Bowen Byram to make NHL debut for Avalanche

It’ll be the first game for Bowen Byram later tonight. The highly rated defense prospect will make his NHL debut for the Avalanche when they visit the Kings at Staples Center. The game starts at 10 EST.

Byram was drafted by Colorado in 2019 with the fourth pick. He went after Jack Hughes (Devils), Kaapo Kakko (Rangers) and Kirby Dach (Blackhawks). Originally Ottawa had the first round pick, but the draft rights were traded to the Avalanche for Matt Duchene. A player who has been rented by both Ottawa and Columbus before landing in Nashville. That’s gotta be one of Joe Sakic’s best moves.

Byram captained Canada to a silver medal at the World Junior Championship earlier this month. He finished the WJC ’21 Tournament with a goal and four assists. He played top pair with Ducks prospect Jamie Drysdale on a dominant Canada, who cruised to the gold medal game before falling to Team USA 2-0.

Only 19, Byram was named to the All Tournament Team for his strong two-way play. An excellent skating defenseman who can jump into the rush, the Cranbrook, British Columbia native is a solid positional D as well. That should benefit the deep Avalanche, who boast last year’s Calder winner Cale Makar. The prospect of seeing a blue line that includes Makar and Byram is daunting for opponents. They are a team who should challenge for a championship soon.

We’ll see how Byram does in his first game. It should be exciting.

USA NTDP U18’s prevail 7-3 over Muskegon

The USA Hockey Program features some of the best American prospects hockey has to offer. Many players represent the National Team Development Program (NTDP) located in Grand Rapids, Michigan. They play their home games at USA Hockey Arena while facing the best competition that the United States Hockey League (USHL) has to offer.

An outstanding program has produced the likes of Jack Hughes, Trevor Zegras, Alex Turcotte, Cole Caufield, Matthew Boldy, Cam York, Drew Helleson, John Farinacci, Patrick Moynihan, Matthew Beniers and Spencer Knight. All of who represented Team USA at the World Junior Championship with 10 players winning gold at the recent WJC ’21 in Edmonton.

The current NTDP U18 took on Muskegon yesterday. They defeated the Musketeers 7-3 at USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth, Michigan. Four of the seven goals came over a six minute span in the first period. The goalscorers were Dylan Duke, Red Savage, Caden Brown and Frank Nazar III.

Logan Cooley, Justin Janicke and Luke Hughes also tallied in support of goalie Gibson Homer, who made 16 saves to win his fifth straight start. Luke Hughes led the way with four points (1-3-4) including his point shot connecting for USA NTDP U18’s seventh and final goal with less than four minutes left in the third period.

Boxscore

For more information on the current National Development Team, please refer to the Tweet below. It provides what the lineup was, the players statistics as well as who’s committed to college hockey.

Tim Stutzle scores his first NHL goal for Senators

During last night’s game between the Senators and Maple Leafs, Ottawa rookie Tim Stutzle scored his first NHL goal. The goal came with 8:16 remaining in the Senators’ 3-2 home loss to the Ontario rival Leafs.

It was only the just turned 19-year old German’s second game. He celebrated his birthday with a win over Toronto on Friday night. The youngest Senator was able to beat Toronto goalie Jack Campbell from the right dot with a quick one-timer on a Thomas Chabot saucer pass to cut the Ottawa deficit to one. Ultimately, they fell short.

The release was perfect. There was no hesitation from the ’20 third pick, who showed good hand eye coordination. Stutzle blew that shot past Campbell to record the big career milestone that he’ll remember. It’s the first of many for a gifted player who was named the Best Forward at the recent WJC ’21 in Edmonton. He put up 10 points (5-5-10) for Germany, who made the knockout stage for the first time in their World Junior history. They fell to Russia in the quarters.

In his second career NHL game, Stutzle received 19 shifts for a total of 14:52 of ice time. That included 2:11 on the power play with the other 12:41 at even strength. He finished with three shots including his first goal with a minor penalty and a plus-one rating on Saturday night.

As with young players who are new to the league, it’s a learning curve. Stutzle had three giveaways with his one penalty coming with under three minutes left. Something he noted in the Zoom Interview above.

After two games, the Senators are 1-1-0 having earned a split against the Leafs. A good result. Their next game is this Tuesday at home against Winnipeg. It’ll be a good challenge as they play in the very tough North (Canadian) Division. We’ll continue to track Stutzle’s progress. He’s an exciting player with a bright future.

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Devils rookie Yegor Sharangovich scores first goal in overtime

The Devils were playing the Bruins for a second time in three days at Newark. In the season opener, they lost 3-2 in a shootout to Boston.

Even though they didn’t win, the Devils nearly won the back and forth contest in overtime. Aside from former top pick Jack Hughes being dangerous on end to end rushes, one rookie forward caught our eye.

In a game that saw former first round pick Ty Smith score his first NHL goal with the puck taking about five different hops before going in, another first-year player looked the part. Despite taking a dirty hit from Charlie McAvoy, Russian forward Yegor Sharangovich came back and continued to get chances while playing with Hughes and Kyle Palmieri on the top line. That included a great opportunity late in overtime with his good wrist shot stopped by Tuukka Rask on a glove save.

