Friday, January 2, 2015

2015 World Juniors Update

Preliminary Round play at the 2015 World Junior Championships concluded on Wednesday, and with some dramatic results.

2015 WJC logo photo 2015WJCcenterice.jpg

Group A, played at the Bell Centre in Montreal saw Canada win the group with a perfect 4-0 record as they cruised through their schedule undefeated. They shellacked Slovakia 8-0 on opening day before shutting out Germany 4-0. They finally gave up a goal at 18:26 of the second period of their 4-1 win over Finland prior to their toughest challenge, a New Year's Eve matchup with the United States, where they prevailed 5-3 thanks to two late, empty net goals.

Canada vs USA photo CanadavsUSA.jpg
Canada took first place in Group A over the US

Second in Group A were the Americans, who needed a shootout to overcome the defending champions from Finland. They set up their winner-take-all meeting with the Canadians by taking their turn to shut out both Germany (6-0) and Slovakia (3-0) before dropping their game against Canada, their sixth consecutive New Year's Eve loss to the Canadians.

While many expected the Finns to challenge the two North American squads, it was Slovakia who came through in third place in the group despite their opening night thrashing by Canada 8-0. The key to their Preliminary Round was a 2-1 regulation win for the full three points over Finland. Following their 3-0 loss to the US, they took care of business and secured their spot in the Quarterfinals with a 5-2  win over Germany on December 30, taking the pressure off while the final day's games played out, knowing their spot was secure with only their opponent to be determined.

Slovakia vs USA photo SlovakiavsUSA.jpg
Perhaps the best dressed game of the tournament, Slovakia faced
the USA, who wore their 1960 throwbacks

Germany simply didn't have the offense to compete this year, scoring only two goals while giving up 17. Due to Finland's struggles against the US, Canada and Slovakia, Germany had a chance on paper to advance on the final day, but Finland did what they needed with a 2-0 win to send the Germans to the Relegation Round.

Over in Group B at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Sweden powered their way to first place in the group with a strong 5-2 win over the Czech Republic, maintained focus with a 5-1 win over Denmark, came from behind in the third period to take the full three points with a regulation win over Russia and put a lock on first place with a 5-1 defeat of Switzerland.

Sweden vs Russia photo SwedenvsRussia.jpg
Sweden was the class of Group B

While Sweden took the shortest route through the group, the Czech Republic made their trip an arduous ordeal. After getting no points in the standings thanks to their 5-2 loss to Sweden, they then suffered another 5-2 loss, this time at the hands of Switzerland. While everyone expected them to get healthy against Denmark, the Danes gave them all they could handle and then more, as regulation ended tied at 3-3. The Czechs did prevail in overtime, but at the loss of yet another point in the standings, leaving them with just 2 from a possible 9 after three games and sitting dead last going into the final day, where they faced a must-win situation against no less than Russia.

Playing the game they desperately needed to have, the Czechs dominated the Russians, and not only crafted a sublime 4-1 win, they amazingly vaulted over three teams to take second place in the group when the Relegation Round looked like a very real possibility!

Czech Republic vs Russia photo CzechRepublicvsRussia.jpg
The Big Red Machine turned out to be the Czechs on New Year's Eve

Russia needed overtime to defeat Denmark 3-2 on opening day, but looked to regain their form with a 7-0 pasting of Switzerland in a game many thought would be closer. They dropped a 3-2 decision to Sweden, but sill had sights on second in the group until failing to answer the bell in their 4-1 loss to the desperate Czechs. Their two outright losses, plus dropping a point to Denmark, left the Russians with a mere 5 points, which dropped them to third in the final Group B standings.

The final two places - a spot in the Quarterfinals and another in the Relegation Round came down to Switzerland and Denmark. The Danes opened with a surprising, if not shocking effort, taking the Russians to overtime before losing in a shootout. Still, it was an unexpected and welcome point in the standings. Their next game saw them crash back to reality with a 5-1 loss to Sweden, but the feisty Danes took another point off the Czech Republic in a 4-3 overtime defeat. Their final game saw then matched with the Swiss, and may have been the most entertaining game of the Preliminary Round, saw the Swiss take a 2-0 lead only to have Denmark come back to tie the game at 2-2. The Swiss scored again to regain the lead, but the Danes answered before the second period ended. The third period and overtime passed scoreless before Denmark won the game in a shootout to win their first ever game at the top level of the World Juniors and add two more vital points to their total, which now stood at 4.

