WJC Looks to Ramp Up Interest & Excitement in Quarterfinals
By Scott Lowe - MYHockeyRankings.com
The energy, excitement – and hopefully fan interest – is expected to ramp up in Edmonton at the International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship Wednesday as the top eight teams in this year’s tournament face off in the quarterfinal round.
The WJC quarterfinals feature a “crossover” format in which the top seeds from Groups A and B take on the fourth seeds from the opposite pool, while the second- and third-place teams from opposite groups face off.
WJC Preliminary Round Standings
Canada 4 W 0 OTW 0 OTL 0 L 27 GF 7 GA 12 PTS
Finland 2 W 1 OTW 0 OTL 1 L 22 GF 13 GA 8 PTS
Latvia 1 W 0 OTW 1 OTL 2 L 10 GF 16 GA 4 PTS
Czechia 1W 0 OTW 1 OTL 2 L 11 GF 18 GA 4 PTS
USA 4 W 0 OTW 0 OTL 0 L 22 GF 4 GA 12 PTS
Sweden 3 W 0 OTW 0 OTL 1 L 15 GF 7 GA 9 PTS
Germany 2 W OTW 0 OTL 2 L 10 GF 13 GA 6 PTS
Switzerland 1 W OTW 0 OTL 3 L 8 GF 15 GA 3 PTS
Canada proved to be the top offensive team and posted the top goal differential in the opening round, tallying 27 times while allowing its opponents to score seven goals. The USA posted the best defensive numbers, surrendering just a single goal per game in four outings while netting 22 goals, the second-highest total in the tournament.
Neither of the tournament favorites was challenged in its opening three contests, with the U.S. outscoring those foes by a 19-2 margin and Canada compiling a 21-4 advantage in its first three contests. Predictably, both nations faced stiffer challenges in their final pool-play matchups, with the Americans holding on for a 3-2 victory against Sweden and the Canadians knocking off always-tough Finland, 6-3, tallying three goals on their first-10 shots.
Based on the playoff format, the most likely scenario has the U.S. taking on Finland and Canada battling Sweden in the semifinals. Simply by comparing scores against common opponents, it appears as though Sweden might prove to be the tougher matchup of the two, although entering the WJC the Finns were considered the most likely of the non-North American teams to compete for a gold medal. Finland survived a 4-3 shootout win against fourth-place Czechia in the opening round, while Sweden won three games by a margin of 14-4. Those victories did include a difficult 3-2 win against fourth-place Switzerland.
In a tournament that has flown mostly under the radar, featuring lackluster attendance, a handful of blowouts and only fleeting moments of excitement, the performance by Latvia has been this year’s top story. Filling in for a Russian team that was banned because of the invasion of Ukraine, Latvia dropped its opening contest, 6-1, vs. Finland but put up a good fight in a promising 5-2 loss to Canada, The Latvians nearly knocked off Slovakia in a 3-2 shootout defeat before stunning Czechia, 5-2, to earn the third seed in Group A and a quarterfinal date against Sweden. Latvia had lost all 27 of its previous WJC contests before that historic victory, which dealt the Czechs a crushing blow and knocked them down to the fourth seed and a matchup against Group B’s top-seeded Americans.
That may not be the best news for Team USA, however, as Czechia has a much stronger lineup than it has shown to date and entered the WJC figuring to contend with Finland for Group A’s No. 2 seed and a possible medal. On paper, the Czechs are a much-tougher matchup for the Americans than Latvia would have been.
“We made history, and we’re not done yet,” Latvian forward Martins Lavins told reporters after the historic win.
Forward Ralfs Bergmanis, who has three goals and two assists thus far in the tournament, also was understandably thrilled by the result.
“We’re really excited about this. At the start, everybody was making jokes about us, saying we should just be happy to be here, but we’ve made history and we’re here to win. Yesterday we had a players-only meeting and everybody talked about winning today. We’re like one big family.”
That family will be returning for the 2023 WJC in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, Canada, thanks to its showing here. In fact, all 10 2022 participating teams will be back since there will be no relegation this year as a result of the many changes and challenges caused by COVID-19 since 2020.
All of Wednesday’s quarterfinal matchups can be viewed live on TSN and RDS in Canada and NHL Network in the United States.
