The World Junior quarterfinals took place today, and Russia, Sweden, Finland, and the United States all advanced to the semifinals, while Denmark, Slovakia, Canada, and the Czech Republic were all eliminated. The Red Wings still have 4 players in the tournament in Axel Holmstrom and Christoffer Ehn with Sweden, Vili Saarijarvi with Finland, and Evgeny Svechnikov with Russia; Joe Hicketts and Canada were eliminated by Finland.
Here's how each of the individual Red Wings prospects performed today.
Russia vs Denmark
Result: Russia 4, Denmark 3 in Overtime
Evgeny Svechnikov: 2 SOG, -1
On paper it looked like Russia should have a relatively easy time beating Denmark and eliminating them from the tournament, but Denmark gave Russia a run for their money and it took overtime for Russia to pull off the win. Russia outshot Denmark 46-21 in total, and only led on the scoresheet for just under 20 minutes. Denmark put up a very good fight, but their upset of the favored Russian team didn't quite happen. It took half of the 10 minute overtime for Russia to net the winner, but net it they did. Evgeny Svechnikov didn't hit the ice in overtime.
Sweden vs Slovakia
Result: Sweden 6, Slovakia 0
Axel Holmstrom: 2 assists, +2, 4 SOG
Christoffer Ehn: 1 Goal, 2 PIM, +1, 1SOG
Sweden entered the tournament as my pick to win gold, and they've only reinforced that belief. They ran roughshod over Slovakia, outshooting them 55-17 and outscoring them 6-0. It doesn't matter if it's on the power play, even strength, or the penalty kill, Sweden is a treat to watch. Axel Holmstrom added two more assists while Christoffer Ehn scored his first goal of the tournament.
Axel Holmstrom's 1st assist
Christoffer Ehn's Goal
Axel Holmstrom's 2nd assist
Usually when Holmstrom is on the ice, you know it because he's agitating the other team, getting under their skin, and he's all over in front of the net. Ehn is the opposite, in that he's quietly effective, even though he doesn't always draw your attention. I've noticed that Ehn is particularly strong along the boards in both winning puck battles and protecting the puck. It's almost comical to watch Axel Holmstrom in front of the net, because while he's not a strong skater, he moves all around the edges of the crease faster and more nimbly than any other player I know of. He's so good in front of the net because he's not blocking shots from his teammates, he's not only blocking the goalie's view, but also forcing defenders to pay more attention to him and follow him around, thereby getting them moving around and out of position. It's really an art that Holmstrom has down, and it's fun and entertaining as heck to watch. Both Ehn and Holmstrom had a very good game, and at one point both Ehn and Holmstrom had a hand, or stick, in on a shorthanded chance for Sweden.
Christoffer Ehn (#26) gets the puck shorthanded for Sweden and passes it up ice while he goes off for a change. Axel Holmstrom (#25) comes on for him and makes a spin move to keep the puck in the Slovakia zone.
Finland vs Canada
Result: Finland 6, Canada 5
Vili Saarijarvi:2 SOG, 2PIM, -1
Joe Hicketts: 3SOG, 4 PIM, +1
Canada came into this elimination game claiming to be the underdog against Finland, to which I responded with a very skeptical Hmmmmm. Finland's defense started out very poorly, giving the puck away to the Canadians and trying long passes that were easily picked off. Canada capitalized early, taking a 1-0 lead just 5:21 into the game, then scored again to take a 2-0 lead five and a half minutes later. Things weren't looking good for Finland early on. Finally with 11 seconds left in the 1st period, the red hot line of Jesse Puljujarvi, Sebastian Aho, and Patrik Laine combined once again for a goal and got Finland on the scoresheet.
Joe Hicketts took a charging penalty 1:08 into the 2nd period for leaving his feet on this hit.
I can't help but laugh, because he left his feet, but still hit Jesse Puljujarvi in the chest. The hit was a good clean body hit, but Hicketts did leave his feet to make the hit, though his reaction to the penalty being called clearly indicates he neither intended to do so, nor realized it at the time.
At the 6:18 mark of the period, Finland and Canada exchanged goals about a minute apart and that Canada goal to make it 3-2 Canada would spell the end of Veini Vehvilainen's night in net for Finland as Kaapo Kahkonen would replace him. Canada's 3rd goal, scored by Lawson Crouse came directly from a turnover by Vili Saarijarvi in his own zone. He went for an outlet pass below the left faceoff circle and Crouse was inside Finland's blue line and intercepted it easily. FInland scored two goals in the middle frame to end the period up 4-3. The teams then exchanged goals in the 3rd period, and Canada pulled MacKenzie Blackwood with just over a minute to play, but couldn't tie the game.
Penalties were once again a huge story for Canada, as they took 9 minor penalties in the game and several of them were just stupid, undisciplined infractions taken by kids who were losing their composure.
Watching the eliminated team's players is tough for me, even if I'm not sorry they lost. They're all kids who pour so much into this tournament and they're crushed when they lose.
I have an enormous amount of respect for Joe Hicketts, both as a player and as a person, and his maturity level never ceases to impress me. He gave a post game interview where he conducted himself with a lot of poise and grace, despite it being obvious he was incredibly disappointed and crushed. You can watch the post game interview here.
The Semifinals start on Monday.
Sweden faces off against Finland at 9am and both TSN and the NHL Network will carry the games live
Russia takes on the United States at 1pm EST and both TSN and the NHL Network will carry this game live as well.