The World Junior semi-finals included two close games between long time rivals.
Finland 2, Sweden 1
Sweden kept the Finn’s very young top line of Jesse Puljujarvi(16), Patrick Laine(16), and Sebastian Aho(Car) off the scoresheet, which no one else has been able to do. But they weren’t able to contain a 2nd line feature older players like Mikko Rantanen (Col) and Kasperi Kapanen(Tor), who assisted on both Finnish goals. They’re both European prospects who’ve played in the AHL as nineteen yearolds. Rantanen has also played a few games for the Avs this year, and I look forward to hating him for years to come.
Sweden played well, and got good goaltending, but they didn’t manage to create enough opportunities to win. They only had three shots in the third, which simply isn’t going to work.
Kaapo Kahkonen only faced twenty-two shots, but he made a lot of good saves, especially early. I probably would have said he’s the Wild’s best goaltending prospect before this tournament, but I feel even more sure of it now.
Joel Eriksson Ek had two shots on goal, and was involved in one good chance that I remember, but like the rest of the Swedes never seems particularly threatening. At times his line was matched with Finland’s dynamic draft eligibles, and held them off decently. While his scoring wasn’t evident in this game, his defensive play was.
Finland is going to be playing for gold in their homeland, and should have the crowd behind them.
Russia 2, USA 1
America scored first, and for a while it seemed like that was going to be it. Russia had a hard time getting out of their own end, and American goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic(Car) was very solid. Then Russia scored two quick goals in the second, and America struggled to get anything going for the rest of the game. The only real sustained pressure they had came 6-on-5 at the end.
Nedeljkovic had to be sharp to keep it a one goal game. I’ve been impressed by him all tournament. In the end America couldn’t manage to score again, and lost. They played better than this at other points in the tournament, but things didn’t come together today.
Kirill Kaprizov didn’t show up on the scoresheet, but he was real impressive. He had nine shots on goal! Nine! He’s obviously super talented, good at getting into the offensive zone and doing things there. He drew Russia’s first power play by going to the net and making a defenseman trip him. Later on he took a delay of game penalty for deflecting a puck into the stands. He looked so young sitting in the penalty box. He doesn’t turn nineteen until April, but he’s definitely a player to keep an eye on. He’s really fun to watch, and I’m excited about the possibility of him playing in North America.
The only time I really noticed Louis Belpedio was when Russia got a full two minutes of 5-on-3 opportunity, where he was very good. Not being noticed much isn’t a bad thing for a defenseman. He played a lot of minutes, and was definitely trusted by the US coaches.
It’s disappointing for America not to get a shot at gold, but this is further in the tournament than they managed since 2013. Taking home a bronze medal can still be something to be proud of.
Tomorrow there’s USA vs Sweden for Bronze at 8 AM, and Finland vs Russia for Gold at 12:30. They both look like really exciting games to check out, or I’ll be back with more recaps tomorrow afternoon.