Wake up Canada, It’s World Junior Time!

Team Canada have begun their 2013 gold medal campaign by taking on the up-and-coming German squad.  As expected, the Canadians breezed their way to a 9-3 win.

The early going, however, wasn’t as dominant as the final score indicated.  Canada went up 2-0, but before the period concluded, Germany answered back to cut the lead in half.  The Canadians then stormed their way to 6-1 lead before having their advantage cut in half at the end of the period, again, with two late second frame goals.  The rest is history.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins brought the heat, as promised.  He delivered the second goal of the game and tallied four helpers to total five points on the day.

Malcolm Subban, along with the Canadian defense, showed some blind spots in the rear-view of the victory.  The first goal saw the Canadians lose count of the German forwards, as Tobias Reider banked a cross-crease pass in off Subban’s pad from the side of the net.  But the other two goals Subban could have had; just as well the defense could have tightened up the lanes.

But as the cliche goes ‘despite what the scoreboard says,’ the Germans indeed appear to be improving as a hockey nation.  NHL.com featured a story last year about the improved hockey development programs in Germany and that they’re soon to be medal contenders.  This became evident in the game today.

Even when the Germans appeared to be down and out at 6-1, they rallied for two quick goals to put themselves back in the thick of things.  Had it not have been for Nugent-Hopkins’ dandy set-up to Mark Scheifele for a buzzer-beater goal to reclaim a four-goal lead at the end of the second period, the third period could have had a whole different complexion.

Nonetheless Canada dominated the third as the Germans began to fall victim to the high-octane attack brought by the Canadians every shift.

In any case, the compete level in the German juniors seemed to far exceed the level of competition the German Men’s team has brought to world tournaments.

Canada will now prepare for the surprise squad out of Slovakia.

The Slovaks shocked Team Russia by sending the game into overtime with a late third period goal.  Richard Mraz knotted the game at doubles with just 37 seconds left in regulation on a double-minor power play.  The power play carried over into the extra frame, but the Russians were able to kill the penalty.  In overtime, however, it would be the Russians who would draw a penalty late.

The tripping call came with just 14.5 seconds left in the extra session.  Less than five seconds later, Albert Yarullin blistered a sizzling one-timer passed the helpless Adam Nagy.

Nagy played a fantastic game to anchor the exceptional defensive play by the Slovaks. Though not as high caliber as the Finns, Slovakia should also be considered a medal contender.  The firepower in Canada, Russia and Sweden may be a bit too much for the Slovaks to medal, but they have just the right amount of talent and key personnel to pull off an upset appearance and become the true dark-horse of the tournament.

Speaking of dark horses, I don’t think many were considering Team Finland to be a serious gold medal threat before the pre-tournament competition.  But they’ve proven that’s exactly what they’re out to claim.  After upsetting Team Canada in their first pre-tournament game, Finland went on to embarrass the Americans in a 5-1 route.  They also boast, arguably, the best player in junior hockey in Markus Granlund.  That makes for one heck of an underdog.

And finally, we have the Swedes.  Despite losing their three best defensemen — some of the finest in the world — they put on a commanding performance for the Czechs.  They proved their power play is something to be reckoned with, as they opened up the scoring on back-to-back goals with the man advantage.

The entire game was riddled with penalties on the most minor of offences, much unlike the Russian-Slovak game, and the Swedes took advantage.  The Czechs showed flashes of great cycle play, but simply couldn’t maintain a steady enough attack to compete.

The scoreboard shows a 4-1 score, which may not look overly impressive, but that Czech goal came with just six seconds left in the game.  Joel Lassinantti’s shutout bid was shot down by the buzzer-beater goal by Lukas Sedlak, despite a very impressive performance.  He made 25 saves in the win.  The Czechs refused to shoot anywhere but glove side on the Swedish net-minder, so he kept flashing leather.

Overall, the Swedes looked like the most complete team in the tournament, other than Canada of course.  Which is strange considering both teams have lost their top defensive pairing to injury.

Even though both faced inferior opposition on opening day, they looked well prepared.  Sweden played the most complete game as Russia registered the least impressive win.  Not to say Slovakia didn’t look absolutely impressive against them.  Sweden out-muscled the Czech Republic for every puck battle and seemed to win every key faceoff.

In conclusion, the three medal favourites pulled out ‘W’s today.  Though Russia faced the toughest competition of the three, they were very fortunate to come out with a victory.

Canada and Sweden both took command of their games from the opening whistle until the final buzzer.  Their respective games were never in doubt.

Surprise of the day goes to Team Slovakia for an unexpected thriller versus the highly touted Russians.

Only time will tell if Slovakia’s impressive performance merely came on the heels of an ill-prepared Russian team, or if the Slovaks are a legitimate threat.

Canada is next on their list.  The battle begins Friday at 4:30 a.m. ET on TSN.

Same time, same place… wake up Canada, it’s World Junior time!

Topics: Team Canada, Team Finland, Team Russia, Team Sweden, World Junior Championships

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