WJC Quarterfinal Schedule
12:00 p.m. ET – Finland vs. Germany
2:30 p.m. ET – Sweden vs. Latvia
7:00 p.m. ET – Canada vs. Switzerland
10:30 p.m. ET – United States vs. Czechia
Finland vs. Germany
The steady and improving Germans look to pull off a semifinal upset against a nation that has captured three of the past nine WJC gold medals. Germany turned in its best showing by placing sixth in 2021 and came to Edmonton looking to continue raising the bar.
Usually a steady, consistent group that features excellent goaltending and plays a grinding, physical 200-foot style, the Finns have shown more holes in their game than usual this year. Statistically, they are the tournament’s worst penalty-killing team at 50 percent efficiency, but they also have taken the fewest penalties (eight). Finland’s top goalie, Ottawa Senators draft pick Leevi Merilainen, only ranks ninth in save percentage (.892) and sixth in goals-against average (2.54). Finland has been the most efficient offensive team at the WJC, scoring on 15 percent of its shots, and features two of the tournament’s top-three scorers in first-round NHL draft pick Joakim Kemell (3-6-9) and second-round selection Aatu Raty (3-6-9). The Finns have the tournament’s No. 2 power play, converting at a 60-percent clip.
Germany goaltender Florian Bugl has been stout between the pipes, posting a .905 save percentage to rank sixth and the fourth-best goals-against average (2.00). Alexander Blank leads the team in scoring with three goals and an assist, which places him fourth at the WJC in goals. Seven different German players have scored goals.
Sweden vs. Latvia
The Swedes built some confidence by rallying late to give the United States a bit of a scare before falling 3-2 Sunday. They are looking to continue that upward trend against the surprising Latvians. The danger here, however, is that they are facing an energized Latvian group coming off its first-ever WJC win in 28 tries and were expecting a quarterfinal matchup against a Czech team that entered the tournament looking to compete for a medal. Is it possible that Sweden might be looking past this game to a probable matchup against Canada?
The Swedes enter the quarters having scored 15 goals while allowing only seven. They rank in the middle of the pack in terms of scoring efficiency but are the top penalty-killing unit (92 percent) despite having taken the second-most penalties and rank third on the power play at 54.5 percent. Defenseman Emil Andrae, a Philadelphia Flyers draft pick, ranks fourth overall in scoring with seven points and also is fourth in goals with three. Forward Oskar Olausson, a Colorado draft pick, has added a goal and four assists, with 10 different Swedish players tallying goals. Jesper Wallstedt and Calle Clang, a pair of NHL draft picks, have split time in goal. Clang leads the WJC in save percentage (.944) and goal-against average (1.00), while Wallstedt, who has played for the Iowa Wild in the American Hockey League, ranks fourth in save percentage (.922) and has posted a 2.54 GAA.
Latvia built some confidence in the opening round by hanging with a dominant Canadian team in a 5-2 setback and continued to build upon that momentum in a shootout loss to Slovakia and the historic win over Czechia. The Latvians rank fourth in offensive efficiency and are fifth with the extra man (33.3 percent) but they have struggled a bit on the penalty kill, ranking eighth at 54.55 percent. Of course, they need to stay out of the penalty box against the talented Swedes. While overall Latvia ranks fourth in goaltending, the team’s numbers (3.92 GAA, .900 save percentage) are noticeably below the third-ranked Canadians. Netminder Bruno Bruveris has appeared in three contests, posting a .913 save percentage and 3.24 GAA. University of Vermont forward Bergmanis is the team’s top scorer, ranking 15th with three goals and two assists, and seven different Latvian players have put pucks in the net.
Canada vs. Switzerland
Canada has compiled the top offensive numbers and best goal differential to date at the 2022 WJC. On the surface, this appears to be a mismatch and just another small bump in what Canada hopes will be a road that leads to a gold-medal matchup with the United States. A potential semifinal matchup looms against a talented Swedish team, but therein lies the danger. This Swiss group nearly knocked off the Swedes, falling 3-2 in the opening round, and if Canada is looking ahead and not focused on the task at hand, history has proven that Switzlerland plays the type of two-way style and usually has solid-enough goaltending to pull off a major upset.
The Canadians will look to shatter any such Swiss hopes early as they did in their final preliminary-round victory against Finland. Canada scored on three of its first 10 shots in that game Monday en route to a 6-3 win that earned them the top seed in Group A.
