HOCKEY: Final Juniors Previews

BRONZE:  USA vs SWEDEN, 9AM ET

GOLD:  FINLAND vs RUSSIA  1:30PM ET

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werenski-swe1

photo courtesy Matt Zambonin / HHOF – IIHF Images

der Eishockeyzuschauer

ALLENTOWN, Pa

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Disappointment has always been a big part of major international ice hockey competition, as both the United States and Sweden have since rediscovered in Helsinki this winter. Nevertheless, there is still hardware waiting to be awarded and so the Americans as well as the Swedes both still have everything to skate for in the Bronze Medal Match at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championships in Finland. After all, if there is anything worse at the annual WJC than losing to the historical arch-rival at the semifinal stage, it is closing out the competition will out any sort of medal to take back home and, thus, the time for mental toughness has arrived.

Lehigh Valley Phantoms defenseman Robert Hagg is all too familiar with the deplorable scenario of having to go home empty handed. Although the now 20-year-old rearguard in his second full season with the Philadelphia Flyers organization did win silver medals for Sweden at the annual WJC in both 2013 and 2014, he was also a member of the Juniorkronorna side that surprisingly lost to Slovakia in the third place game at last year’s tournament in Canada. For the Bronze Medal Match in Scandinavia this winter, the Swedes will have ten players in uniform against the United States who were a part of that 2015 WJC team that did not pick up any hardware after being upset by the Slovaks – presumably, these ten veteran players will be very highly motivated to avoid any type of repeat experience in 2016.
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Sweden and the United States, of course, have already met in the round robin of this year’s 2016 WJC, with the Swedes winning the Group A contest 1-0 in Helsinki largely on the strength of spectacular goaltending from Linus Soderstrom, the 19-year-old who plays in the Swedish second division side HC Vita Hasten and was the 4th round pick of the New York Islanders at the 2014 NHL Draft. The result was a very important one for the Swedes in that the victory did get a giant monkey off their backs – heading into this year’s round robin game, the United States had gone twelve consecutive WJC games against Sweden without defeat (eleven wins, one tie) going back to 1998. As far as the all-time WJC record in the now 40-year history of the competition stands between the two countries, the Swedes (15 wins, 13 losses, 2 ties) still lead the United States.
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Sweden and the United States have met in the Bronze Medal Match on two occasions in the past with the Americans winning both times (in 2007 and in 2011).
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Considering the form of the two nations’ netminders at this 2016 WJC, this year’s Bronze Medal Match just could be a duel to decide whether Soderstrom or Alex Nedeljkovic of the United States will be formally chosen as the tournament’s Best Goaltender by no less of an authority than the Directorate of the IIHF, itself. Both players have acquitted themselves extremely well in Helsinki, with Nedeljkovic (.9496) currently showing a save percentage which is only slightly better than that of Soderstrom (.9470), who has posted two shutouts in his five starts. It is quite possible, of course, that either the Swedes or the Americans (or both) might decide to deploy their backup goaltender (both teams have capable deputies).
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United States superstar in training Auston Matthews, who was limited to just two shots on goal and went pointless against the Russians after racking up 11 points (7 go) in the Americans’ first five games this winter, still has a chance to at least equal the all-time record for goals by a U.S. player at one WJC tournament currently held by Jeremy Roenick, who lit the lamp eight times for the United States in 1989.
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American captain Zach Werenski, the would certainly like to help the United States win just its fifth set of bronze medals in the 40-year history of the annual WJC competition (the U.S. has won the gold medal three times and the silver medal once, for those who are curious); the smooth skating defenseman from the University of Michigan who was the 8th overall player chosen in the first round of the 2015 NHL Draft by the Columbus Blue Jackets has had an excellent tournament and is a deserving candidate for both Best Defenseman and First Team All-Star awards. Werenski is second among all blueliners in scoring with eight points (two goals) and is tied for the tournament lead with a plus/minus rating of + 8 on behalf of the United States.
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​photo courtesy of Andre Ringuette / HHOF – IIHF Images

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Three players who skate for American Hockey League teams plus the first round pick (# 7 overall) Ivan Provorov of the Philadelphia Flyers will be on display as ancient Baltic rivals Finland and Russia battle it out for global bragging rights in the Gold Medal Game of the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championships being held in the Finnish capital city of Helsinki.

