Win or go home
Win or go home
Who will prevail in Thursday’s quarter-finals?
Finland vs. Russia
12:00, Ralph Engelstad Arena
If you take history as your guide, Finland won silver last year and bronze in 2013, while Russia hasn’t won a U18 medal since 2011 and has placed fifth at three of the last four tournaments. Even if you’re only concerned with the here and now, the Russians are in tough with their primarily U17 roster. Struggling with consistency, they’ve scored two or fewer goals in every game except their 7-0 rout of underdog Latvia.
The Finns have been more consistent, and have the better goalie in Leevi Laakso, even if his 89.7 save percentage so far isn’t sparkling. They also have a huge weapon in 2016 World Junior MVP Jesse Puljujarvi, who should be ready to step up after a quiet debut in the 3-1 loss to Canada. With due respect to the playmaking of Russian forward Klim Kostin and the blueline presence of Mikhail Sergachyov, the Finns will likely win a hard-fought affair.
Canada vs. Switzerland
15:30, Ralph Engelstad Arena
The Canadians can’t get complacent, given that the Swiss shocked Russia last year with a 5-0 quarter-final upset. That said, this is Canada’s game to lose.
Although coach Shaun Clouston’s squad hasn’t been tearing it up on the scoreboard – they’ve had three straight 3-1 wins since the opening 10-2 blowout against Denmark – they’ve worked hard defensively (just five goals against) to stay perfect, and their power play percentage (33.3) is second only to that of the defending champion United States.
Discipline is a bit of a concern, as the Canadians have taken 25 minor penalties to date, the second-highest in the tournament. But the Swiss power play has clicked just once in 11 tries, and 17-year-old Nico Hischier is the team’s lone point-per-game producer. Expect Canadian captain Tyson Jost, currently tied for the tournament points lead (nine), to lead his crew to a solid victory.
Sweden vs. Slovakia
18:00, ICON Sports Center
Sweden’s chances of winning its first U18 World Championship in history were cast into doubt during a 6-1 loss to the U.S. in group play. However, the Swedes should still have enough in the tank to top the Slovaks, who dramatically came back to beat the neighboring rival Czech Republic 4-3 in their round-robin closer. That game featured two penalty shots for captain Samuel Solensky.
Even with a never-say-die attitude, it will be hard for Slovakia to replicate the emotional high of beating the Czechs. Containing the elite skill of Swedish forwards like Alexander Nylander (eight points), Lias Andersson (five points), and Elias Pettersson (five points) is a tall order too. If the well-disciplined Swedes stick to their game plan, they should move on to the semi-finals.
USA vs. Czech Republic
19:30, Ralph Engelstad Arena
Knocking off the two-time defending champions on their home ice is a huge task. It’s one that will probably prove too big for coach Robert Reichel’s team against an American squad that has outscored its opponents 30-4 so far.
The Czech Republic has lost 11 straight U18 games to the U.S. dating back to 2004. There’s just no compelling reason to believe that streak will end on Thursday. The Czechs have the tournament’s second-worst penalty kill (75 percent) pitted against the Americans’ top-rated power play (38.4 percent), and thus must stay out of the box at all costs. Getting off to a strong start and avoiding unforced errors will be vital if the Czechs want to make this one competitive.
Sixteen-year-old Czech phenom Filip Zadina (4-1-5) has been a bright spot, but he can’t be expected to outscore tournament leader Kailer Yamamoto (4-5-9), Logan Brown (1-7-8), Clayton Keller (3-4-7), and a plethora of other snipers mostly hailing from the USA Hockey National Team Development Program. This one could be lopsided as the Americans kick it into high gear.
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