Denmark photo Denmark.jpg
Denmark was thrilled to hear their anthem following
their historic first win at the World Juniors

Switzerland got a fantastic result in the form of their 5-2 win over the Czech Republic to open their tournament, but were then throttled by the Russians 7-0. The painful loss to Denmark followed, but the point in the standings helped ease the pain, as they were tied with Denmark at 4, ahead of the decidedly off-form Czechs with 2. Any point from their game against Sweden to close out their Preliminary Round schedule would have ensured their safety, but an on-form Sweden was having none of that, taking an easy 5-1 win. Still, there was hope as the Czechs were facing Russia in a must-win game and they held the head-to-head tie breaker even if the Czechs should win in overtime. That was not to be however, as the Czechs won easily, leaping over not only Switzerland and Denmark, but also the Russians.

Switzerland photo Switzerland.jpg
Switzerland's first outing in their new red jerseys
did not go as well as they hoped

This left Switzerland and Denmark tied at 4 points each, but Denmark took the final playoff spot in Group B thanks to their shootout win over the Swiss, who must now hope to defeat Germany in the best-of-three Relegation Round games, which begin today in Toronto. Game 2 is Saturday and, if necessary, the deciding Game 3 will be on Monday, with the winner remaining in the Top Division for 2016 and the loser dropping down to Division 1 Group A next year.

The four Quarterfinal matches will all be played today beginning at 1 PM Eastern time when second place in Group A, the United States draws a difficult challenge in Russia, third place in Group B, in the opening game in Montreal. Two hours later, action in Toronto kicks off with nordic rivals Sweden drawing Finland, who will be looking to hit the reset button after their disappointing Preliminary Round, and nothing would give them greater satisfaction by knocking out Group B winners Sweden.

The second game in Montreal is another rivalry matchup, this one neighbors the Czech Republic squaring off with Slovakia at 5 PM. Host Canada makes their first appearance in Toronto as they draw the decided underdogs Denmark. Can the Danes possibly hope to repeat their effort against Russia on Canadian ice vs. the home team? It could be a long game for the Danes, but no one expected them to get this far in the first place.

The winners of today's game will meet in the Semifinals on Sunday, with the Bronze Medal and Gold Medal Games following on Monday, with all four of those taking place in Toronto.

While all eyes were on Connor McDavid heading into the tournament, Canada's  Sam Reinhart leads all scorers with 8 points in 4 games, with the United States Dylan Larkin next at 7 while leading all goal scorers with 5. Max Domi (Canada), Oskar Lindblom and William Nylander (both Sweden), David Pastrnak (Czech Republic) and Canadian Nic Petan are all also equal with Larkin at 7 points.

Today's featured jersey is a 2015 Canada National Team Sam Reinhart jersey. Canada introduced new jerseys with a throwback feel for 2015 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of their governing body, Hockey Canada. The jerseys are loosely based on those worn by Team Canada at the lesser known 1974 Summit Series of 40 years ago, where the stars of the WHA took on the Soviet Union following the success of the 1972 Summit Series.

1974 Summit Series Howe Hull photo 1974SummitSeriesHoweHull.png
Legends Gordie Howe and Bobby Hull during the 1974 Summit Series

Perhaps the nicest part of the package is the attractive 100th Anniversary logo patch, which features a large maple leaf similar to the one worn back in 1924 as well as the enduring red and black Hockey Canada logo surrounded by the dates 1914 and 2014.

The Canadian appetite for hockey sees the Canadians introducing new jerseys more frequently than most countries and special one off jerseys on occasion, many of which are auctioned off, as is the case with this jersey.

Canada 2015 WJC  jersey photo Canada2015WJC23Fjersey.jpg
Canada 2015 WJC  jersey photo Canada2015WJC23Bjersey.jpg

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