Category: World Junior Championships (page 1 of 14)

Japan storms to gold

Japanese captain Yuto Gondaira and his teammates celebrate with the golden trophy after winning the 2020 IIHF Ice Hockey U20 World Championship Division II Group A in Lithuania

By Henrik Manninen – IIHF.com

Japan’s dazzling skills and lightning speed brightened up a grey and rainy week in Lithuania’s capital Vilnius, as they raced through the 2020 IIHF Ice Hockey U20 World Championship Division II Group A with an unblemished record.

In front of a full house of 2,387 at the Pramogu Arena, Japan defeated hosts Lithuania 5-2 during the final game of the tournament to secure the gold medals and promotion to the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey U20 World Championship Division I Group B.

Japan’s first line led the way against Lithuania, with centreman Teruto Nakajima flanked by forwards Yu Sato and Chikara Hanzawa notching three points each. Nakajima was also the tournament’s top scorer with 5+8 in five games while Hanzawa – voted Best Forward of the tournament – followed closely on 7+5.

Earlier in the U20 Division IIA, Japan had opened their promotion campaign by beating Great Britain 6-3 before blanking both Romania and Spain 8-0 and then scoring double digits against Serbia in a 10-2 win. Being in a class of their own in Vilnius, Japan found the back of the net on 37 occasions while conceding only seven in five games.

Netminder Eiki Sato was selected as the Best Goaltender of the tournament, aided by solid defending that saw Japan go through a spell of 134:23 minutes without conceding a goal.

Heading into their Sunday night showdown against hosts Lithuania, Japan needed a single point to finish top. Lithuania, on the other hand, required a regular-time win to leapfrog Great Britain and Japan and get their hands on the gold medals.

The new President of Lithuania, Gitanas Nauseda, had barely taken his seat next to Dainius Zubrus, Lithuania’s hockey president and legend, up on the tribune before Japan had opened the scoring. 17-year-old Yu Sato saw his effort find a way past an unlucky Nikita Kuzminov and into Lithuania’s net after just 13 seconds.

Buoyed by their dream start, Japan soon after staved off a two-minute minor penalty as Lithuania battled energetically with high forechecking in an attempt to put pressure on Japan’s build up play. Heading into the halfway stage of the first frame, Japan doubled their lead as Rioto Takeya snapped a shot from the right boards through traffic fooling Kuzminov after 9:28.

Backed by a sea and yellow and black up the stands supporting their home favourites, Lithuania’s uphill struggle became steeper with 4:11 left to play of the first frame. Yu Sato charged in towards the net from the left side with Hanzawa stabbing home the puck to stretch their lead of 3-0. Lithuania’s head coach Doug Boulanger reacted as Kuzminov in Lithuania’s net was replaced with the more experienced Laurynas Lubys entering the fold.

“This was the hardest game for us in this tournament,” said Japan’s head coach Teruhiko Okita. “Lithuania is an offensive team with good players and there were also a lot of people coming to watch the game which many of our players are not used to,” he continued.

With Lithuania now having to chase the game, they matched Japan evenly for long spells of the second period. Shots were tied 9-9 but once again it was the Japanese who capitalized. Thanks to a brilliant piece of combination of skill and quick transition, Hanzawa picked out Yu Sato, who flew down the left wing and ripped a wrister high past Lubys for his second of the evening to silence the home crowd.

But this crop of Lithuanian youngsters was to show great resilience as they refused to wilt down. Heading into the third frame, they got a lifeline when Timonas Mazulis was picked out by Martynas Grinius in front of Japan’s net to pull one back for Lithuania at 48:08. The roles were reversed with 6:58 left to play of the frame. Japan’s Yuto Taneichi serving a tripping minor and Grinius scored on a rebound by Eiki Sato to send the home crowd back to their feet with “Lietuva! Lietuva!” ringing out from the stands.

Japan’s head coach Okita took a time-out to cool heads and despite Lithuania frantically trying to claw themselves back into the game, any faint hopes of a comeback were crushed with 2:09 left of the game when Nakajima hit the final nail in the coffin with his 5-2 goal.

“We played well during the first and second period. Then in the third they came back, but we took a time-out and once again talked about what we needed to do,” said Japan’s Hanzawa as he singled out the key-component in Japan’s recipe for success in Vilnius. “All our guys play for the team. We are not selfish, but always playing for each other as a hard working team.”

Half of the current crop of players skating to gold in Lithuania will be eligible for Japan at the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey U20 World Championship Division I Group B. Meanwhile nine out of 22 will be available play for them during the 2020 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship Division I Group A playing in Spisska Nova Ves, Slovakia between 13-19 April this year as Japanese hockey aims for a place at the Olympic Winter Games in 2026 and 2030.

Behind the runaway winners, Great Britain improved on last year’s third spot by finishing with the silver medals, despite the omission of Arizona Coyotes draft pick Liam Kirk.

Following their two defeats against Great Britain and Japan, hosts Lithuania had to settle for bronze, while newly promoted Serbia, who could have gotten something out of four out of their five games in Vilnius, finished winless to return straight back to Division IIB.

Hayton, Thomas star as Canada storms back to beat Russia, win World Juniors

By Frank Seravalli –TSN

Go ahead and etch the name ‘Barrett Hayton’ into Team Canada lore.

Because Hayton authored one of the most incredible chapters in Canada’s rich history at the World Junior Championship on Sunday.

Less than 24 hours earlier, Hayton writhed in pain on the ice with an audible ‘yelp’ so loud that you could hear it across Ostravar Arena. His injury was as unfortunate as it was unnecessary late in a semifinal rout over Finland.

The initial diagnosis from team doctors on Saturday was not positive. He appeared to have a separated shoulder, or some kind of significant shoulder ailment – an injury that almost surely would’ve kept him out of a regular season game on Sunday if he was back playing for the Arizona Coyotes.

Team Canada went to bed thinking Hayton would be a “longshot” to play.

But this was Canada-Russia for all the marbles. This was Hayton’s chance to bring home the medal he couldn’t help deliver last year in Vancouver.

After untold hours of manipulation, therapy, and who-knows-what kind of cocktail to provide relief, Hayton didn’t just suit up for Team Canada.

He scored to bring them back from the brink.

After barely being able to muster a shot in warmup, Hayton blasted a snapshot off the post and in to erase a 3-1 deficit and make Canada whole again.

Believe it.

Fourth-liner Akil Thomas finished the job minutes later, scoring his only goal of the tournament – the golden goal – to crown Canada the 2020 World Junior Champion with a 4-3 win that won’t soon be forgotten.