The 22-year old from Minsk, Belarus was selected by the Devils in the 2018 NHL Draft as an overager late in the fifth round. After coming over to play for Binghamton in the AHL to get some North American experience, he went back to Russia where he played for the local Minsk Dynamo of the KHL this season. Before being recalled by the Devils at the start of training camp, Sharangovich had 17 goals and eight assists in 34 games. Impressive numbers.

There was talk about him being able to come over to New Jersey and play on the NHL team. But nobody really knew how he’d look. In only two games, it’s safe to say Sharangovich has found a new home with the Devils. He doesn’t look out of place and possesses the speed and skill many Russian hockey players have to help his new team.

With time winding down in OT, he took a no look feed from Damon Severson and broke in on Jaro Halak to score his first career NHL goal with only seconds to spare to give the Devils a 2-1 win over the Bruins. It was an exciting finish for the rookie.

It was a splendid way for Sharangovich to score his first goal. An overtime winner where he was congratulated by happy teammates. If anything, it proves that he is capable of contributing to a team that isn’t expected to challenge for the playoffs due to a tough division. Hopefully, he can continue to excel in a top scoring role while teaming with the improved Hughes (3 assists) and Palmieri.

Don’t tell the Devils they can’t compete. With both Sharangovich and Smith (1-1-2) off to strong starts in their first two games, youth will be served in Newark.

Rookie Focus: Dylan Cozens

One first-year player to watch is Dylan Cozens. A first round pick of the Buffalo Sabres in 2019, the 19-year old center who the club took at number seven, was a huge bright spot for Canada at the recent WJC ’21 in Edmonton.

For the diehard hockey fans who followed the prestigious IIHF U20 World Junior Championship Tournament, Cozens was one of the best players at Rogers Place. He certainly did his part after captain Kirby Dach went down to a fractured wrist that’ll keep the second-year Blackhawks center out most of the ’21 season.

Representing Canada for a second consecutive year after winning gold in ’20, Cozens was the offensive leader of a great roster that had many players return. He centered the top line alongside first round picks Connor McMichael and Jakob Pelletier to form a dangerous scoring line. They were certainly scary for opponents outscoring them 41-4 until the shocking conclusion in a disappointing 2-0 loss to USA last week.

Cozens finished second in scoring with 16 points. His eight goals paced everyone. Only Tournament MVP Trevor Zegras had more points finishing with 18. As expected, both top prospects were All Tournament selections alongside Tim Stutzle, Bowen Byram, Ville Heinola and Devon Levi. He did in a variety of ways by scoring big goals on breakaways and setting up teammates. In two World Junior Championships, Cozens finished with 25 points (10-15-25) in 14 games for Canada.

Now, the 6-3, 188 pound right shooting center is looking to make an impact at the NHL level with the Sabres. No small task for a young player that’s never played pro hockey. There has been talk he could start on the wing to take some pressure off. With proven vet Eric Staal the club’s second line center behind star Jack Eichel, the Sabres also boast Cody Eakin and Riley Sheahan.

For the time being, he’s projected to start on the fourth line with Sheahan and $9 million finisher Jeff Skinner. That could change quickly. Especially the Skinner part. It doesn’t make sense to have either Cozens or Skinner not in the top nine.

Whatever the case, it should be fun to follow Cozens. If he earns more ice time, he could play power play. Cozens was also used by Canada on the penalty kill. An area we could see him utilized by Sabres coach Ralph Krueger. A strong skater with good speed, he should supply Buffalo with some additional scoring depth behind dynamic duo Eichel and Taylor Hall, Staal, Sam Reinhart and Skinner.

Cozens will be one of those young players from the 2021 NHL Rookie Class who’ll be interesting to track.

Stutzle to have correct name on his Senators jersey

For quite a few NHL players from European countries, there sometimes is a variation with the spelling of their names.

We’ve seen it with several players including current Rangers Artemi Panarin and Igor Shesterkin. Both Russians have had their name altered, or Americanized. Panarin switched to Artemiy last year. But it’s usually spelled Artemi in most articles. Shesterkin is really Shestyorkin. Will they ever recognize that? Probably not.

What about when Vitaly Kravtsov comes over? Will it be Vitali or Vitaly? It would be nice if more NHL teams listened to what the player wants. In the Ottawa Senators’ case, they have. After grabbing German prospect Tim Stutzle in the 2020 NHL Draft, they decided to spell it Stutzle with a mark due to the rookie’s request.

This is a good thing. Most sites have it as Stuetzle including the Yahoo Fantasy Hockey one where I claimed the gifted scoring forward off waivers due to an injured reserve move. I’m glad Stutzle will get to wear his Senators jersey with the real spelling of his name on the back.

More teams should do it. Speaking of which, Stutzle has been practicing on a line with center Derek Stepan and Evgeny Dadonov. That’s not a bottom line. He will get a chance to play with two good NHL players who are capable of scoring and setting up goals. For that reason, it should be interesting to follow Stutzle this season.

While there should be some strong competition for the Calder Trophy coming from Kirill Kaprizov, Shestyorkin, Trevor Zegras, Alex Turcotte, Jamie Drysdale, Ilya Sorokin and Alexis Lafreniere, look for Stutzle to be in the mix for top rookie. It should be fun to follow.

