Day one of the World Juniors is in the books. The three games on Sunday featured some of the tournament’s biggest teams in action. Canada, Sweden, Finland, Russia, and the United States all took to the ice and kicked off the tournament with a bang.
The biggest news, however, came off the ice. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, there will be no relegation at the 2022 tournament. You can read the official release here, but the bottom line is the 2023 tournament will feature 11 teams. As I mentioned in my World Juniors preview, Belarus has already punched their ticket to the World Juniors in 2023. But, with the uncertainty surrounding any team’s ability to complete the tournament due to a potential outbreak, the IIHF determined it would be best to hold off relegation for another year. Teams forfeit any game they are unable to compete in due to a COVID outbreak, and the IIHF does not want a country relegated on a technicality.
With that being said, let’s go through some of the biggest on-ice takeaways from day one in Edmonton and Red Deer.
Finland 3, Germany 1
- Strong Showing for Germany– After losing top talent to the NHL, Germany showed strong against a medal contender in Finland. Though they eventually came up short, the Germans played the Finns tough, not giving Finland anything easy. Germany can use this game to build on and possibly make life for some of the bigger countries miserable.
- Brad Lambert Shines– A true bright spot for Finland was 2022 draft prospect, Brad Lambert. Lambert got off to a slow start playing for La Liiga’s JYP, and his spot at the World Juniors was in serious jeopardy. But Lambert stepped up huge as a play-driver against Germany and ended the day with a pair of nice-looking assists.
- Helenius Scores a Pair– Speaking of standout performances, LA Kings prospect Samuel Helenius had himself a game. Helenius opened the scoring in the first, and closed it in the third.
Sweden 6, Russia 3
- Askarov Pulled– Russian goaltender Yaroslav Askarov was pulled from the game after giving up 3 goals on 16 shots after two periods. Askarov was selected in the first round of the NHL draft in 202 by the Nashville Predators, 11th overall, and is playing in his third World Juniors. Considered one of the best goalies entering the tournament, it is jarring to see Askarov pulled from a game for poor play. Russian back-up Yegor Guskov gave up two goals on seven shots. It will be interesting to see what direction the Russians go in terms of goaltending going forward.
- Stars Shine for Sweden– Sweden boasts a roster loaded with talent, and their biggest stars showed up against Russia. First-round picks Simon Edvinsson (DET), Alexander Holtz (NJ), William Eklund (SJS), and Oskar Olausson (COL) all had multi-point games. Edvinsson led the charge with three points (one goal, two assists). These are the performances Sweden will need to challenge for gold.
- Michkov Makes His Mark– 17-year-old Russian phenom Matvei Michkov showed he was not out of place playing against older competition. Projected to be a top pick in the 2023 NHL draft, Michkov tallied two goals in a losing effort for the Russians. On top of that, Michkov was a constant offensive threat. Expect the hype surrounding Michkov to continue to grow following this tournament.
Canada 6, Czechia 3
- Six-Goal First Period– This game started off at a break-neck pace. Mason McTavish opened the scoring for Canada with an absolute beauty. However, Czechia answered with three consecutive goals to put some fear into Canada and their fans. The Canadians would tie it up before the end of the period, and proceed to take control of the game
- Hat-Trick for Power– 2021 first overall pick Owen Power tallied a hat-trick in his first World Junior appearance against Czechia. Power is one of the go-to guys on Canada’s back end. Seeing him produce early has got to be exciting.
- Jiricek Leaves With Injury– Czechia’s top defenseman David Jiricek left the game in the first period after colliding with Canada’s Will Cuylle. A top prospect for the 2022 NHL draft, Jiricek was set to play a huge role for Czechia at the World Juniors. Jiricek was helped off the ice while favoring his left knee and was reported to have sustained a lower-body injury. His status for Czechia is unknown at the time of this writing.
United States 3, Slovakia 2
- Latkoczy Carries the Day– The United States dominated the game through the first two periods, holding a 31-11 shot advantage entering the third. Thanks to the herculean efforts of goaltender Simon Latkoczy, the US failed to run the Slovaks out of the building. Latkoczy allowed three goals on those 31 shots, and made up for a complete lack of energy displayed by the Slovakians in the first two periods. The Slovakians came alive in the third, pulling withing one goal before eventually running out of time. Latkoczy finished the game facing 42 shots.
- Chromiak Leads Slovakian Comeback bid– Though the US won the game in the end, the first two stars of the game would have to be Slovakian. Latkoczy held the fort in goal. LA Kings prospect Martin Chromiak tallied both Slovakian goals to give the US a scare.
- The US Plays a High-Tempo game, Commesso Provides Comfort in Net– Like the headline says, the US played a fast, aggressive, high-tempo game in order to keep the pressure on Slovakia. Though Slovakia didn’t apply much pressure through two periods, US goalie Drew Commesso was able to shut the door on the Slovakian comeback bid in the third. This allowed the US to hold on for the win.