For the 18th time, Canada reigned supreme at the World Juniors.

Sunday marked the fifth time Canada (5-4) topped Mother Russia in the final since the gold medal game was first introduced in 1996.

And man did this one feel sweet, especially after the Big Red Machine dealt Canada the country’s most lopsided loss in its sterling, 43-year run at the World Juniors. Russia has not won gold since 2011.

Maybe in some ways, Sunday played out exactly as it had to for this Team Canada. Because there were no easy roads in Ostrava.

Any one of the five or six incidents that Canada went through – physically or mentally – at this 12-day grind of a tournament might have broken a lesser team. 

They were embarrassed in a 6-0 blowout to Russia, 18-year-old star Alexis Lafreniere left with what appeared to be a serious injury, their captain Hayton nearly caused an international incident at centre ice when he failed to remove his helmet, and Joe Veleno earned a one-game suspension for headbutting … and that was just Day 3.

Coach Dale Hunter switched netminders from Nico Daws to Joel Hofer. He shuffled the lines when sniper Nolan Foote was ejected 53 seconds into the quarterfinal against Slovakia. Then Canada leaned on 17-year-old defenceman Jamie Drysdale in the quarterfinal when top pair blueliner Bowen Byram fell ill.

Through it all, Canada kept climbing. All the way to the top.

Their heart was on full display, embodied by the captain when Hayton stepped onto the ice for warmups in the gold medal game.

“It means a lot,” Dylan Cozens said. “We saw how he went down in that last game, but he’s putting that behind him and just working for the boys. He’s putting it all out on the line and that’s leadership right there. He’s playing through pain. We’re really proud of him.”

Hayton made an entire country proud, showing what it means to be Canadian.

He admitted his mistake and apologize for keeping his helmet on. He played through an immense amount of pain, leading Canada to gold on adrenaline.

As the red Maple Leaf raised to the rafters, it produced a feeling of ecstasy and a memory that will last longer than any pain felt.

 

Sweden edges Finland for bronze

By Lucas Aykroyd – IIHF.com

Sweden trailed after the first period but bounced back to beat Finland 3-2 in the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship bronze medal game on Sunday.

Samuel Fagemo stepped up with a goal and an assist, and Rasmus Sandin and Linus Oberg, with the second-period winner, also scored for Sweden.

Patrik Puistola and Matias Maccelli replied for Finland.

In net, Sweden’s Hugo Alnefelt and Finland’s Justus Annunen went head to head again. The two Nordic countries kicked off the tournament in Trinec on 26 December and Alexander Holtz’s overtime goal spoiled Annunen’s 45-save performance in a 3-2 Swedish win. Deja vu.

Sunday’s selection of starting goalies indicated that both Swedish coach Tomas Monten and Finnish coach Raimo Helminen took this third-place showdown seriously. Sweden was coming off a heartbreaking 5-4 overtime loss to Russia in the semi-finals, while Finland’s reign as champion ended after falling 5-0 to Canada.

This was Sweden’s first bronze medal since Saskatoon 2010 under coach Par Marts. The Swedes now have six bronzes all-time. Monten, with four tries, now has another medal to go with 2018’s silver in Buffalo.

Despite outshooting Sweden 34-26, the Finns failed to medal in consecutive years for the first time since they followed up 2001’s silver with three bronzes in a row.

ABBA once released a greatest hits collection called ABBA Gold, but never one called ABBA Bronze. But you can bet that if they had, it would still have been pretty good, similar to this game. It provided an entertaining, back-and-forth gold medal game warm-up for the heavily Canadian crowd of 7,954, despite brimming with penalties.

Puistola drew first blood at 8:22 when Kim Nousiainen pivoted to center the puck from the left faceoff circle, and it went in off Puistola’s right skate for his team-leading fifth goal of these World Juniors. The Swedes called for a video review, but it was quickly ruled good.

Nousiainen was off for holding when the Juniorkronorna drew even at 12:08. Sandin, who had four points in the 5-4 overtime loss to Russia in the semi-finals, added his third goal and 10th point overall on a rising wrister from the high slot that hit Annunen’s water bottle.

After the teams exchanged fruitless power plays, Maccelli picked off Nils Hoglander’s cross-ice pass at the Swedish blue line and beelined in to beat Alnefelt high to the blocker side with one minute left in the first.

In the second period, the Swedes seemed unfazed by Maccelli’s goal, but couldn’t buy a goal in the first half. Albin Eriksson rang one off the cross bar. Finally, Fagemo (who else?) busted to the net on an odd-man rush and converted the rebound at 10:34 after Annunen had denied Hoglander with his glove. It was the Los Angeles prospect’s tournament-leading eighth goal.

At 13:19, Oberg put Sweden up 3-2 with a goal Annunen would like to have had back. His bad-angle shot from the corner hit the surprised Finnish goalie’s left skate and went in.

Helminen’s team put itself behind the eight-ball with three consecutive minors in the third. The Finns tried to push back with under 10 minutes left in regulation and Philip Broberg off for holding the stick, but there was nothing doing.

With Annunen pulled for the extra attacker, Alnefelt made a game-saving glove stop on Finnish captain Lassi Thomson with seven seconds left.

While three of Finland’s five all-time World Junior gold medals came in the 2010’s, the Swedes still have only two titles (1981, 2012), and they’d enjoy adding another one instead of continuing to hear about their record-setting streak of 52 preliminary-round wins.

Both of these elite nations will be looking to take it to the top at the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship in Edmonton and Red Deer, Alberta.

Introducing USA

Team USA’s Oliver Wahlstrom vs. Finland’s Toni Utunen during last year’s gold medal game

By Organizing Committee – IIHF.com

As the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship gets nearer, we take a look at the United States, which will again be one of the medal favourites. The U.S. team is going to be stacked with drafted players and some current NHLers may appear on the roster too. The Americans will also try to extend a streak – in the last four years, they have brought home a medal from each tournament and they will try to make it five in a row in the Czech Republic.

Ambassador’s take: Petr Mrazek

The ambassador of Team USA is goaltender Petr Mrazek, who currently plays in the NHL for the Carolina Hurricanes. Before becoming a pro, he attracted attention at the 2012 IIHF World Junior Championship. “I remember it well. It was a great group of guys and we came together as a team really well. We enjoyed the tournament and I think it is a gateway to professional hockey for a lot of guys,” says Mrazek.