The lasting images of USA’s epic win over Canada

All images by Derek Felix courtesy NHL Network via IIHFHOCKEY.

It’s already been a few days since USA defeated Canada 2-0 in another memorable showdown to capture the gold medal at the U20 World Junior Championships in Edmonton. Their fourth win against Canada in the WJC Final and fifth championship overall, remains special for any Team USA hockey fan.

The images of that upset still are fresh. From Tournament MVP Trevor Zegras backing up his words by scoring the huge second goal on a sneaky backhand stuff in 32 seconds into the second period, to Alex Turcotte neatly redirecting Drew Helleson’s point shot to give them the lead in a interesting first, there is much to digest.

Not only due to beating their great North American rival. But how they responded to adversity in the closing moments of the WJC semifinal against surging Finland. The Finns had rallied from two goals back to even up the game during a strong third period. They had all the momentum.

It didn’t stop the USA top line from creating the magical game-winner when Jake Sanderson sent a shot wide behind the Finland net. Then Turcotte picked up the loose puck, came out and found an open Arthur Kaliyev for a quick laser top cheese to give them a 4-3 lead with 1:16 remaining. A great story for the local kid from Staten Island playing the hero.

How about goalscorer Matthew Boldy diving to block a Ville Heinola shot with just over 13 seconds left? It was that kind of effort that allowed USA to dream big and deliver the fifth gold medal in the prestigious IIHF signature hockey prospects event. They proved it countless times when Canada applied the pressure during the second half of the final.

American players came back hard to defend with captain Cam York making two key defensive plays to break up Canadian scoring chances. You had a hustling Helleson apply enough back pressure on a rushing Connor McMichael to force him into a tough backhand on a breakaway with an aggressive Spencer Knight wisely coming out and challenging to easily push the shot aside.

Knight was a human brick wall in goal turning aside every dangerous shot from Canada. He stopped 34 overall with nearly half coming in a wild third. The Panthers prospect proved himself by repelling everything including a reflex kick out of a good Dylan Holloway shot which he never saw. Then, he followed it up by stoning a frustrated Connor Zary, who took out his anger on the ref behind the net. They weren’t having it.

When you re-watch a game you just saw on Tuesday thanks to NHL Network replaying it, it speaks to how good the gold medal match was. But also how much it meant to see USA get the better of Canada in such a game. Given all of their remarkable talent that featured 19 first round picks including leading scorer Dylan Cozens, McMichael, Quinton Byfield, Cole Perfetti, Peyton Krebs, Jakob Pelletier, Philip Tomasino and captain Bowen Byram, it was all the more impressive.

As an excited Zegras beamed to Turcotte afterwards, “We did it!” It’s no small feat. They beat the best. It was a great opponent who had outscored opponents 41-4 and never trailed. Something Zegras alluded to in his pregame interview with Jill Savage that proved prophetic. When he stated that Devon Levi hadn’t been tested at even strength, he was telling the truth. He even felt they hadn’t played a real opponent. Although I feel both Slovakia and the Czech Republic would disagree based on their efforts to hold Canada to three goals.

The truth is USA was on a different level than what Canada faced. Maybe playing in a weaker group hurt them. They never had any adversity until they trailed after the first period due to Turcotte’s huge goal. Maybe they squeezed their sticks tightly. Nothing went in. You could feel the disbelief in the facial expressions of Canada throughout the game. Never more so than when coach Andre Tourigny put his hands over his head following the Knight three save sequence which included his strong denials on Holloway and Zary with over three minutes left. That summed it up.

Some nights, the goalie has your number. For Knight, it had to feel really good following a disappointing start to preliminary play when he was chased by Russia for four goals in a disjointed performance on Dec. 26. He even got a game off before taking the net from solid backup Dustin Wolf. His three shutouts are the most ever by an American netminder in the WJC.

It wasn’t only the first line of Zegras, Turcotte and Kaliyev that came up big. You had a good second line centered by ’21 Draft Eligible Matthew Beniers, who did a good job boosting his stock alongside ’19 first round picks Boldy and Cole Caufield. Their line helped give USA momentum in the first with two strong offensive shifts that resulted in chances.

There was the hustle and grit of a third line comprised of center John Farinacci with Bobby Brink and Brett Berard. The trio really were effective on the cycle and drove the net. Coach Nate Leaman trusted his players enough to roll four lines which included Patrick Moynihan, Landon Slaggert and mostly Brendan Brisson with Sam Colangelo plugged in for a few shifts.

York and partner Sanderson got a lot of ice time as the top pair. But so did Helleson, Ryan Johnson and Henry Thrun. He worked in Brock Faber and Jackson Lancome into the D rotation effectively.

They had trust from the coaching staff. That kind of belief translated into their performance which improved as the tournament went on. Even if the quarterfinal win over a determined Slovakia was a little spotty until a Farinacci backhand wraparound put it away.

While a few players like Turcotte, Zegras and Kaliyev see if they can nail down NHL roster spots with the Kings and Ducks, most have returned to their schools to continue playing college hockey. A vital part of their development.

