Tonight, taking place in Montreal, is a much anticipated semifinal of the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship. Many think that Canada is destined to succeed and even for bettors is the overwhelming favourite, but when you look at the numbers the two best teams in this tournament have been Sweden and the United States. Canada plays Sweden tonight, as the USA face off against Russia this afternoon.
Canada was able to get into the semis by getting past the Czech Republic on Monday. They joined the final four with Sweden, USA and Russia, all of whom advanced to the semifinals after winning their respective games on Monday.
Team Canada’s coach, Dominique Ducharme has faced off against Sweden before and it should turn out to be a great semifinal of two string hockey nations who have a lot of pride and history on the line. Sweden isn’t a stranger to the position they find themselves in. Over the last ten years, Sweden has gone an amazing 40-0 in round robin action at the world juniors and are unbeaten in quarterfinal games. But, believe it or not in the finals they have faltered. They’ve only won one gold medal in that 10-year stretch, and are coming off back-to-back fourth place finishes, so they will be desperate to get to a medal.
“I remember the feeling last year,” Swede Joel Eriksson Ek told media post-game in Montreal after Sweden eliminated Slovakia. “I don’t want to have that feeling again. I hope we can step up a little bit more and win the hockey games.”
The Swedes played very well on Monday, just as they have in every game in this tournament so far. They have incredibly smooth puck movement and they own Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Carl Grundstrom who was cheered on by local adoring fans as he showed off some cool passing as he blew by the Slovaks and stunned their netminder Adam Huska.
Grundstrom played on the first line with first-rounders Eriksson Ek and the tournament’s leading scorer Alexander Nylander. He was moved early on in the tournament, and since the trio has been scoring goals left, right and center as if they have played together before. So far, they’ve combined for 12 goals and 12 assists for 24 points in five games. That line is clicking.
Canada should not underestimate Sweden, since they can make high-level skill plays at top speed too, and are hard to stop in the flow. Tim Soderlund, is an example of a high flying Swede, he was remarkably passed over by every NHL team in the 2016 draft, but right now it’s clear ro see that he has the type of speed that makes many current NHLers look slow and sluggish. Soderlund scored twice on Monday and is just finding his scoring touch now, at the perfect time in the competition.
Sweden’s only mistake was that they took their foot off the gas after scoring five goals and leading the game 5-0 by the second period. That allowed Slovakia to get two goals one after the other, but it was to no avail. Slovakia tried hard to score and wanted to make it 5-3 but Swedish goalie Felix Sandstrom shut the door on Adam Ruzicka in the last seconds of the second period and that was that.
But Ruzicka was not to be kept off the score board, he scored two minutes into the third period to cut the lead to 5-3, which was also the first time in the tournament Sweden allowed more than two goals in a game, but by the end, the Swedes won it 8-3, which means they have no lack in scoring power.
They’ll play Canada feling confident and sure to give their all in what should be a stellar matchup. The Canadians know it too, Assistant Coach to Team Canada, Ryan Huska told media on Monday he thought Sweden was “tougher” than Canada, even after Ducharme said that despite Sweden’s success in the tournament, they have been snake bitten when it comes to elimination games. He pointed out their inability to translate preliminary round success to gold medals in the last decade, and seemed to be challenging Sweden outright.
But the Swedes, in their understated and diplomatic way said it was obvious which team was under the most pressure in Wednesday’s game. “It’s pretty hard to be a favoured team playing Canada in Canada,” said Sweden head coach Tomas Monten. He underlined that Sweden’s older players, born in 1997, are used to playing in the underdog role after finishing eighth at the 2015 under-18 championship, a bad result which motivates them today. “I think we have a group that doesn’t feel the pressure,” Monten said. “We haven’t been the favourites and we don’t feel like that going into this game either.” As for Ducharme’s comment? “We hope to prove him wrong.”
We think they will.