Although Canada leads the WJC with 27 goals, the offensive attack has been balanced other than the phenomenal numbers compilted by NHL first-round draft pick Mason McTavish. He has notched an eye-popping 13 points in four contests to lead all scorers. The next-closest player has nine points, and McTavish ranks first in both goals and assists. Exciting youngster Connor Bedard, potentially the first pick in the 2023 NHL Draft, is next among Canadian players with three goals and seven points. Thirteen different skaters have scored goals for Canada, with seven of them scoring at least twice. Seventeen different players have recorded points. There have been 14 multiple-point scorers, and 11 of those players have notched three-plus points. In goal, New York Rangers prospect Dylan Garand ranks third with a a .930 save percentage and 1.67 goals-against average. Canada has the top-ranked power play and No. 2 penalty kill.
Switzerland got a goal from Dario Allenspach with 10:13 left in its opening game against Sweden to pull within 3-2. The Swiss then were awarded a five-minute power play in the game's final 10 minutes but could not even the score. They are hoping to give Canada a similar run for its money in the quarterfinals. Switzerland ranks near the bottom in offensive efficiency and power play but near the top in penalty killing. That's not odd since the Swiss are known for playing a tight-checking, defensive style that allows them counter attack and keep games close. What's a bit unusual is that their goaltending numbers rank seventh out of 10 teams. Usually their style of play paired with strong goltending makes them a threat against anyone, but they remain very capable as shown by the result against Sween, a game in which goaltender Noah Patenaude stopped 26 of the 29 shots he faced. Patenaude's play has been uneven in his other appearances, though, as he ranks 10th in the tournament with a .883 save percentage and has posted a 3.01 goals-against average. His play Wednesday will be the key to Switzerland's upset hopes. The Swiss have no players ranked among the tournament's top 26 scorers. Allenspach and Attilio Biasca lead the way with four points apiece.
USA vs. Czechia
The United States has proven to be the top defensive unit at the 2022 WJC, allowing just four goals in four games while scoring 22 times to rank second in that category behind Canada. The team's plus-18 goal differential also ranks second behind the Canadians. None of that is surprising, though, as both teams are always favorites to earn top seeds in pool play and to walk through to the semifinals.
Beating Czechia is never a walk in the park, though, and the Czechs were not the expected opponent as most people figured the U.S. would take on Slovakia in the quarterfinals. That plan was derailed by the upstart Latvians, however. Latvia, which was not even supposed to be in the tournament and was tabbled as a late fill-in for the banned Russians, nearly beat Slovakia before upsetting the Czechs, 5-2, to earn the third seed in Group A and set up this U.S.-Czechia matchup.
On the one hand, playing a tougher opponent in the quarterfinals should prove to be a good tuneup for potential semfinal matchup with a Finnish team that has captured three of the past nine WJC gold medals. The problem for the Americans is that Czechia always has a lineup of talented players, several of whom have NHL potential That means this game could prove to be one of the best No. 1 vs. No. 4 quartefinal games in recent memory. That said, the Americans did rout the Czechs, 7-0, in last year's tournament and lead the all-time series, 16-8-1, with victories in nine of the last 10 meetings.
With an assist in USA's 3-2 win over Sweden, San Jose Sharks draft pick Thomas Bordeleau finished the preliminary round tied for first with six assists. Calgary Flames prospect Matt Coronato and Red Wings prospect Carter Mazur are tied for second in goals with four, and Bordeleau is tied for fourth in points with seven. Goaltender Kaidan Mbereko, a 2023 NHL Draft prospect,ranks second with a .938 save percentage and a 1.33 goals-against average. The U.S. ranks fourth in team offensive efficiency but is among the top three in every other positive team statistical category.
Czechia's performance definitely has been disappointing thus far, but that doesn't mean the team isn't dangerous. The Czechs rank in the bottom half of all team statistical categories, with their ninth-ranked goaltending the most troubling area of all. The goaltending struggles figure to make an upset of the defending gold medalists unlikely. But Jan Bednar has shown enough potential in goal for the Detroit Red Wings to draft him, and defenseman David Jiricek was slected by Columbus sixth overall in the 2022 NHL Draft. Montreal draft pick Jan Mysak and Buffalo prospect Jiri Kulich provide offensive punch up front, but depth is an issue. Only if Bednar gets the start and lives up to the potential he has shown in the past will zechia have a shot to pull off the upset.