When the final story is written about the 2021 World Junior Championship gold medalists, it’ll include the word belief. They believed in each other and the team staff that they could get it done.

It’ll be exciting to keep track of these young players to see where they wind up on the path to the NHL. I can’t wait for Zegras and Turcotte to do battle for the Ducks and Kings in a great Battle of California rivalry. Both should be factors in the Calder race.

The fun is just beginning.

USA stuns Canada to win World Junior gold behind the brilliance of Spencer Knight

They said it couldn’t be done. Even most observers including myself didn’t think it would happen. Don’t tell that to Trevor Zegras or any of the victorious Team USA after their stunning 2-0 upset over Canada to capture gold at the World Junior Championship in Edmonton last night.

To their credit, they believed. When interviewed by NHL Network reporter Jill Savage prior to the big gold medal game, Zegras didn’t mince words. Feeling that superb Canadian starting goalie Devon Levi “hadn’t been tested at even strength,” he felt his team could win. This was a bit cocky and showed a lot of swag. But that’s the approach and attitude the Americans needed to pull it off against a great opponent that still boasted 19 first round picks.

When it was all over, there was no doubt who the best team was in the well orchestrated U20 IIHF WJC ’21. USA won their first gold at the prestigious tournament since 2017 when Troy Terry beat Canada in a wild shootout. Astonishingly, they have won all four meetings versus their number one rival since the turn of the century. There were remarkable victories in ’04, ’10 and the aforementioned ’17. They improved to 4-1 all-time against Canada in World Junior Championship Finals. It was the fifth time they’ve won gold also doing so in ’13 over Sweden. All five victories have come on foreign soil.

Matched up against a very talented roster that had outscored opponents 41-4 and never trailed coming in, USA came out slow. Looking tight due to the speed and tenacity of the Canada forecheck, they turned pucks over which lead to some early scoring chances against starting goalie Spencer Knight. In a tournament he started slowly in getting the hook versus Russia on Dec. 26, even backing up Dustin Wolf in the second preliminary match, the Florida Panthers 2019 first round pick got stronger as the WJC went on. It showed in the game’s first few minutes.

With USA failing to clear the zone, Knight stood tall in net. He thwarted the early push from Canada and gave his team a chance to get the nerves out. Eventually, they settled down. A turning point in the first period was a key shift from the second line of Matthew Beniers, Cole Caufield and Matthew Boldy. Able to finally get the puck in deep, the cohesive trio cycled effectively to generate some quality chances against Levi. He was forced into some tough saves. There was also a close call. With Levi and the pinned in Canadian defense losing track of a wide open Caufield, he was all set up for the game’s first goal. However, he fanned on it. The 2019 Canadiens first round pick had at least four opportunities to score, but didn’t.

Even though they didn’t score, that enormous shift helped tilt the ice in the opposite direction. Finally able to sustain an attack, the USA top line went to work again. The first line of Zegras, Alex Turcotte and semifinal hero Arthur Kaliyev won the battles. After a shot was fired wide, Zegras recovered the loose puck behind the net, came out and passed up top for a good right point shot from Drew Helleson (Avalanche). His low shot took a funny dip down going perfectly to Turcotte, who was able to neatly deflect it past Levi for the game’s first goal at 13:25.

The reaction from the skaters and the American bench said it all. To get that all important first goal on Canada, who hadn’t trailed, was huge. They finally faced some adversity. Something Zegras hinted at in his pregame interview. The other interesting thing he told Savage was that maybe they could get a couple past Levi. It’s uncanny how prophetic he proved to be. He was the Tournament Most Valuable Player after scoring a goal and assist to tie the American record for most points ever in the WJC with 27. No small feat since he joined Jeremy Roenick and Jordan Schroeder.

Following the Turcotte tally, USA was more aggressive. They did a better job in the neutral zone and using their skating to pressure the Canadian defense. In particular, they were able to work pucks from low to high to create good shots on goal that Levi handled. An over aggressive Bobby Brink took an ill advised tripping minor penalty in the offensive zone with 3:22 left in the period to hand Canada a power play.

On it, they certainly moved the puck well enough. They created a few good chances. Only two shots got through which a sharp Knight stopped to keep USA ahead by a goal after one. The opportunities that didn’t reach him were defended well by his penalty killers, who sold out to block shots and get in lanes to force attempts wide. A theme throughout the successful World Junior Championship for Team USA. It was that attention to detail that came through.

Following intermission, head coach Nate Leaman opted to put out his best scoring line to start the second. It was a wise decision that paid off immediately. With the five man unit applying early pressure, Kaliyev threw a shot wide behind the net. With no Canadian skater able to locate the loose puck, Zegras quickly retrieved it and surprised an unsuspecting Levi with a sneaky backhand wraparound to score USA’s second goal just 32 seconds into the period. It was shocking. Just like that, the underdog Americans led 2-0 and 21 minutes hadn’t even been played.

