The bronze and gold medal games will be played tomorrow afternoon at the Calgary Saddledome with the bronze medal game between Canada and Finland being played at 1:30 MST and 3:30 EST and the gold medal game between Russia and Sweden being played at 6:00 MST and 8:00 EST.
Bronze Medal Game- CANADA VS. FINLAND
Both teams come into this game with devastating losses. Finland entered the third period of their game with Sweden leading 2-0. The Fins gave up two third period goals and then lost in the shootout when captain Mikael Grandlund had the puck slip off his stick in the third round of the shootout. The back breaker for Finland was when they gave up a 2-1 lead with just 1:44 left in the game. Finish goaltender Sami Aittokallio went behind the net to clear the puck and put it right onto the stick of Sweden’s Johan Sundstrom. All Sundstrom had to do was pass to a wide open Max Frieberg who simply slid the puck into the open net to tie the game for Sweden. The Fins never recovered after that.
Canada fell behind 6-1 to the Russians, but with eight minutes left in the game they mounted a comeback. Canada scored four straight goals in just under five minutes, chasing starting goaltender Andrei Vasilevski from the Russian net. Canada had a number of chances to tie the game and with just over a minute left in the game, had back-up goaltender Andrei Markarov beat when Mark Stone hit the post. Canada would end up losing 6-5.
Canada: Without a doubt Canada is the more superior of the two teams. Offensively, Canada has scored 31 goals in the five games that they’ve played and until last night had only given up five goals. Mark Stone, Jonathan Huberdeau and Ryan Strome lead Team Canada with nine points in the five games. On the power play, Team Canada managed to score two power play goals on a Russian penalty killing unit that had not given up a goal in the 21 times they were shorthanded before the game.
Defensively, Canada was slopping last night, not doing a good job covering the speedy Russian and when they needed the goaltending it wasn’t there. Neither Scott Wedgewood or Mark Visentin played well so it will be interesting to see who plays tomorrow. However, the goaltenders aren’t the only ones to be blamed. Defensively Canada was caught flat-footed and out of position all night. On the winning goal, after killing a penalty early in the third period the Russians found themselves on a three on one break and buried their sixth goal of the game. On the play Nathan Bealieu completely gave up on the play after being called for a delayed penalty. If he had continued to back check he would have been able to break up the cross crease pass and prevent the goal which made it 6-1. This would turn out to be fatal.
Team Canada was very un-disciplined last night and they paid giving up two power play goals to the Russians and spending close to half the game in the penalty box.
Finland: The Fins play a strong defensive style yesterday, attempting to trap their opponents and take advantage of their miscues on the counter attack. Yesterday the strategy almost worked until the Fins gave up a 2-0 third period lead. Offensively the Fins are led by their captain Mikael Granlund who has 11 points in 6 games and Teemu Pulkkinen who has 10 points.
Coming into the tournament Mikael Granlund was heralded as one of best players not currently playing in the NHL. The soon to be twenty year old played in the World Junior tournament as a sixteen year old and the current tournament in Calgary would have been his fourth Under 20 World Junior tournament if he hadn’t suffered a concussion leading up to last years event in Buffalo. He is only five foot ten and 176 pounds but he is incredibly skilled. His younger brother Markus who has seven points plays on the line with Mikael and Pulkkinnen to form one of the more dangerous lines in the tournament.
Defensively, the Fins rely on goaltender Sami Aittokallio. Aittokallio is 4-1 in the tournament with his one loss being yesterday. He has stopped 153 of 162 shots sent his way for a .944 save percentage and a 2.16 goals against average. Aittokallio didn’t play in the 8-1 Canada defeat of Finland.
The Fins are the least penalized team in the tournament, which becomes more important the deeper you go. On the power play the Fins have been average.
Outlook: Often a bronze medal match-up comes down to which cares more and who can get over the disappointment more. Team Canada beat the Fins 8-1 in the opening game, but don’t let this fool you. Aittokallio wasn’t playing in the nets and the Fins have played better in their last five games. Team Canada must be disciplined. If this game were in Europe I’d say the Fins have a chance, but it’s not. I don’t think the Canadian crowd will allow this team to quit and Canada is the superior team. The game will be close for a while but I think Canada will eventually pull away and win by a couple of goals.