The World Juniors are a major international event also because all countries will send the best to the fight and viewers will be able to watch top players, including those from the United States. “There will be many future stars in the NHL and European leagues – many good teams. Canada and the USA will send the best teams they have, as well as Finland and Sweden – the hockey will be excellent. In Canada and the USA, this is bigger than the men’s World Championships. Scouts from every NHL team will sit there, so you are under close scrutiny,” Mrazek shares his own experiences.

Historic World Junior Championship results

Alongside Canada, Sweden, Finland, Russia and the Czech Republic, the USA is one of only six teams that have never been relegated since the World Juniors began in 1977. Despite this long history, however, the Americans had to wait nearly 30 years for their first gold medal – that came in 2004 in Helsinki when they beat Canada 4-3 in the final. Key players in that victory were goalie Al Montoya, who was chosen Best Goalkeeper of the tournament, and forward Zach Parise, whose 11 points placed him third in scoring.

Since then, the American youngsters have been dominant, winning the World Juniors three more times in 2010, 2013 and 2017. In addition to those four gold medals, they have also won two silvers and six bronzes – the first of which came in 1986.

Last year

The United States has been a dominant team at youth levels recently. In the last four World Junior Championships, it has taken home a medal from each one – last year it was silver. The Americans finished second in Group B and then beat the Czech Republic 3-1 in the quarter-finals.

After that, they won by a one-goal margin against Russia and advanced to the final, where they fell just short against Finland. Throughout the tournament, scouts, media and fans closely monitored the then 17-year-old Jack Hughes, who played in three different World Championships in 2019 and in June was selected first overall in the NHL Entry Draft by the New Jersey Devils.

Team stars

Although Hughes is still eligible to play at this tournament, he is not expected to appear considering his role in New Jersey. The Americans could put their hopes in the arms of players like Oliver Wahlstrom, a 2018 first-rounder praised for more than just their hockey sense.

Same as goaltender Spencer Knight, defencemen K’Andre Miller and Mattias Samuelsson, and forward Jack Drury he’s a returnee from last year’s team. Although Knight was the backup goalie last year in Vancouver, in June he was selected in the first round of the Draft by the Florida Panthers and, as a 2001-born player, will have a chance to present his skills in the crease – in particular his calmness and mobility.

And those aren’t the only high draft picks on a U.S. team that will certainly be worth watching.

Coach

In April 2019, USA Hockey named Scott Sandelin as head coach of the national junior team, who was an assistant coach of last year’s silver-medal team. As a player, Sandelin played in the NHL for the Montreal Canadiens, Philadelphia Flyers and Minnesota North Stars, as well as in the AHL and NCAA. At the 1984 World Juniors, he was the captain of the American squad and two years later also participated at the senior World Championship. He has spent most of his coaching career in the NCAA – since 2000/01 he has been head coach at the University of Minnesota-Duluth.

Preparations for the tournament

After the World Junior Summer Showcase, the Americans attended a training camp in December where the roster was finalized. Just before the tournament, the United States played exhibition games in the Czech Republic against Sweden and Germany.

Team schedule at 2020 WJC (local time / ET)

26 December 2019: Canada – USA (19:00 / 1 PM)
27 December 2019: Germany – USA (19:00 / 1 PM)
29 December 2019: USA – Russia (19:00 / 1 PM)
30 December 2019: USA – Czech Republic (19:00 / 1 PM)

Introducing Finland

Finland’s Rasmus Kupari celebrates after scoring on Switzerland in the semi-finals of last year’s IIHF World Junior Championship

By Organizing Committee – IIHF.com

The Finns will come to the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship in the Czech Republic as the defending champions after last year’s triumph in Canada. Finland has been the most successful team in the U20 competition in recent years with three gold medals in the last six years. Can they repeat on Trinec and Ostrava ice?

Ambassador’s take: Petr Hubacek

“The strengths of the Finnish junior team are speed, commitment, dynamics, great skating and, especially, the Finnish work ethic and team cohesion,” said Petr Hubacek. The 44-year-old former forward, who spent a total of five seasons with JYP Jyvaskyla where he won a Finnish Liiga title in 2012, will be the ambassador of the Finnish team at this World Junior Championship.
 
In the hockey world, the Finns are known above all for their hard work and team cohesion. “It was exactly these aspects, which I mentioned, on which the Finnish national men’s team at this year’s World Championship in Slovakia was built. That’s how they had success,” said Hubacek.

Historic World Junior Championship results

Finland has played continuously at the top division of the World Junior Championships since 1977. The Finns have been the third-most successful team at the event with five gold medals. Their first title came in Czechoslovakia in 1987 – however, their first-place finish that year was significantly affected by the bench-clearing brawl between Canada and the USSR, which resulted in the disqualification of both teams.
 
How does it feel to win the World Junior Championship at home? Ask the Finns, who have triumphed twice in Helsinki in 1998 and 2016. The gold medal captured last year in Vancouver was Finland’s third in the last six years – more than any other country in that time.

Last year

The Finns are the reigning World Junior Champions, capturing the title with a victory last January at Rogers Arena in Vancouver. Jussi Ahokas’s team went through the group stage with a 2-2 record to place third, forcing them to meet host Canada in the quarter-finals. On the verge of being eliminated, Aleksi Heponiemi tied the game in the last minute of the third period and Toni Utunen scored in overtime to send the Finns to the semis.
 
The youngsters from the Land of a Thousand Lakes then easily handled Switzerland to set up a match-up against the USA with the title on the line. Dramatically, Kaapo Kakko scored the winning goal with 1:26 remaining to secure a 3-2 win for the Finns. Goaltender Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen was a big reason for Finland’s victory, and he was named to the tournament all-star team.

Team stars

When talking about junior-aged Finnish hockey players, there’s only one place to start. “Every fan knows one name – Kaapo Kakko – thanks to the World Championship in Slovakia. The kid scored 22 goals in the Finnish league last season – the overwhelming majority of them when he was still just 17,” Petr Hubacek said about the current New York Rangers right winger. And because he’s now in the NHL, it remains to be seen whether or not Kakko will play at this year’s World Juniors.
 
As for other stars of the Finnish team, Hubacek mentioned Ville Heinola, who has already signed a professional contract with the Winnipeg Jets. He called the 18-year-old returnee: “A great, playmaking defenceman who likes to handle the puck.” Last year in Canada, Heinola contributed to his team’s title with one goal and one assist. At the upcoming tournament, he should be given a leadership role from coach Raimo Helminen.
 