There were more high fives and a loud bench when Zegras and his teammates returned. You could tell how much it meant to go up two on heavy favorite Canada. To think that less than 24 hours prior, they blew a two-goal lead to Finland before Turcotte fed Kaliyev for the stirring game-winner with 1:16 left in a wild third period. That both goals came at five-on-five proved Zegras right. Maybe he channeled his inner Mark Messier. He is from Bedford, New York. The Ducks should be extremely excited about Zegras. What a player.

For a while, the goal seemed to shake Canada’s confidence. USA continued to carry the play due to their aggressive forecheck. They also had fewer problems getting out of their zone. Was it going to be that easy? There was still half the game left. At one point, shots favored USA 19-9. They even had a rare power play midway through which almost proved costly.

With Jakob Pelletier off for hooking, the Americans got a little sloppy. Following two good chances for Kaliyev which Levi stopped by closing the door, a bad turnover at the USA blueline fueled a Canadian transition. It was one-on-one between Canada captain Bowen Byram and Knight. All alone on Knight, the number one defenseman faked and sent a backhand off the goalpost. He was that close to scoring a shorthanded goal which could’ve changed the complexion. Even though he didn’t score, the great chance seemed to finally wake up his team.

The rest of the period was mostly Canada finishing every check and spending a lot of time in the USA defensive zone. You had Rangers first round pick Braden Schneider jumping into the rush and getting some good looks on Knight including a pointblank one in which Knight challenged and got enough of to push it wide. He also swallowed up a couple of more Schneider offerings. This was the most active the future Ranger looked for Canada.

When they weren’t forcing Knight into clutch stops like the one he had on Connor Zary (Flames) and Cole Perfetti (Jets), the hitting was fierce. Especially when recent second pick Quinton Byfield dropped the hammer on a rush. He is a big boy. The physicality was fun to watch as was the frenetic pace. Even though they only could muster two more shots on Levi the rest of the way, USA didn’t sit back. They used a few counters to create chances. But Caufield missed the net and Brett Berard sent a dangerous shot from the slot wide. The dangerous Zegras had another good opportunity that didn’t make its mark.

By the end of the second, it was clearly obvious that Knight was in Canada’s heads. He was tracking everything. Canada went from 19-9 down in shots to within 20-19 entering the third period. When asked between periods what they needed to do to win, Turcotte told Savage that they had to keep moving forward and play their game.

As so often happens when you have a two-goal lead, USA sat back more than they should have. It wasn’t by design. They were simply outgunned by a very desperate and talented Canadian team searching for anything. Even if that meant delivering a couple of ferocious checks with one in particular illegal (Play On), they came out with a sense of urgency. Ironically, the whole third was played at even strength. Only two penalties were called by the officials.

The further the period went on, the more it looked like it was a matter if time before Canada found a goal. It never came. Oh. They sure dominated by sending 15 shots Knight’s way. It’s just that he was in the zone. He took away everything down low and when he didn’t make key stops, it was due to his defense. Team USA still defended the house well with both defensemen and forwards doing whatever it took to keep Canada off the scoreboard. American captain Cam York had a stellar defensive game making some superb reads to break up Canadian scoring chances. He struggled mightily versus Finland.

If it wasn’t the defense or Knight standing on his head, you had the forwards coming back to make big plays. That included a gritty Brink diving in front of a shot attempt to block it and get the puck out. It was that kind of yeoman effort that epitomized USA on Tuesday night at Rogers Place. They played like a T-E-A-M. Despite getting outshot 15-1 by Canada, the scrappy Americans never broke. They bent, but didn’t break.

Having a hot goalie helps. In crunch time, Knight was special. On one sequence, he instinctively kicked out his legs to deny a great chance when he didn’t see the shot. His best save came when he absolutely stoned Zary on the doorstep with over two minutes left in regulation. After letting out a rebound, Knight did a full stretch to stack the pads on a Zary try from in tight. The puck stuck to him enough to get a whistle. Another ridiculous save saw him go down on his back and put together his pads to keep a puck from leaking out. He also denied Connor McMichael on a mini-break by challenging to force a backhand off his pads and wide to the exasperation of McMichael. He felt back pressure from Helleson.

It was a brilliant performance. For the game, Knight finished with 34 saves including stopping all 15 to pitch a Team USA tournament record third shutout.

His great goaltending was the story. Even the brilliant Dylan Cozens (8-8-16) couldn’t find a way to get a puck by him. Cozens was the best Canadian forward finishing the WJC with a team best 16 points. Only Zegras had more with his goal and helper giving him 18 (7-11-18).

With Levi pulled, Canada couldn’t find a goal. They sure gave it their best effort. It just wasn’t their night. As the clock wound down, Team USA poured off the bench to celebrate a hard earned victory. It’s one they won’t ever forget. As Canadian players stood in shock with some tears shed, a determined American team went nuts showing the pure joy only teenagers can show after such a significant win. They deserved it. They beat the best.

For the game, Canada finished with a 34-21 edge in shots. They outshot USA 25-1 after trailing in shots 19-9. Despite that, it never materialized. There was no dramatic ending like the previous three gold medal match-ups. It felt strange. To think a game of that magnitude wasn’t decided by a goal is hard to believe. It speaks to how well Knight played. He won the game’s Best Player for USA while they awarded Byram Best Player for Canada. I didn’t agree. I felt it was Schneider, who had a superb game. Byram had a couple of uncharacteristic turnovers. He will be a great defenseman. It’s scary to think one day soon, Byram could join Cale Makar with possibly Helleson down the line. Yikes.

