Grand Forks, ND
The first three days of the 2016 IIHF Men’s World U18 Championship have been full of action-packed games, gut-wrenching endings and stellar play from all teams. Here are some thoughts on each team in Group A involved. Look for more regarding group B tomorrow.
Wow. This whole team is one of the better USA teams I have seen compete in a long while. Every player is buying in to coach Danton Cole’s system, and every player has top-flight skill. Forward Kiefer Bellows seems to be auditioning to make the World Juniors team next year with his outstanding play. Forward Logan Brown, to me, is stronger on the puck than some NHL forwards were at his age. I have not seen him lose many puck battles in the two games he has played in during this tournament. Both of these players need to continue their strong start for the USA to finish this tournament with the gold.
Two things here: The Latvian defense has sold out to make every shot block and pass block over their first two matches. Keying that defense has been the goalie, Mareks Mitens. Mittens kept his team in the match all game vs. Sweden. Mitens made some otherworldly saves I have not seen NHL goalies make. If Latvia is to avoid relegation they need 2 more stellar performances from their defense and Mitens.
After a less than stellar outing Thursday night, Russia came back to win in overtime against Switzerland on Saturday. Their team seemed to settle in after being rattled by the magnitude of the opener vs. the American side Thursday night. Danil Tarasov had a respectable game in net and allowed Russia the chance to win on a superb breakaway by Pavel Dyomin. If Russia can hold like today their side can surprise some teams going forward.
After a thrilling overtime winner vs Latvia Thursday the Swiss side found itself on the other side of the coin Saturday as Russia took the extra point in the overtime session. Lead by Nico Hischier, Switzerland finds itself second in group A with 3 points. If Switzerland can find some secondary scoring, they can assure themselves a date in the quarterfinals.
Sweden needs goaltending. Filip Larson has allowed nine goals on 29 shots so far. This 76.32 save percentage is the lowest of all qualifying goalies in the tournament. Larson is not solely to blame, from the two games seen so far the Swedish defense has allowed a fair amount of tough chances for him to stop. In addition, top talent Alex Nylander has played well and saved his team’s bacon with a short side snipe vs Latvia, and did register a point today, however if Sweden avoids relegation the side needs secondary scoring and goal tending to advance.