The ambassador of the Finnish team also encourages fans to follow Rasmus Kupari, a draft pick of the Los Angeles Kings who is currently gaining experience in the AHL. “Another Karpat Oulu product,” Hubacek said of the creative centre. “He is said to be a combination of Sebastian Aho and Jesse Puljujarvi.”
 
The fourth name mentioned by Hubacek is Anttoni Honka, who plays in the Liiga for JYP Jyvaskyla, where Hubacek spent many years. A creative defenceman and excellent skater, Honka is now in his third season in Finland’s highest league and is a core member of JYP’s defence. “He’s an offensive d-man who likes to make plays and handle the puck,” the Finnish ambassador added.
 
But while he extols the virtues of so many potential members of the team, Hubacek reminds us that the Finns are firm believers in playing a team game. “I think the Finns generally produce a lot of good hockey players and it really pays to come and see them,” he says. “But not only the individual players, rather the whole team.”

Coach

The coach of the team is Finnish hockey legend Raimo Helminen. The 55-year-old was inducted into the IIHF Hall of Fame in 2012 and played 331 games for the Finnish national team between 1983 and 2002. He took part in six Olympic Games and 11 World Championships and holds the record for the most games played at the international level. Along with fellow Finn Teemu Selänne, he has played in the highest number of Olympic tournaments.
 
“It’s a great opportunity. It’s great to work with young players. In this age category, hockey is very fast and fresh. I am honoured to be part of this journey,” Helminen said in January about his new position. He will be assisted by Tommi Miettinen, Erik Hamalainen, Ari Moisanen and Jukka Varmanen.

Team schedule (local time CET)

26 December 2019: Sweden – Finland (19:00)  
28 December 2019: Finland – Slovakia (15:00)  
29 December 2019: Kazakhstan – Finland (15:00)  
31 December 2019: Finland – Switzerland (19:00)

Magyars on the march

The Hungarian players celebrate after their deciding victory on Day 4 against France

By Andy Potts – IIHF.com

Hungary’s juniors roared into U20 World Championship Division IA for next season with a perfect performance at the 2020 IIHF Ice Hockey U20 World Championship Division I Group B event in Ukraine. The Hungarians won all five games, with an aggregate score of 29-16, to top the group ahead of France. The host nation took bronze ahead of Poland following a 7-3 win over Estonia in the last game of the group. Italy finished bottom of the pile and is relegated to the Division IIA.

The key game arrived on Tuesday noon in Kyiv when Hungary took on France. The two nations were already out in front by that stage with a 3-0 record and both knew that victory in regulation would secure top spot. A month earlier, the teams played a warm-up game where Hungary opened a 4-0 lead but had to hold on as France battled back before losing 3-4, and the action in Kyiv followed a similar pattern.

This time, the Magyars scored twice in the opening frame with Levente Keresztes and Marcell Revesz on target in the first 10 minutes. Zsombor Dozci extended the lead in the second period, but France once again began a fightback. Quentin Tomasino pulled one back late in the middle session and “Les Bleuets” moved ahead on the shot count in the third but could only find one more goal through Samuel Rousseau. Once again, Hungary prevailed by a narrow margin, and this time it was enough to clinch top spot and a return to Division IA after a two-year absence.

Team head coach Marton Vas, whose international playing career came to an end after Hungary’s top-level 2016 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship adventure, was full of praise for his players’ attitude and performance.

“The guys were disciplined, they all worked hard,” he said. “The team did not throw the puck away, they played with maturity and displayed everything good about Hungarian hockey.

“We’ve done the hard work and it feels good to get the results of that here.”

Hungary’s leading scorer was 19-year-old Natan Vertes, who had 10 (6+4) points for the tournament. He was back for his second U20s campaign, having collected three assists in last season’s competition. Fully fit once again after missing much of the previous campaign with a broken collar bone, he’s also doing well in the NAHL with 21 (14+7) points in 23 games for the Aberdeen Wings. Keresztes and Revesz also made big contributions, finishing with nine points apiece. Keresztes is just 17 and plays his club hockey for Twin City Thunder in the NCDC after emerging through the ranks at MAC Budapest. Revesz, 19, has played the bulk of his career to date in Switzerland and made his senior debut last season with the GCK Lions in the second-tier Swiss League. This year was his fourth – and most productive – U20 World Championship appearance.

For France, a disappointing 2019 continues. The juniors came to Ukraine hoping for an immediate return to Division IA after relegation last season. Instead, Pierre Pousse’s team had to settle for silver after defeating Poland in its final game of the tournament. This is the first time in 2008 that Hungary’s U20s have finished ahead of their French counterparts.

The Poles took bronze and also had the tournaments leading scorers. Jakub Lewandowski topped the charts with 13 (5+8) points ahead of his team-mate Kamil Walega (6+5=11). Lewandowski, 19, is playing his first season in North America with the Sioux Falls Stampede of the USHL after learning the game at hometown team Sokoly Torun. Walega is already mixing it with the men in the Polish championship, where he has 11 (4+7) points from six games for GKS Jastrzebie.

Austria does the unexpected

The Austrian players celebrate promotion after beating Slovenia in their last game

By Chapin Landvogt – IIHF.com

It’s not too often that the IIHF Ice Hockey U20 World Championship Division I Group A tournament winner is decided by the first of three games on the last day of the tournament, but exactly that took place this very day when Austria successfully defeated Slovenia 4-1.

And with that, a modern-day Cinderella story was completed.

Austria is heading to the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship in Alberta, Canada, where the cities of Edmonton and Red Deer will host the event. It’s been a long time coming for the Alp republic of Austria, as the program last participated in a WJC in 2010. Depending on the outcome of the 2020 World Juniors in the Czech Republic, Canada may be hosting a tournament that could have a decidedly German flair to it, as no less than two of Austria, Germany, and Switzerland will be participating, if not all three.

In today’s all-decisive contest, Austria jumped out to a 2-0 lead over last place Slovenia with two late goals in the first period. But after a scoreless second period, things got interesting when a Maj Tavcar goal in the 53rd minute of play got Slovenia on the board, making things closer than anyone had expected. Max Rebering was able to get Austria’s fate back on track with a goal in the 56th minute and then Paul Huber potted his second of the day, and fourth of the tournament, into an empty net in the 59th minute to crown Austria’s fantastic – and indeed monumental – feat.

“This simply feels outstanding!” stated Roger Bader, the Swiss-born Sports Manager of the Austrian Ice Hockey Federation who serves as team leader at the event in Minsk. “It feels like something we flat out earned. We came in knowing how we wanted to play here and that’s exactly what we did. We kept the course. We played the hockey we wanted to play. We did our thing and we were ultimately rewarded for it.”

