After a competitive preliminary round at the U18 World Championships we have the quarterfinal and relegation round match ups set. Eight teams remain in the battle for the gold medal, while Denmark and Latvia are fighting to remain in the top division for the 2017 U18 World Championships. Here are some thoughts/predictions for each game in these rounds. I will also predict the result of the relegation series.
First, a credit to both teams. Each team had its high points in the preliminary round despite not winning a game. Denmark nearly upset Slovakia losing a close one goal game. Latvia lost two heartbreakers in overtime to Switzerland and Sweden. Latvia was 19 seconds away from upsetting perennial power Sweden. Based on what I have seen in this tournament, I think Latvia will come away victorious. The Latvian side has blocked a high amount of shots, and goalie Mareks Mitens kept them in the Sweden matchup with a 43 save performance.
Prediction: Latvia wins the series in two games 2-1, and 3-1 to stay in the top division.
Both sides have gotten better as the tournament has gone on. After an 8-2 loss to the USA side, Russia’s play has improved. Goalie Danil Tarasov has played well for the Russian side throughout the tournament, and has kept them in the games he has started. Pavel Dyomin has played exceptionally well this tournament, and helped the Russian side win in OT over the upstart Swiss side. Finland has gotten better thanks to the addition of top three 2016 NHL Draft pick Jesse Puljujarvi. The fantastic Finnish forward has an outstanding shot and a knack for finding the right spot to be on the ice no matter the situation with high situational awareness. Forward Eeli Tolvanen has showcased his skills and will be a player to watch as well. Tolvanen is a pure sniper and some of his goals this tournament have been outstanding. His effort against Denmark was one to watch. In addition, the Fins play an outstanding defense. The best example of this is their complete shutout in the third vs. Denmark. The Finnish side gave up no shots on net during this period. Finland has the better top-end talent with a strong defense backing it up.
Prediction: Finland wins 3-1.
Canada fought off Finland in their last game of group play to win group B. They did so with a strong two goal first period and superb goaltending from Evan Fitzpatrick. In this quarterfinal round it will be key for Canada to start strong. If Canada can win the first then they will win the match. Switzerland hung with the American side on Tuesday for most of the match thanks to decent goaltending from Phillip Wuthrich who made 33 saves. If the Swiss hang around like Denmark did for a period (2-2 after one) this one may get a little too interesting for the Canadians, if not then I expect the Canadians to win handily thanks to their strong all around play keyed by UND commit Tyson Jost who is battling Alex Nylander of Sweden for the tournament scoring title.
Prediction: Canada wins 5-1
Slovakia rallied against the Czech side to win Tuesday evening. The Swedish side has looked strong since its defeat against the United States. The Slovak side has the best penalty kill in the tournament. In 19 chances the Slovaks have allowed only one power play tally. This reliance on defense will play a key role in this matchup. In addition, goaltender Roman Durny has kept his side in every match he has played in. For the Slovaks to pull off the upset they will need to block a lot of shots and give Durny a chance. If they do this one could get interesting. I see Sweden, led by Alex Nylander, winning this match although it will be the closest of any of the quarterfinal games due to the strong Slovak defense.
Prediction: 2-0 Sweden
The American side has been dominant for the majority of its time in this tournament. Logan Brown is playing like a higher-skilled version of Milan Lucic and very rarely gets knocked off of the puck. Keiffer Bellows and Clayton Keller have been phenomenal. Both are fast high skilled players with great hockey IQ’s and outstanding shots. The Czech side will need huge contributions from the likes of Ondrej Vala to have a chance in this one. He has impressed me with his net-front presence throughout the tournament, and Czech goalie Josef Korenar will have to be perfect for the Czechs to have a chance. This one will start close, but the American side will prevail in the end.
Prediction: USA 6-1