The 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship hits the medal round Saturday with the quarterfinals. The top eight teams will be going head-to-head in four single-elimination games.
Canada nabbed the top spot in Group A and the tournament while the United States won Group B. The Americans have won now their group six times since group play was established in 1996. Dare we say, this puts the two North American squads on a collision course.
Before we get ahead of ourselves, these powerhouses need to get through the quarterfinals and then the semis. In the quarters, they’ll face the third-best team in the opposite bracket, which means the United States will take on Slovakia and the Canadians will meet the Czech Republic.
World Juniors 2021: Quarterfinals predictions
Canada vs. Czech Republic
Canada steamrolled the competition in going a perfect 4-0 in the preliminary round, but now begins the true tournament. Its quarterfinal matchup is an interesting one as the Czechs finished third in their grouping but also upset the Russians with a stunning 2-0 shutout. As head coach Andre Tourigny noted Friday, they’re not an opponent to take lightly.
“People don’t give enough credit to the Czechs,” he said. “[They] we’re in the pool with the U.S., Sweden and the Russians, they have only two players on their full roster who are not in the plus. Everybody else is even or plus. That’s playing against the elite opponent night after night, so that shows how good they were at 5-on-5. . . . It’s important to first not give them the chance to get them on their power play and then the second is to make sure we know how good they are at 5-on-5. They’re a really good 5-on-5 team. An elite country. So we need to make sure we are humble and we go into that game knowing full well it will be a tough match.”
X-factor: Devon Levi
The Canada goalie has started every game (he was pulled against Germany to get Dylan Garand some time) and allowed just three goals — all on the power play. While he has only faced 61 shots, he has made some key stops and been a calm and steady presence in net.
“Nope, it stays exactly the same,” he said when asked whether his mindset has changed now that it’s the medal round. “I’m just playing to give my team the best chance at winning. That’s what I’ve been doing so far and that’s what I’m going to continue doing [Saturday].”
The big number: 5
Despite having 15 power-play opportunities, Canada has only punched in five goals. The goals came against the weaker opponents in its group — two against Germany and three against Austria.
SN’s pick: Canada, 5-1
United States vs. Slovakia
The Americans lost their tournament opener, put it behind them and then went out and won Group B with three straight wins. They’ll now see the Slovaks, who lost all but one game — and that was a squeaker against Switzerland.
X-factor: Trevor Zegras
The Ducks prospect — speculation is running rampant that he’ll join the club after his World Juniors stint — has been on a tear. He has potted 13 points (six goals, seven assists), including three points against Sweden on Thursday night.
“Obviously, I think I’m shooting the puck more,” Zegras said when asked to discuss what is different from last year, when he had no goals and nine assists in the tournament. “I think I have a little more confidence in those areas. I’m playing with two great players in Arthur Kaliyev and Alex Turcotte; they’re putting me in some really good spots and I’m getting pretty lucky and putting them away.”
The big number: 206:35
The United States has not allowed a goal against since the lid-lifter against the Russians on Christmas. Dustin Wolf (one) and Spencer Knight (two) have combined for three straight shutouts. Knight’s back-to-back goose eggs are the first for an American netminder at the WJC. Head coach Nate Leaman said he’ll decide Saturday morning which one will get the start.
SN’s pick: United States, 6-0
Finland vs. Sweden
It’s the “Battle of Scandinavia” in the quarterfinals. These two teams have a long history, including last year’s bronze-medal game that saw the Swedes take the hardware. Both teams are coming off losses to one of the “Big 5” powers; the Three Kings have lost two in a row and are spiraling. The back-to-back L’s are the first by the country in the prelim round in the last 15 years at the tournament.
X-factor: Anton Lundell
The Finland captain has been a key component to the team’s winning ways. He has potted six points (three goals, three assists) in four games. Lundell was nonexistent in the team’s loss to Canada, but so was the majority of the team. Don’t expect that to continue Saturday. He has looked good skating alongside linemate and Kings prospect Kasper Simontaival (two goals, three assists) and with the Maple Leafs’ Roni Hirvonen (four assists) centering the dynamic duo.
The big number: 60
Sweden’s penalty kill has not been great. While these two teams are pretty even statistically, this is one component that could hurt the Swedes. They’re tied for eighth at just 60 percent efficiency, allowing four goals in 10 opportunities. By comparison, Finland is at 86.67 percent.
SN’s pick: Finland, 3-1
Russia vs. Germany
What a winding road for the Germans. They entered the tournament with just 14 skaters because of quarantine restrictions and subsequently lost to Finland and Canada. Then they started getting guys back and handed Slovakia an overtime loss before beating Switzerland on Wednesday. Now the Germans are in the quarterfinals for the first time (the current format was created in 1996) and are looking to keep the ball rolling.
“I’m so proud of the team and I think it’s just special how everybody is working together and I think we totally deserve it,” said captain Tim Stuetzle.
They’ll face a stiff test against a Russian squad that is backstopped by one of the top netminders of this age group, Yaroslav Askarov.
X-factor: Tim Stuetzle
The third overall pick in October’s NHL Draft (taken by the Senators) has been a force. Despite missing time for domestic club Adler Mannheim following hand surgery, Stuetzle has showcased speed, gifted stickhandling and a nose for the net.
The Stuetzle-John-Jason Peterka-Florian Elias line has combined for 28 points and the trio is ranked 3-5 among the tournament’s scoring leaders.
“I really like it,” Sabres prospect Peterka said when asked about playing with Stuetzle. “I think we play good together and he makes like some unbelievable passes. I’m really excited every time I go to [the] national team because I [know] I’m going to play with him. I think we complement each other pretty good.”
The big number: 64.71
Germany’s penalty kill is almost as bad as the Swedes’. Not great when you’re facing a team that has firepower, including on the man advantage. Russia is boasting a 36.36 percent efficiency, scoring four goals in 11 opportunities.
SN’s pick: Russia, 3-2
World Juniors 2021 odds to win gold medal
Betting odds courtesy of DraftKings as of Jan. 1.
World Juniors 2021 final picks
Bronze medal: Russia
Silver medal: United States
Gold medal: Canada
World Juniors 2021: Latest news
Source: Read Full Article