This sentiment was echoed by the team’s top scorer and assistant captain, Benjamin Baumgartner: “It’s simply fantastic! We battled our way through this tournament and came in with a game plan and ready to do everything necessary to win, from game to game. We saw in that first game against tournament favourite and host Belarus, that we were at the same level and the game could have gone either way. We had the lead on three separate occasions in the first period alone, but they were able to get the job done over the course of 60 minutes.”

“After that though, our confidence soared and the victories over the Scandinavians put us on track. The 2-1 win against Latvia was then pivotal. It’s just amazing to think that Austria will now be playing at the World Junior Championship next winter!”

The team’s promotion was due in no small part to Baumgartner’s efforts. Currently playing for HC Davos in Switzerland’s National League, where he has 17 points and a +10 in just 20 contests, Baumgartner proved he’s truly arriving on the international scene in a big way with five goals and 11 points in the five games played. This was good enough to be named Best Forward of the tournament.

“I was just concentrated on giving it my all and being the best version of me I could be at this tournament,” Baumgartner explained. “Fortunately, I was able to contribute on the scoring sheet as well. This achievement has been a total team effort and nothing I’ve done would have been possible without my teammates. There are a lot of good players at this tournament and many of them could be thought of as the tournament’s MVP.”

As humble as his words are, Sports Director Bader feels Baumgartner was rightfully seen as the tournament’s most outstanding forward: “He’s been playing for the Davos program in Switzerland for several years now and after playing a good third of last season for Davos in the National League last winter, he’s now broken through this year with a fantastic season on a scoring line. He’s one of the absolute best young players in the National League and has taken the steps necessary to learn how to play at the pro level and maintain a consistency there that can’t be taken for granted.”

Beating the odds

It’s safe to say that the international ice hockey community certainly wasn’t betting on Austria making its way to the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship. Firstly, the country had to worry more about relegation in recent years than promotion. Then there was the fact that a heavily favoured host Belarus was coming into the tournament with a plethora of players who have either been drafted by an NHL club or seem to be a hot topic for NHL scouts – and this Team Belarus proceeded to defeat Austria 4-3 on the first day of the tournament. In addition, other opponents included Latvia and Denmark, each of whom had spent recent years playing against the world’s best on the top stage.

Then, of course, gaining promotion wasn’t necessarily Austria’s main goal heading into the tournament.

“We headed into the tournament with the goal of maintaining the class,” stated coach Marco Pewal. “As of our second victory, we started to notice that there was a shot at the top spot. I’m so proud of all of the players and all of our staff. They’ve done incredible work over the past few weeks.”

“I can’t say that was expected or even our primary goal,” stated Bader, reinforcing his coach’s sentiments. “We wanted to keep things going as planned and take the next step in our program’s long-term development. With our first victory, we really laid it all out on the ice and saw what we were capable of. This gave us the type of confidence that makes anything possible. The team just got better from game to game. We were defeating teams that had played with the world’s elite in recent World Junior Championships. After Game 1, the boys simply never stopped getting the job done. This achievement is a huge success for the Austrian Ice Hockey Association.”

Despite all that, matters were made more interesting by the absence of the country’s absolute top junior player, Marco Rossi, who wasn’t in Belarus to represent his country. Currently busy tearing things up for Ottawa in the OHL, he is felt to be a likely first-round draft pick next summer and surely more than a few NHL scouts in attendance would have loved to have seen what he could have done here.

Bader provided an explanation: “The decision to not be part of Team Austria this year was Marco’s. He and his organization, agent, and family decided it was best for him to remain in the OHL and continue helping his team there in its endeavour to be the top team in that league. We respect his decision. He’s a special player with a very promising future, but we as a team and an ice hockey association naturally concentrated on getting the job done here with the players in uniform. That’s where our focus was at as soon as we knew he wasn’t an option.”

Just missing out

Finishing four points behind Austria was Latvia, which in many ways basically lost out on promotion by one goal. And that’s rough when that one goal difference was due to a 2-1 loss to Austria in regulation time in the team’s fourth game.

Forward Janis Svanenbergs had eight points and a +7 in the tournament and led his team to a 3-1-1 record in the five games played. Janis Voris was named best goaltender with a 93.9% save percentage.

Starting things off with a solid 3-0 victory against Denmark, a 3-2 overtime win over Belarus, and then a 9-1 thrashing of Slovenia, it looked like the Latvians were well on their way to gaining promotion back into the world’s elite. The Baltic nation had even taken a 1-0 lead over Austria at the six-minute mark of the game in what became the decisive tilt of the tournament. A Luis Lindner tally for Austria in the game’s 25th minute proved to be the game winner, and Latvia had to place its hopes entirely into the hands of the Slovenians to swing things back in their favour. Those hopes were all for naught.

The 2-0 victory over Norway to conclude the tournament was too little too late as Austria had already wrapped up first place just minutes beforehand.

Norway itself entered play with few expectations. Nary a team in the tournament was entering play with so many players from its own national ranks and only but a few players who are parked in neighbouring Sweden, a factor that has often been a strength for the “Nordmen”. Nonetheless, the 6-2 win over Slovenia to open the tournament already led to maintaining the class. The 3-2 and 1-0 overtime victories against Belarus and Denmark along the way were really nothing short of sensational. 

With only two regulation losses against the teams finishing 1st and 2nd, the Norwegians can head home for the holidays feeling good about what they were able to accomplish, even if their seven points were only good for 4th place at the tournament.

Below expectations

This tournament must be seen as a disappointment for Belarus, which not only hosted the tournament, but also played in front of crowds of over 6,000 spectators, with that number exceeding 7,000 on the tourney’s final day.

It was also disappointing after the team had been the favourite in Fussen, Germany, last year at this time and couldn’t live up to expectations there. A good handful of this year’s players had brought that experience along with them.

After all, the team entered the tournament with a roster consisting of 8 players currently playing Canadian juniors, 3 playing for Dynamo Minsk’s KHL squad, and another 3 playing pro hockey elsewhere in Belarus. On top of that, centre Alexei Protas and defenceman Vladislav Kolyachonok already have NHL contracts with Washington and Florida, respectively. It’s hard to imagine this team having come out on the short end of this many close games.