The best part that I always love is the award ceremony. They do an outstanding job. As hard as it was seeing the heartbroken Canadian kids presented their silver medals by captain Byram and a tournament official, it was still special. Even without fans, you had even the equipment managers, video coordinators and trainers being recognized. There’s so much hard work that goes into it.

As part of the final ceremony, Devon Levi was named Top Goalie with Finland’s Topi Niemela tabbed Top Defenseman. As expected Germany’s Tim Stutzle was named Top Forward. An honor he deserved. They nearly beat Russia even if it wasn’t the strongest Russian team. Stutzle will surely make the Senators out of camp and be in the Calder conversation. Something I expect both Turcotte and Zegras to be part of along with Cozens. Keep an eye on Kirill Kaprizov of the Wild. A 23-year old Minnesota fifth round pick who dominated the KHL the past two seasons.

The All Tournament Team was revealed by the writers. It didn’t miss the mark. Even though I felt there could’ve been a place for Knight as the goalie, Levi was selected alongside defensemen Bowen Byram and Ville Heinola. The three forwards were as expected with Dylan Cozens, Trevor Zegras and Stutzle getting the nod.

When they were presented their gold medals by captain York along with a tournament official, there were a lot of hugs and high fives. This meant a lot to these players. Many of which were on the U18 team that lost to Canada in crushing fashion at the 2018 Hlinka Gretzky Cup semifinals. A game that Cozens tied in controversial fashion with his goal coming as the buzzer expired. Replays showed that the puck crossed the line after the clock was at zero. They counted it and Canada won 6-5 in overtime on a Josh Williams goal.

A few USA players alluded to that loss prior to last night’s big game. A lot of players still were on the two rosters. But not Jack Hughes or Alexis Lafreniere. You wonder if that defeat served as extra motivation. Who knows. At the end of the day, they were victorious due to the clutch performances of Knight, Kaliyev, Turcotte and Tournament MVP Zegras.

But more than that, everyone contributed. That includes underrated third line John Farinacci, Brink and Berard. The fourth line featured Patrick Moynihan, John Slaggert and Brendan Brisson with Sam Colangelo taking four shifts. You had solid play from defensemen Ryan Johnson, Henry Thrun and Brock Faber. While they leaned a lot on York, Jake Sanderson and Helleson, it was a total team effort.

Congratulations to Team USA on winning gold. It was unexpected. They are the champions.

Finland comes back to win the bronze medal over Russia 4-1

In the bronze medal game, it was Finland who prevailed over Russia 4-1 to take home the bronze. In doing so, they snapped Russia’s perfect record of 8-0 in such games.

The Finns did it by again showing their resiliency. Speaking to the true character of a persistent team that played very well during the two week U20 World Junior Championship tournament, they dug out of an early 1-0 deficit to score four unanswered goals en route to the big win.

After getting outshot 8-0 to start off the game, Finland came back strong by outshooting Russia 32-21 the rest of the way. Overall, they held a 32-29 edge in shots. It speaks to the nature of how hard they worked. Their second and third effort was better than their opponent, who were devastated not to medal. There were plenty of emotions following a tough loss.

It didn’t start off that way for Russia. With Finland flat at the outset likely due to the heartbreaking defeat to Team USA last night, the Russians took advantage early. Ilya Safonov converted a rebound off a Maxim Groshev low backhand that Finland starting goalie Kari Piiroinen couldn’t handle. The goal came at 6:03 of the first period.

Once they got engaged, it was the pesky Finns who took over in the second period. Skating with more urgency and playing with better determination, they evened the game up thanks to some hard work from team captain Anton Lundell. On a good point shot from Topi Niemela, Lundell redirected the puck past Yaroslav Askarov at 5:05 of the second. Matias Mantykivi added the secondary assist.

Although Finland had the edge in play, Askarov was able to hold his team in with some key saves. There was no carryover from a spotty performance in a tough 5-0 defeat to heavy favorite Canada on Monday. He allowed four goals in that one. Two which he lost his goal stick on. That didn’t happen tonight. He used his quick reflexes to slide across and deny a pointblank chance. Askarov took the low part of the net away and was technically sound. The two shots that beat him were deflections.

There wasn’t much happening in the final several minutes of the second. A lot of neutral zone play and little chances. Russia did create a two-on-one rush on a turnover. But it took too long to develop. The end result was a shot block by Finnish defenseman Ville Heinola. He was splendid the whole tournament and looks like a big part of Winnipeg’s future.

In the deciding third, it didn’t take long for Finland to strike. On a sustained forecheck, Sam Helenius worked the puck over to Eemil Viro at the left point. He let go of a low wrist shot that changed direction twice with the latter tip in front coming from Mikko Petman at 41:13 of the contest. That hard work paid off with Russian defenseman Danil Chaika unable to tie Petman up.

If there was a difference, it was in style. The Finns play a more straightaway game while the Russians prefer to utilize their shifty skating to create plays. That might explain why Finland won the bronze. They were the better overall team.

