World Juniors 2024

EP Rinkside's 3 Stars from Day 4 of the 2024 World Juniors

GOTHENBURG, Sweden – Canada versus Sweden was the game that everyone had circled on their calendar. The two-time reigning champions against the hosts and perhaps even tournament favourites. And boy did both teams come out hot.

The tempo through the first 20 minutes was as electric as the fans in the building. The two teams traded big hits, dangerous chances, and mistakes that inevitably didn’t hurt them.

Canada’s Fraser Minten caught Jonathan Lekkerimäki with a nasty high stick that put his team down a man for four minutes. And while both teams ended up trading chances, Liam Öhgren had the best of them all, a one-timer on a cross-slot pass that Mathis Rousseau robbed. It was just another candidate for save of the tournament for Rousseau.

It was one of the most exciting scoreless frames you’ll ever see.

The energy didn’t dissipate in the second frame. Sweden’s Tom Willander walked in from the blueline and wired one past Rosseau to open the scoring, almost blowing the lid off of the Scandinavium in the process. The largely Swedish crowd kept the chants and cheers going right through to the intermission, aided by Noah Östlund's goal, made possible by an unreal hold at the offensive blue line by Lekkerimäki.

Matthew Savoie had a clear-cut breakaway from his own side of centre and an opportunity to get Canada back into this hockey game before the middle frame ended but wound up overhandling it and losing possession at the last moment. Macklin Celebrini had his first high-danger chance in the dying seconds but didn’t quite get all of the one-timer and Swedish tender Hugo Hävelid was able to make the stop.

You’d have thought the Canadians would have come out buzzing to start the third period, but instead, it was the Swedes who controlled much of the play early on in the final stanza. A powerplay midway through the frame ignited the Canadians. Celebrini hit the post on another one-time attempt, while Savoie was robbed by a diving Hävelid.

With seven minutes remaining in the third, Zeb Forsfjäll hit Owen Beck into the boards while in an awkward position. Beck stayed down and needed help off of the ice before going straight to the room. Forsfjall was originally assessed a penalty that was overturned via replay. Beck later returned, but the play reinvigorated the Swedes and took any wind out of the Canadian’s sails.

With the 2-0 victory, Sweden remains undefeated and has yet to allow a goal at the event.

The Daily Scoreboard

Slovakia 8-4 Norway

Finland 4-0 Latvia

USA 4-3 Czechia

Sweden 2-0 Canada

1. Dalibor Dvorský, C, Slovakia (St. Louis Blues)

The Norwegians kept things close early, even jumping out to a 1-0 lead at one point, but Dalibor Dvorský helped Slovakia get in front late in the first, sending a slick slip pass through traffic to set up Juraj Pekarčik for a one-timer with a yawning cage in front of him. There's a combo St. Louis Blues fans would love to see in their lineup in the not-so-distant future.

For now, Dvorský is just thrilled to be performing well for his native Slovakia. As he seemingly always does.

“It’s a huge honour obviously,” Dvorský told EP Rinkside. “I love to play for the national team and for Slovakia. It’s a huge honour, and I really enjoy playing here.”

I'm sure the feeling is mutual. Dvorský followed that assist up with a goal in the second, a slick backhand dangle past Sebastian Aarsund, and another goal late in the third period, a wrist shot from the high slot that beat the goalie clean. That brings him to 20 points in his last three big international tournaments, the last two World Juniors and a U18s among them.

“Well, the first one I got a great pass from Peter Repčik, and I faked and I shot it between his legs,” Dvorský said. “The second one, I got behind the D and got a shot through and it went in. I’m happy to score those goals and happy to help the team out.”

2. Isaac Howard, LW, USA (Tampa Bay Lightning)

Everyone had Sweden-Canada circled on their calendar, but USA-Czechia was the best game today for our money. You had lead changes, hard, physical hockey, some real high-stakes moments, and then a white-knuckle shootout to close it all out.

Ultimately, it was Isaac Howard who stuck the dagger in Czechia's heart in the seventh round of the shootout, beating Michael Hrabal five-hole to get the Americans the 4-3 win. Fitting, since he was the one who opened the scoring barely a minute into the first period, burying Frank Nazar's cross-ice feed.

“I knew he was going to score,” Nazar said after the game. “I was actually saying it to myself – I was about to say it out loud – that this game was over. I’ve seen it before at the NTDP days. He hops over the boards, goes down, scores, and then does his infamous celly. I just knew it was over.”

The two have worked wonders together at this tournament, but this was Howard's day. He was forcing the opponents into mistakes with his trademark speed, creating offence off the rush, and keeping things honest defensively. He's looking a lot like the player who quietly led the way for the Americans at the U18s in Landshut, Germany.

3. Tom Willander, D, Sweden (Vancouver Canucks)

Tom Willander isn't supposed to lead the way offensively. His job is to gracefully cover ground and provide a calming defensive presence. Just don't tell him that. In the biggest game of the tournament to date, he was as active offensively as he's ever been.

The Canucks top prospect opened the scoring for Sweden, receiving the puck in motion at the top of the zone, stepping to space and wiring it past Rousseau. That goal stood as the game-winner.

It wasn’t his only impressive play of the game either. Willander was quick to pucks, and showed patience and poise under pressure, faking and feinting his way out of coverage before making smart outlets time and time again. This is especially promising as the increased speed and pressure at the NCAA level has given him some difficulties at times.

”Just discipline,” Willander said. “We played how the team wants to play. Everybody chipped in. Great energy in the group. We just kept them on the outside and we scored on the chances we got.”

When asked to describe what it felt like to play in front of such a passionate home crowd in such a high-pressure game, the 18-year-old blueliner was beaming. “Fantastic. I can’t describe it any (other way). Great crowd, a lot of people in there. Great aura. A great team we beat, too.”

Is a reunion on the horizon for the Czech top line? Not likely

This is the most toothless Jiří Kulich has looked in two years of international action. Matyáš Šapovaliv was fine, but not especially threatening. Neither of them found the scoresheet and they combined for six shots total. That's it. Eduard Šalé, meanwhile, thrived on the second line. 

“He’s just an unbelievably skilled player. You give him a small piece of ice and he can finish,” Czech head coach Patrik Augusta said. He’s a great scorer. He also needs players to work with him. He needs to have the right players around him to feed him and get him in those positions. I think his game is going up. We’re hoping he can still show his best."

Now, this is noteworthy because the three have played together in three consecutive years internationally, and they've always been one of if not the best line in whatever tournament they've played in. Could the Czechs go back to that well?

“It’s possible that they go back, but the first game wasn’t good from everyone, not only from them. I like what I see in those two lines now,” Augusta said. “I know they’re split, but that generates more offence from us and both lines can score now. I think it’s better to have depth on your team like that.”

Highlight of the Day

Man, Gabe Perreault has been so sick at this tournament. He's only – only – got three points to show for his first three games and hasn't had a signature performance yet, but he deserves some love for his shootout goal in the USA's 4-3 win over Czechia. That got a few audible “Ooohhh”s out of press row in the Frölundaborg.

Game Over: World Juniors discusses Canada's loss to Sweden with EP Rinkside's Lauren Kelly

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This article is about:
World Juniors 2024 Canada U20 Czechia U20 Sweden U20 USA U20 WJC-20 Dalibor Dvorský Isaac Howard Tom Willander
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