Nonetheless, it finished 3rd overall. After a tight 4-3 victory over Austria in Game 1, where the team spent the last two periods overturning a 3-2 deficit, the team suffered through two straight 3-2 overtime losses to Latvia and Norway. The team’s 4-1 win against the offensively toothless Slovenes wasn’t anything to write home about and the final contest against the recently relegated Denmark sadly had no relevance whatsoever, as the tournament’s victor had long-since been decided. They nonetheless shot the frustration out of their souls with a 7-2 victory. And Ilya Solovyov earned the award as best defenceman.

Speaking of Denmark, the little engine that somehow always could surprise in recent World Juniors was even more disappointing. Missing the types of exciting players who had played starring roles in recent years, the team had little to say in an initial 3-0 loss to Latvia and then underwhelmed in defeating Slovenia 2-1 in overtime. A 4-2 loss to Austria followed by a 1-0 shootout loss to eternal rival Norway had put the nail in the coffin before the final day’s dismantling by Belarus. 

The team’s star coming in was already drafted giant Mads Sogaard, who tends goal for Medicine Hat of the WHL. Alas, he wasn’t enough to alter Denmark’s fate, despite several decent outings. Against Belarus, he allowed four goals against in the first period before being replaced to kick off the second.

On the way back down

It was a tough tournament for Slovenia, which lost decisively 6-2 to Norway in the very first game. It answered with a very impressive 2-1 overtime loss to Denmark, leading viewers to believe that the team could still have a say in this tournament. Despite another strong performance for 55 minutes against Austria in the final game, the Slovenes never recovered the 9-1 shellacking at the hands of Latvia in Game 3 of the tournament, which was then followed by a 4-1 loss to Belarus shortly thereafter.

Scoring only six goals in five games certainly didn’t help the cause and the program will need to regroup its program one rung down in alignment.

Recipe for success

It wasn’t too long ago that Austria hosted this tournament and looked pretty impressive before bowing out to a Rodrigo Abols-led Latvian side that managed to gain promotion. And the program learned from – and has reacted to – that experience.

“There are reasons for our success this year though,” states Bader. “We’ve intensified things throughout our program over the course of the past four years, in a number of ways. Our players have been facing nations like Norway, Denmark, Latvia, and Belarus since the U16 level. They’ve come to learn how to beat these teams. In addition, a number of our players have been playing in foreign countries, having profited from the style of training and level of competition there.”

The achievement is one that will be making waves in the Austrian sports scene. The Austrian association’s President Gernot Mittendorf was naturally ecstatic about what had taken place. “I must say congratulations to the entire team, both the players and the staff. This is a gigantic achievement for the sport of ice hockey in Austria. I am so very happy for our very young coaching staff, which is now enjoying this accomplishment in what is only its second year on the job. Furthermore, this is a success for everyone who is involved in Austria’s youth programs, as they too have ultimately helped make this a reality. For this, we are very thankful.”

The big question heading into next year’s World Juniors, one that many teams moving up have to face, is maintaining the level of play provided by the players who will have aged out of next year’s event, many of whom were very much responsible for gaining promotion in the first place.

“About half of this year’s team will be eligible to play in the World Junior Championship next season. Nonetheless, a very good crop of players will be moving out of this age bracket and it will be up to a new wave of players to step up to the plate. The next generation is going through the same steps this generation has, but doesn’t currently look to be as good as the group heading out. Still, there’s plenty of time and we’ll be focussed on having a competitive World Juniors team next winter, one that will be intent on remaining in the world’s top tier. This aspect is definitely part of the challenge,” says Bader.

Like was the case this past week, that’s certainly a challenge the Austrian program is more than ready to take on!

Introducing Sweden

Sweden’s Philip Broberg #25 celebrates with Emil Bemstrom #10 at the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship.

By Organizing Committee – IIHF.com

Their program is among the most sophisticated in the world, regularly finishing among the top teams at the World Championships and sending players to the NHL in record numbers every year. For those reasons, the Swedes will be among the medal favourites in Trinec and Ostrava. At last year’s tournament in Canada, however, they were upset by Switzerland in the quarter-finals, which continued an unwelcome trend. The Swedes haven’t lost a group-stage game in more than a decade but have only won one title in that time and only one medal – a silver – in the last five years.

Ambassador’s take: Martin Hostak

“Sweden’s youth development system is different than the Czech Republic only because it has a much larger base of youth players,” explains Martin Hostak, comparing two programs that he is quite familiar with.

The former right winger, and current general manager of Czech Extraliga club Berani Zlin, knows Swedish hockey well after playing nine seasons for MODO Ornskoldsvik, Sodertalje SK and Lulea HF. That’s one of the reasons he was asked by the Organizing Committee of this World Junior Championship to take on the role of team ambassador. In this role, the long-time Czech television hockey analyst has the task of attracting fans to Trinec and Ostrava from Sweden, where the name Hostak still resonates.

Sweden has gained a reputation as a top country for developing hockey players despite a relatively small population. That’s because, says Hostak, “they just let the boys play there and then choose the best ones for the academies, where the hockey training really starts.” As for the atmosphere in Swedish dressing rooms, Hostak adds: “It’s highly competitive and the guys really work on themselves and want to get better and better.”

Historical World Junior results

A traditional hockey country, Sweden has participated in all 43 World Junior Championships so far, and its 18 medals is the fifth-highest total of any nation. After taking bronze at an unofficial championship in 1975, the Swedes won their first official medal 1978. Mats Naslund, a member of the Triple Gold Club and a Montreal Canadiens legend of the 1980s, starred for the silver-winning team in his future home city.

The was followed by two more bronzes in the next two years and then a gold medal for Sweden at the 1981 tournament in West Germany. The team’s biggest star in those years was Patrik Sundstrom, who went on to several fine seasons with the Vancouver Canucks and New Jersey Devils.

For a long time, that was the only title for the Swedes at the World Juniors. They won a silver and a bronze in the late 1980s, followed by a string of five medals in a row between 1992 and 1996, when they earned four silvers and one bronze. Among those teams were future stars Peter Forsberg, Markus Naslund, Fredrik Modin and Mattias Ohlund.

After losing to Canada at the 1996 final in Boston, the Swedes would have to wait 12 more years to win another medal. At the 2008 tournament held in Liberec and Pardubice, the team coached by Par Marts that included Victor Hedman, Magnus Paajarvi and Patrik Berglund again took silver. Then in 2012 they won their second title after an overtime win over Russia, with Rickard Rakell, John Klingberg and Filip Forbsberg under coach Roger Ronnberg, who formed the core of the senior men’s team that won the 2017 and 2018 World Championships.