A double minor for hi-sticking on Russia captain Vasily Podkolzin with less than seven minutes left in regulation hurt the cause. Frustrated with the penalty after nearly scoring earlier on a strong move, Podkolzin had his head face down in the penalty box. That’s how upset he was. He couldn’t look. Fortunately, his teammates were able to get the job done to kill off the four-minute penalty. They still had life.

With less than two minutes remaining, coach Igor Larionov lifted Askarov for an extra skater to go six-on-five. They won a couple of offensive draws and created some late scoring opportunities. None bigger than a rebound chance in front that Piiroinen got just enough of to get a whistle. Astonishingly, the puck rolled to his right and stayed on the goal line. That close.

Following a turnover he forced in the neutral zone, Lundell potted the first of two empty netters with 1:28 left. The celebration was on for Finland. They blocked Russian shots in the final minute to prevent any comeback hopes. Juuso Parssinen came out with the puck and scored one more empty to put the exclamation point on the victory with just 13 seconds remaining.

While the excited Finland bench celebrated, it was complete dejection for Russia. When the final buzzer sounded, some players shed tears. That’s how much the game meant. At the end of the day, these are kids. Teenagers who put a lot on the line to try to win these big games we watch. There are no losers.

Congrats to the Finns on winning bronze. They could easily be facing Canada for gold tonight. They were a very good team. The third best at the WJC ’21.

Canada steamrolls Russia 5-0, USA stuns Finland 4-3 to set up a classic USA vs Canada WJC Final

Photo by Derek Felix courtesy NHL Network via IIHFHockey

There were two games played in Monday’s semifinals at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta. The first saw heavily favored Canada steamroll Russia 5-0 in a game that was never close.

The U20 World Junior Championship hosts got to Predators’ first round pick Yaroslav Askarov early in a three goal first period. In the game’s opening minute, Alex Newhook took a Braden Schneider feed and came out in front where he fired a good wrist shot high glove side inside the bar on Askarov. His defense was out of position and it was way too easy for Newhook. The puck went in so quickly, they used video review to confirm it.

Connor McMichael continued his good tournament when he got loose at the side of Askarov’s net to put away a nice centering feed from Jakob Pelletier for a 2-0 Canadian lead at 10:33. Leading scorer Dylan Cozens picked up a secondary assist on the nice scoring play.

An undisciplined Vasily Podkolzin took a hi-sticking double minor to hand Canada a four-minute power play. With the Russian captain in the penalty box, they made him pay when Cole Perfetti scored on Askarov in the second half of the man-advantage for a 3-0 lead with 4:55 left in the first period. On the play, the Winnipeg Jets first round pick took advantage of a scrambling Askarov, who dropped his goal stick to finish off a pass from Avalanche prospect Bowen Byram. Once again, it was set up by Cozens. The Sabres prospect has had a wonderful WJC. His empty net goal and two helpers gave him a tournament best 16 points. He was named one of Canada’s three Best Players along with Byram and Panthers’ goalie prospect Devon Levi.

The nightmare continued for Russia. Askarov lost his goal stick again on Canada’s fourth goal. With the 18-year old clearly having issues, Schneider took full advantage by firing a quick wrist shot past Askarov at 4:09 of the second. The play was set up by Ryan Suzuki (Hurricanes) and Dawson Mercer (Devils).

At that point, Hall of Fame coach Igor Larionov could’ve pulled his goalie. Instead, he stuck with him. Maybe he knew that it wasn’t all the kid’s fault. The shots by then favored Canada, 18-7. They are a great team that have dominated throughout outscoring opponents 41-4 and never trailed. It says a lot about the Czech Republic and Slovakia that they held an explosive Canadian team to three goals. The Czechs even outshot them in the quarters and played as well as you can.

Russia simply did not. They struggled defensively, were undisciplined and didn’t start competing until it was too late. They even had an apparent goal wiped out by a successful coach’s challenge. That’s how it went. At least Askarov stopped Cozens on a penalty shot. That was the only highlight for them.

Levi finished with 28 saves to earn another shutout. He was never under serious pressure. For him to face adversity, it would have to be a closer game. At least the Czechs put up a fight. We’ll see if Team USA can threaten Canada. They were lucky to win 4-3 over Finland in a memorable semifinal.

They set up a classic USA versus Canada WJC Final by sticking with it. A late goal from Staten Island native Arthur Kaliyev with 1:16 left in regulation was the difference in a wild third period. It was the Kings’ prospect that fell to the second round in the 2019 NHL Draft who rescued his team after they blew a two-goal lead to the relentless Finns.

It was a stunning scene reminiscent of what Finland did to Sweden in the quarters. In that one, they rallied from a two-goal deficit to score three straight goals including the stirring game-winner by Roni Hirvonen with 23.3 seconds remaining. One where the devastated Swedes could only drop to their knees in heartbroken fashion. Simply put, this was a role reversal.

Life can be cruel sometimes. Tell that to Finland, who worked so hard to come back and tie USA up in an inspired third period. Goals off the sticks of Kasper Simontaival and Hirvonen less than five minutes apart had the Americans reeling. They had been shaky trying to protect the two-goal lead they built thanks to second period goals from John Farinacci (breakaway) and Matthew Boldy (power play).