The Russians, who have now already assured themselves of an eleventh medal of some color from the last dozen WJC tournaments, are guaranteed to be taking home the country’s 20th set of medals since the old Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was dissolved in the early 1990s. What Russia really wants, however, is to celebrate its first title since 2011 and the country’s fifth overall since the end of the USSR. “We are not heroes yet,” said Vladimir Kamenev, the 19-year-old center from the AHL’s Milwaukee Admirals who is serving as Russia’s captain at this WJC and scored two vital goals to lead a desperate comeback against Denmark at the quarterfinal stage.
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Russia head coach Valery Bragin, who has already won one gold medal and three silver medals in his previous stints as junior national team boss (2005, 2011, 2012, 2015), courageously benched ineffective goaltender Alexander Georgiev, the undrafted 19-year-old from Finnish club TPS Turku, for the pivotal semifinal contest against the United States and instead turned to Ilya Samsonov, the 1st round pick (# 22 overall) of the Washington Capitals at the 2015 NHL Draft. The 18-year-old from KHL club Metallurg Magnitogorsk had appeared in only one of Russia’s first five games, stopping 17 of 18 shots in the 4-1 round robin win over Belarus, but certainly seemed to be a major improvement over Georgiev with 26 saves in the narrow 2-1 triumph over the Americans. The highly touted Samsonov will surely get the call again for the final versus the Finns, too.
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Igor Korshkov (6 ga, 2 go, 8 pts), the undrafted 19-year-old from KHL club Torpedo Yaroslavl, scored a magnificent goal in the semifinal to enable the Russians to knock the U.S. out of the WJC for the third consecutive season and is, perhaps, somebody the Philadelphia Flyers should think about signing as a free agent (if only for the benefit of the AHL’s Lehigh Valley Phantoms, of course).
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Finland, meanwhile, got excellent mileage out of their two AHL players at the semifinal stage of this WJC in the always satisfying victory over perennial arch-rival Sweden. Mikko Rantanen of the AHL’s San Antonio Rampage and Kasperi Kapanen of the AHL’s Toronto Marlies have both been held in check, relatively speaking, over the course of this 2016 WJC but both of the 19-year-olds who were 1st round NHL Draft picks of their respective organizations each had assisted on both of the Finns’ goals in the semifinal win over the Swedes. Rantanen and Kapanen, who each have one goal and four points at this tournament, have been skating on separate lines but do operate together on a power play unit.
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The Finns, who scored both of their goals in the semifinals with the benefit of the man advantage, have been absolutely terrifying on the power play at this 2016 WJC on home ice in Helsinki, scoring an impressive 11 goals in 27 opportunities (40.74%).
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Finland head coach Jukka Jalonen decided to pull the plug on his undrafted 18-year-old goaltender in the quarterfinals against defending gold medalist Canada and has had no reason to not look back thus far; Kaapo Kahkonen (3 ga, 2.36 avg, .919 svpct), the 19-year-old from elite league outfit Kiekko Espoo who was the 4th round pick of the Minnesota Wild at the 2014 NHL Draft, was only beaten once in the semifinals but will need to be sharp again against Russia.
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Finland did beat the Russians in the round robin at the 2014 WJC two winters ago (the Finns went on to win the title that year) the last time the two teams met. Suomi and also topped their northern European neighbors and former Czarist rulers the one and only time these two nations have ever faced off in the Gold Medal Game at the annual WJC, in 1998. But it is Russia who have a decided edge in the all-time series with a record of 13 wins against five losses and one tie since 1993 including a mark of 6-2 versus the Finns in medal round knockout matches.
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Altogether, Finland have an all-time WJC record of just nine wins against 25 losses (with one tie) against the Soviets / Russians so the history books say they will have their work cut out for them in the Gold Medal Game … on the other hand, the Finns will also have a very passionate home audience cheering them on loudly and that can always have a very positive and uplifting effect.
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Hope you’ve enjoyed our Hockey World Juniors Phantom-centric coverage.  Thanks to d.E. for the writing and research.  We’ll….
See you at the arena,
@Kram209


Categories: Phantoms Hockey

1 reply

  1. Note to Kram :

    Yeah, we definitely tried to follow this 2016 WJC paying particular attention to current
    American Hockey League players as well as Philadelphia Flyers’ NHL draft picks (read, quite possibly future Lehigh Valley Phantoms skating in the AHL) and even tried to tie things into current Phantoms players who have participated at the annual WJC in the past.

    With that in mind, I was especially pleased to see that all three AHL players — Finland’s Mikko Rantanen from the San Antonio Rampage and Kasperi Kapanen from the Toronto Marlies as well as Russia’s Vladislav Kamenev from the Milwaukee Admirals — as if on cue, each scored a goal in the Gold Medal Game. Kapanen, the same guy who scored his very first professional goal in North America for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins at the PPL Center in Allentown last spring, wins the gold medal for Finland with a goal in overtime. How cool was that?!

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