Last season

The Swedes continued their group-stage dominance in Victoria, Canada, winning all four games against Finland, Slovakia, the USA and Kazakhstan to top the group. Their winning streak was threatened in their third game when the Americans erased a 4-0 deficit in the last 11 minutes of the third period, but Adam Boqvist scored in overtime. However, success in the group stage once again failed to translate into a title as the Swedes were defeated in the quarter-finals by Switzerland 2-0, despite being heavy pre-game favourites. It was the first time since 2006 that Sweden failed to reach the semi-finals.

Team stars

Who among the Swedes could shine? “Philip Broberg and Adam Boqvist were at last year’s tournament. It is definitely worth watching them; they have the potential to become stars on the world stage in the future,” says Hostak.

Philip Broberg is among the modern style of defencemen who do not like to just take care of their own defensive zone. On the contrary, he is an extremely fast, mobile player who reads the play well and can keep his team stable. That was one of the reasons he was highly rated entering last summer’s NHL Entry Draft, where the Edmonton Oilers chose him ninth overall. However, the Orebro HK product, who also played for AIK Stockholm in the past, has not yet gone overseas. This year, he is gaining valuable experience in the SHL with Skelleftea AIK. The 18-year-old won gold at the U18 World Championship this past spring, and also played four games at the last year’s World Junior Championship. This year in Trinec, he should be called upon to play a more prominent role on the team.

Adam Boqvist is a year older than Broberg, with whom he shares a similar playing style. He is definitely not a stay-at-home defenceman. Rather, Boqvist is extremely mobile and dynamic, and hardly ever loses one-on-one battles in the neutral zone. An even bigger offensive contributor than Boberg, the 19-year-old Hedemora IK product went through the Brynas Gavle system and was picked eighth overall by the Chicago Blackhawks in 2018. After a fantastic 2018/19 season with the OHL’s London Knights, he started this season playing professionally with the AHL’s Rockford IceHogs. At the end of October, he was called up to Chicago for the first time.

It will be interesting to see some members of the reigning U18 World Champions, who certainly have a chance to appear at this U20 championship. Particularly interesting is the trio of centre Karl Henriksson (Sodertalje SK), highly-rated 2020 Draft prospect Lucas Raymond (Frolunda Gothenburg) and pure goal-scorer Alexander Holtz (Djurgarden Stockholm).

Coach

The head coach of the Swedish national junior team is a position that is often referred to as the prelude to joining the men’s national team, and 41-year-old Tomas Monten is off to a good start. He started coaching at age 23 in Farjestad Karlstad’s system and then moved on to Mora IK, Djurgarden, Timra and Linkoping at the club level. This will be his fourth year at the helm of the Swedish team at the World Juniors, with a silver medal from Buffalo two years ago in his trophy case so far.

Preparing for the championship

The players will reconvene on 16 December for the start of the pre-tournament camp, where they will be joined by those from North America. Sweden will then play a pair of pre-tournament games in the Czech Republic – on 20 December in Frydek-Místek against the Czechs and against the USA two days later in nearby Cesky Tesin.

Preliminary-Round Games (times CET)

26 December 2019: Sweden – Finland 19:00
28 December 2019: Switzerland – Sweden 19:00
30 December 2019: Kazakhstan – Sweden 15:00
31 December 2019: Slovakia – Sweden 19:00

Introducing Switzerland

Switzerland’s Yannick Bruschweiler #10 celebrates with Nico Gross #16 in the game for bronze at the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship.

By Organizing CommitteeIIHF.com
The Swiss haven’t been among the favourites at the World Junior Championship recently. In fact, as recently as 10 years ago, they played in Division I. However, the team is coming off a successful tournament last season, reaching the semi-finals for just the fourth time ever after upsetting Sweden in the quarters. They eventually finished fourth after losing the bronze medal game to Russia.

Historic World Junior Championship results

Before the turn of the millennium, Switzerland was an “elevator team” that regularly moved up and down between the top two divisions of the World Junior Championships. However, since the expansion of the top division to 10 teams for the 1996 tournament, the Swiss have only been relegated once – that happened in 2008, and they were re-promoted the following year.

Switzerland’s only medal at the World Juniors came in 1998 in Finland, when the team built around later Colorado Avalanche netminder David Aebischer – who was later named the tournament’s Best Goalkeeper – beat the Czech Republic in the bronze medal game. Otherwise, the Swiss have finished fourth on three occasions, including 2002 in Pardubice and Hradec Kralove.

Last year

Switzerland’s latest fourth-place finish came last year. Led by forward Philipp Kurashev – who led the tournament with six goals – the team only managed to win one game in the group stage and finished fourth, but in the quarter-finals upset the favoured Swedes 2-0 on goals by Yannick Bruschweiler and Gianluca Burger and a shutout by Luca Hollenstein.

In the semi-finals, however, the Swiss had a poor start and ended up losing 6-1 to the eventual champion from Finland. In the game for third place, the Swiss stayed close for two periods, but Russia eventually pulled away and won 5-2.

Team stars

Last year’s Swiss lineup included several 2000-born players, so the Swiss will have one of the more experienced teams at this year’s tournament. The player who will receive the most attention is 19-year-old defenceman Janis Jerome Moser, who recorded two points in seven games last year. Moser also played three games for Switzerland at the senior World Championship in Slovakia before leaving due to an injury.

The Swiss defence will be further strengthened by New York Rangers draft pick Nico Gross, who was an alternate captain at last year’s tournament despite his age, and is expected to be the team’s captain this year.

Forward Valentin Nussbaumer had three points in last year’s tournament, and could lead the team in scoring this year. The Arizona Coyotes draft pick currently plays for the Shawinigan Cataractes in the QMJHL, with 19 points in 25 games so far.

The Swiss should be solid between the pipes with returning goalies Luca Hollenstein and Akira Schmid. Hollenstein currently plays for EV Zug in the country’s National League, while Schmid plays for the Omaha Lancers in the USHL. The two split duties last year in Canada, with Hollenstein getting the start in all three final-round games.

Coach

Before the tournament in Ostrava and Trinec, there were many changes to the coaching staff of the Swiss national junior team. After three years at the helm, Canadian-born Christian Wohlwend has chosen to concentrate on his duties with HC Davos. His replacement is Thierry Paterlini, an experienced youth coach who worked for the U18 team for five years, reaching the quarter-finals twice. He was an assistant coach under Wohlwend at last year’s World Juniors.

Preparing for the tournament

After a summer camp in Vierumaki, Finland, the Swiss team played in a Four Nations tournament in Piestany, Slovakia in November, where it beat Norway and Slovakia and lost to Germany. The team reconvenes under Paterlini on 10 December, and seven days later will move to Kravare, Czech Republic, where they will train until the beginning of the World Junior Championship. They will also play a pre-tournament game against Canada in Brno on 19 December.