Gold Medal Game- SWEDEN VS. RUSSIA
Sweden will playing to win their first gold medal in over 30 years tomorrow night when they take on the Russians at the World Junior Championships in Calgary. Not since 1981 has Sweden won a gold medal, losing in their last three gold medal games. The Russians on the other hand are the reigning champions and are second only to Canada in gold medals (15-13). The met in the final game in group A with Sweden winning 4-3.
Sweden: Sweden came into the tournament as pre-tournament favorites along with Canada and the U.S. and aside from an overtime win over Switzerland, they have done anything to take away their position as tournament favorites. The Swedes are on average, the second highest scoring team in the tournament with 29 goals in five game (5.8 goals a game). Offensively, Sweden is led by Max Frieberg, a fifth round pick by the Anaheim Ducks in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. Frieberg leads Sweden with nine goals and two assists for 11 points in five games . Only “5’10 and 195 pounds, Frieberg is feisty and he leads Sweden with 22 minutes in penalties in the tournament. However he picks his spots and is very disciplined during crucial situation.
The Swedes are loaded with offensive talent. The Swedes run and gun style of offense first is almost a copy of the old Edmonton Oilers style and is refreshing to see from a normal defensive style that Swedish hockey has become known for. In the semi-final game against Finland, the Swedes had 58 shots on net, which is unprecedented for a game this late in the tournament. Their power play finished 4th with a 31.03% success rate.
If there is any thing for the Swedes to worry about it’s on the back-end. Their goaltending and penalty killing have been suspect. Goaltending, Johan Gustafsson their starting goalie has been suspect. Gustafsson has a 2.80 goals against average but his save percentage is only .867. He will have to be better if the Swedes hope to beat the Russians. The Swedes are also dead last of the six playoff round teams on the penalty kill with a success rating of 72.2%.
However, the Swedes have not lost a game yet in the tournament.
Russia: The Russians come into the game as the defending champions and are on a roll with wins over the Czech Republic and Canada in the playoff round. The Russians boast the second best power play unit and the top penalty killing unit in the tournament. On the power play, they are 7 for 18 for a 38.9% rate, which matches up well against the poor Swedish penalty killing. Their own penalty killing unit ranks first, killing off 92.6% of the penalties they take and until last night they had not given up a goal while short-handed.
Offensively, the Russians are led by their captain Yevgeni Kuznetsov who has 13 points in six games. How good is captain Yevgeni ”the Kuze” Kuznetsov? Last night against Canada he scored three goals and added an assist. More than that though he was all over the ice, controlled the game at times and led his team not just with his play but with his confidence and passion for the game. Nail Yakupov was easily the second best Russian player as he finally lived up to all the hype. He had four assists and for the first time in the tournament and really showed his skating ability and his offensive potential.
The Russians are tied with Canada for the most total goals in the tournament at 31, although they have played a game more than both Canada and Sweden. The Russians have a balanced attack with no other players on the team having 10 points or more. The second leading scorer is Nilita Gusev with nine points.
Defensively, the Russians are the stingiest team in the tournament with a team goals against average of 1.81. Their starting goaltender Andrei Vasilevski has stopped 203 of 213 shots in the tournament for a .953 save percentage, a goals against average of 2.01 and has two shutouts in the tournament. With the exception of two periods of hockey Vasilevski has been brilliant. In 16 periods of hockey including an overtime period he gave up only three goals, however in the third period of the Sweden game he gave up three goals as Sweden came back from a 3-0 deficit to tie the game and win it in overtime. In the Canada game he gave up four goals in a four-minute stretch in the third period and was pulled with his team ahead 6-5. It will be interesting to see how well he plays if the game is on the line late in the game.
Outlook: The Russians always seem to get better the deeper they go into the playoff round and this team is no exception. The Russians play a strong two-way game and their special teams have been excellent. The only questions for me are how Vasilevski going to play under the pressure if the game is close late in the game and will the Russians have anything left in the tank, playing their third game in four days and coming off an emotional victory. Last year’s team had no problem.
Sweden doesn’t have history on their side, their goaltending is suspect and they’ve not only taken lots of penalties, but their penalty killing unit is suspect. It looks like a Russian victory, but hold on. The Swedes have not been beaten yet and when behind to the Russians and Fins late in the game they responded with comebacks, so momentum and confidence are definitely on the Swedes side. For me if this game is close in the third and the Swedes can stay out of the penalty box they will win. What they have to watch out for is a fast start by the Russian. Experts are picking the Russians to win the gold again, not me. My pick is Sweden.