. The Swedish program has come a long way since not winning a medal between 1997 and 2007, including playing in the Relegation Round in 2003 and 2004. Since 2008, Sweden has won a pair of silvers and a bronze and will be disappointed to not come home with a medal after assuring themselves of playing for one regardless. Max Friberg, a 2011 Anaheim Ducks draft pick, has garnered the headlines for Sweden with his 7 goals in four games, tied for the tournament lead after the Preliminary Round.

Russia has looked strong to date, with three wins with only yesterday's overtime loss to Sweden as a blemish on their record. Both Nikita Gusev and Yevgeni Kuznetsov are tied with Stone for the tournament lead with 9 points, both with 3 goals and 6 assists. Kuznetsov belongs to the Washington Capitals, while Gusev is currently undrafted.

Slovakia made it to the Playoff Round thanks to wins over Latvia and their deciding 6-4 win over Switzerland, which allowed them to leapfrog over the Swiss in the standings.

Switzerland will be disappointed to find themselves in the Relegation Round, but should remain safe thanks to the 3 points they carry over thanks to their 5-3 win over Latvia.

As expected, Latvia finds themselves in the Relegation Round, carrying over no points, which points to our predicted meeting with Denmark to determine their fate, which has hope this year thanks to new rules which see only one team relegated, rather than the previous two.

In Group B, hosts Canada have simply steamrolled their way through everything in it's path, kicking off the tournament with a 8-1 thrashing of Finland, followed by a 5-0 shutout of the Czech Republic, and a 10-2 defeat of Denmark before jumping out to a 3-0 lead over the United States after one period before the Americans scored two in the third to make things interesting. Canada has not won gold since 2009, their fifth consecutive gold. Mark Stone has led the tournament with 7 goals and 9 points. He is a 2010 draft pick by the Ottawa Senators.

Finland moves on thanks to wins over the United States, Denmark and a dominant 4-0 win over the Czech Republic, and look good for medal contention thanks to a quarterfinal matchup with Slovakia. Teemu Pulkkinen, a Detroit Red Wings draft pick, leads the Finns with 5 goals and 3 assists for 8 points.

The Czech Republic advances thanks to their taking care of business against Denmark in addition to their strong performance against the USA, who they outlasted 5-2. They have drawn a tough Russian club, and will be elated to be competing for a medal on January 5th. While the Czech have no players in the top 28 in scoring, their goaltender Petr Mrazek , another Red Wings draft pick, has grabbed the spotlight with his flamboyant celebrations.

Without a doubt, the biggest disappointment of the tournament has been the United States, expected to contend for a medal, if not gold, the US started off well, defeating Denmark, but it flattered to deceive, as they then dropped games to Finland and the Czechs, crushing their hopes to advance. The US will be safe from relegation, aided by carrying over 3 points, but mere safety was not in anyone's minds for the Americans when the tournament started. The Minnesota Wild's Charlie Coyle leads the United States with 4 goals and 5 points.

Simply put, Denmark has been over matched, losing all four of their games by an average of 8 goals while being outscored 38-6. Still, their whole tournament comes down to one game. Perhaps they can steal a point against Switzerland, but they are looking at a winner-take-all game against Lativa on January 4th for survival, with the loser sure to be relegated for 2012, to be replaced by Germany, who won Division 1 Group A back in December 2011 at home in Germany.

The schedule takes it's traditional New Year's Day off today and resumes on Monday with the quarterfinals between Finland and Slovakia and Russia and the Czech Republic, as well as the first two games of the Relegation Round, which should ensure the safety of the Swiss and the Americans.

We expect Russia to advance to face Canada and the Finns to face their traditional rivals Sweden in the semifinals, which if it comes to pass, should make for a terrific doubleheader on Tuesday, free from competition for exposure from Monday's NHL Winter Classic.

The bronze medal game and gold medal final will both take place on Thursday the 5th in Calgary, where all the games will take place going forward.

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