Team schedule

26 December 2019: Switzerland – Kazakhstan (15:00)
28 December 2019: Switzerland – Sweden (19:00)
30 December 2019: Slovakia – Switzerland (19:00)
31 December 2019: Finland – Switzerland (19:00)

Introducing Russia

Grigori Denisenko will be one of the star players on the Russian team at the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship.

By Organizing Committee – IIHF.com

Russia’s national junior team has entered virtually every IIHF World Junior Championship as one of the medal favourites. Combined with their totals from the Soviet Union, their total of 36 medals is more than any other nation, and their 13 gold medals is second only to Canada. Amazingly, they have never gone two seasons in a row without a medal, and the bronze claimed last year in Vancouver assures that streak will continue. However, the Russians enter year’s tournament having not struck gold in eight straight tournaments – their longest ever drought. Can they return to the top of the podium this year?

Ambassador’s take: Zbynek Irgl

Three years with Lokomotiv Yaroslavl and one year with Atlant Mytishi. In those four years contained many highlights in the ongoing career of the 38-year-old Irgl. Russia isn’t only a place for him to play hockey but it’s now part of his family, as his second wife Irina Pavlina comes from there. As for the World Juniors, Irgl was part of the Czech team that won the gold medal in 2000. For those reasons, he was the Organizing Committee’s obvious choice to be ambassador of the Russian team.

“The Russians will undoubtedly bring a great team and be a favourite for a medal,” Irgl says. The product of the Vitkovice Ostrava club, who now plays for HC Olomouc, will also promote the championship in Russia, where his reputation among local fans is still high. Counting his three seasons with Dynamo Minsk, he played in KHL for seven straight seasons.

What makes Russian hockey so special? “Let me give you an example. When I saw the dry-land training in Russia, I was very impressed. Every exercise was aimed at working their legs and hands together,” said the silver medallist from the 2006 World Championship. “That’s what makes hockey players in individuality skilled as the Russians are able to be. If you can combine the work of the legs and hands in today’s hockey – that is, two things at once – you’ve won.”

Russia will compete in Group B in Ostrava along with Canada, the USA, Germany and the Czech Republic.

Historic World Junior Championship results

Today’s hockey in Russia follows on the legacy of the legendary Soviet machine. Even in the junior category, the Soviets were dominant. A tough military education from an early age was a necessity because the junior program was the hatchery for future championships of the USSR men’s national team.

The Soviets dominated the early unofficial years of the tournament (1974, 1975 and 1976) and then the first four official World Junior Championships, when the team featured future hockey legends such as defencemen Vyacheslav Fetisov and Alexei Kasatonov and forwards Vladimir Krutov, Igor Larionov and Sergei Makarov. The first blotches on their record came in 1981 and 1982, when the Soviets placed behind first Sweden and then Canada. Nevertheless, by 1992, they had received nine more medals, including five golds. In 1987, the whole team was disqualified after the famous “Piestany punch-up” with the Canadians and all players from both teams were barred from international play for six months.

In the later years of the Soviet Union, Pavel Bure – nicknamed the “Russian Racket” – launched onto the world scene by scoring more goals in the World Juniors than anybody before or since. The future star of the Vancouver Canucks and Florida Panthers managed to score an impressive 27 goals in the 1989, 1990 and 1991 tournaments combined.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, successor Russia didn’t win another World Junior Championship until 1999, when a team built around Maxim Afinogenov beat host Canada in overtime. That was followed by two more golds in 2002 and 2003. Members of the latter championship team included Alexander Ovechkin and Yevgeni Artyukhin. Ovechkin would go on to score 18 goals over three years.

The most recent Russian triumph came in Buffalo 2011, when a team including Dmitri Orlov, Yevgeni Kuznetsov and Artemi Panarin helped overcome a 3-0 deficit in the final to win 5-3. Russia took medals from each of the six following tournaments but none of them were gold. Then in 2018, the Russians couldn’t get past the quarter-finals and finished fifth.

Last year

Following their disappointing 2018 tournament, Russia was not particularly favoured in 2019. From the view of many NHL scouts, the MHL and VHL are less adept at developing young talent than in Sweden or Finland. Nonetheless, the Russians topped their group in Vancouver, beating Denmark, the Czech Republic, Switzerland and Canada in succession.

The Russians continued their strong play in the quarter-finals, beating Slovakia convincingly. In the semi-finals, however, they lost a tight battle with the USA. The line-up around Alexander Romanov, Grigori Denisenko and goaltender Pyotr Kochetkov had to settle for bronze, following another win over the Swiss.

Team stars

Which of the Russians are worth watching? “Definitely Denisenko and Podkolzin,” says Irgl. What makes them so exceptional?

19-year-old winger Grigori Denisenko is one of the greatest jewels of the Russian youth program. The product of the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl program is considered one of the future stars of the senior men’s team. “He is very skilled; extremely good with the puck,” says Irgl. Last year, Denisenko was drafted 15th overall by Florida, but in the last year’s World Junior Championship, he exceeded all expectations to top the tournament in scoring. In Ostrava and Trinec, he should be one of the leaders of the team.

18-year-old forward Vasili Podkolzin is another of a number of talented Russian bombers. Scouts admire his incredible complexity. “He’s a hockey player on a level who has all the tools. I think he’s going to have a great career,” Irgl believes. This year, Podkolzin was picked 10th overall by Vancouver, but for the time being he remains with SKA St. Petersburg, where he plays in KHL, VHL and MHL games. The captain of this year’s Russian U18 team already appeared at last year’s World Juniors, and that experience should prove valuable this year.

Coach

The Russian pilot is the extremely experienced, 63-year-old Valeri Bragin – an old-school practitioner who began coaching Spartak Moscow, and for a short time he was the head coach of CSKA Moscow. Otherwise, he has worked within the Russian Ice Hockey Federation. He was head coach of the 2011 IIHF World Junior Championship gold-medal team and since then, claimed three silvers and two bronzes for the Russian juniors. As well, he was coach of the Russian team that won gold at the 2004 U18 World Championship.

Preliminary-Round Schedule (times local/MSK)

26 December 2019: Czech Republic – Russia 15:00/17:00
28 December 2019: Russia – Canada 19:00/21:00
29 December 2019: USA – Russia 19:00/21:00
31 December 2019: Russia – Germany 15:00/17:00

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