Back in the first period, it was top center Alex Turcotte breaking a scoreless tie by steering home a Kaliyev shot in front at 12:39. The Kings’ prospect has anchored a potent top line featuring top point getter Trevor Zegras (assist) and Kaliyev. Turcotte has been mostly a playmaker who is effective along the boards at creating offense off the forecheck. That would play a big part in what happened later. He went fifth overall in the same draft as future teammate Kaliyev. It’s ironic that they are forever linked.

Less than a minute later, a Sam Colangelo slashing minor resulted in Simontaival finishing off a beautiful passing play started from Jets’ prospect Ville Heinola and Kasper Puutio for a power play goal at 14:06. Just tremendous teamwork by the combination of Heinola and Puutio to get the puck to an open Simontaival for the easy finish past Spencer Knight.

For the most part, USA has been very disciplined during the WJC ’21. However, they weren’t as sharp in this match and it almost cost them. Finland went two-for-five on the power play. If the Americans hand the potent Canadians that many opportunities, they won’t have any shot of winning gold. Forget the last three meetings this century. That’s history.

After successive penalty kills helped their cause, Jackson Lacombe was able to lead Farinacci for a breakaway goal. The heady two-way center out of Harvard University was able to wrist a shot by Finland netminder Kari Piiroinen for a 2-1 USA lead with 4:07 remaining in the second period.

An Aku Raty double minor for hi-sticking got Finland in further trouble. It didn’t take long for Cole Caufield and Zegras to set up Boldy in front for a power play tally that increased the USA lead to two at exactly the 37-minute mark of the game. The goal took only 39 seconds to materialize. What isn’t noticed is the hit Kaliyev took against the boards to make the play. He didn’t get a point. But that kind of commitment is what wins these games.

Nursing a two-goal lead, USA started to sit back. A resilient Finland started carrying the play. They buzzed around Knight’s net forcing the Florida first round pick into some difficult stops. You could feel the momentum shift towards the pesky Finns. They’re never out of a game. Sure enough, their persistence paid off when Simontaival buried a perfect Puutio feed that Knight had no chance on to slice the deficit to one with still 8:22 left in the third. Defenseman Sam Helenius got the other helper on a well executed scoring play.

They continued to look dangerous. With some jittery play creeping into the Americans that included a few turnovers and a pair of delay of game minors, it was destined to get tied. Prior to Henry Thrun taking a costly minor penalty with 4:42 left, an on-rushing Farinacci was hauled down right in front of the referee. Play on. He was tackled. The ref simply didn’t want to call it. Then a silly delay of game minor happens right after. That’s the IIHF for you. I don’t like the inconsistency. If a player is taken down, there should be a call.

You knew once they determined that Thrun backhanded the puck out of play, Finland was going to capitalize. They sure did. Fifty-nine seconds later, it was Hirvonen able to beat Knight on a weird one started by Heinola. The leading Finnish defenseman got the puck to Anton Lundell (Panthers). He wisely threw a sharp angle shot on Knight that he mishandled. The rebound came back out to Lundell, who put it in front for an innocent looking Hirvonen rebound attempt that went through Knight to tie the game at 56:17. It happened that fast.

The question was would there be sudden death overtime, or would the Finns do to Team USA what they did to Sweden? Following some puck pressure from Finland, USA Hockey coach Nate Leaman got his best line out with time winding down in regulation. It was the right move by the Providence College coach.

On a good Jake Sanderson pinch, the defenseman worked the puck down low to Turcotte. He was able to locate Kaliyev tapping his stick in the high slot area. The local kid did the rest. What a great snapshot he fired over the glove of Piiroinen with 1:16 to go in the game. Here’s how it sounded on NHL Network.

It was a goalscorer’s goal. That release was lightning quick. Kaliyev had enough room between two Finnish defenders to get it off. He put it top shelf. Where Mama hides the cookies. To quote Sabres play-by-play legend Rick Jeanneret.

With Finland pulling Piiroinen for an extra attacker, it came down to Heinola looking to force overtime with less than 14 seconds left. But a diving Boldy blocked his shot out of play. A gritty play by a hardworking player, who the Wild should be excited to have. After one last defensive draw and clear, a screaming USA bench exploded over the boards to celebrate the great win over the team that eliminated them a year ago.

Now, they draw one of the most dominant teams the World Juniors have seen in quite some time. Canada is looking to repeat. They’re loaded. Team USA knows what a gold medal game means against their North American rival.

It will all be at stake on Tuesday night at 9:30 EST/7:30 local time. Finland will play Russia for the bronze medal at 5:30 PM. Both games can be seen on NHL Network. They’ve done a great job covering the prestigious tournament. Maybe it’s not quite TSN because nothing is. But I’ll take the hard work they’ve put in. A thanks to everyone involved. Especially Jill Savage for being in the bubble doing the interviews.

With it all up for grabs, we’ll see if Team USA has one more miracle in them against powerful Canada. I hope it’s a good game and fun. It’s a great rivalry. One that should be enjoyed by all fans from each side. Don’t forget these are kids. See you later.