World Juniors 2024

EP Rinkside's 3 Stars from Day 5 of the 2024 World Juniors

GOTHENBURG, Sweden – It was an off day at the 2024 IIHF World Juniors for the tournament powerhouses, but that didn’t mean there was nothing on the line. At the Frölundaborg, Norway and Switzerland met in a bid for fourth place in Pool B and safety from the relegation round.

The Swiss controlled the play early, aided by 2024-eligible defender Stian Solberg's misadventures with the puck. He's had some great moments at this tournament, but his play in the first frame is best forgotten. After laying a big hit behind the net, Solberg raced out of the zone to try and lead a rush that had yet to materialize. The puck quickly spun back to the netfront where Simon Meier made a nice deke to open the scoring.

After several more chances for the Swiss, it was Norway who punched back with two quick goals in less than a minute to take a 2-1 lead into the intermission. The second period belonged to Switzerland. They evened it up on the man-advantage with Leo Braillard rifling home a shot from 15 feet out before scoring two more goals in 90 seconds midway through the affair. The walked away up 5-2 through 40 minutes and went on cruise control from there.

Anaheim Ducks prospect Rodwin Dionicio scored a gorgeous goal to open the third period as he walked down from the blueline, cut to the net and finished on the backhand upstairs.

In the end, it was a decisive 6-2 victory for Switzerland and athey solidified their spot in the quarter finals. A shame that Norway played their best against the Americans and their worst against Switzerland when they needed a win most. Four games in five nights will do that to a team. Norway will now have to defend their spot in the 2025 wevent with a date against Latvia in the relegation round.

The Daily Scoreboard

Switzerland 6-2 Norway

Latvia 6-2 Germany

Rodwin Dionicio, D, Switzerland (Anaheim Ducks)

The only drafted player in this game was also the most dynamic. Dionicio scored two goals and both were a sight to behold.

The first was a perfectly placed wrist shot as he walked out of the offensive zone corner and beat the netminder clean shortside up top. His second was even prettier. The former forward turned defenceman collected the puck up high in the zone, walked down from the point, made a fake and cut to the net on his backhand. He proceeded to roof it farside right underneath the bar.

When asked if playing forward once upon a time played a role in his offensive game, Dionicio said, “It’s been a long time since I’ve been a forward, but it’s been pretty easy this year for me to score goals.”

The 19-year-old recognizes that being the only NHL-drafted player on the squad and coming from the OHL put him in a unique position. “I came into this tournament knowing that I have a big role on this team. Try to help my team on both sides of the ice, and try my best knowing I’m a drafted player.”

While those two plays were enough to give the Saiginaw Spirit defender a spot in our 3 Stars they weren’t his only effective plays. Dionicio also made several smart, effective outlets to break pressure and jumpstart the transition from Switzerland. He defended the middle of the ice well against the rush, and had a bit of jame along the wall. Overall it was a standout game from the 19-year-old.

2. Sandis Vilmanis, LW, Latvia (Florida Panthers)

Sandis Vilmanis has worn Latvian “carmine red” twice at the World Juniors before this year's tournament, but only had the one goal to his name. He tripled that mark by the end of this contest, scoring back-to-back in the second and third periods to help secure Latvia's decisive 6-2 win over the favoured Germans.

“It’s like I said to the Latvian journalists, I’m very proud of the way the team played today,” Latvian head coach Artis Ābols told EP Rinkside, after the Latvian journalists. “They are kids, 17 to 19-years-old. Our country is a strange country. We don’t have one professional hockey team, but everyone expects the medals. Everyone is under immense pressure. Immense pressure. Everything was against us. Zero goals. PK is terrible. Nothing on the power play. So I’m very proud of how they played today. They showed they want wins and they want to compete and they succeeded.”

It was Latvia's first win at the tournament in a December game in the country's history, though not their first win in the round-robin round. That came in the Summer World Juniors of 2022.

Vilamnis' two goals led the way, and he was rewarded accordingly with Player of the Game honours to cap it all off. His first was a shot high in the offensive zone on the power play, taken only moment after proverbially eating it after a hard hit – how's that for payback?

“Before that, I got rocked on the ice. I hit my face on the ground, on the ice, and got a bandage on it,” Vilmanis said through the sort of grin only a hockey player can muster under those circumstances. “Then I just took the shot that my teammates gave me and one of them went in. Pretty good. I was just trying to get a shot on net and to score.

“Before that moment, I had no idea I was playing power play. It was my first time this tournament. So I didn’t expect that.”

The next goal? Now that was something else entirely. You'll be seeing that any highlight reel of the day's action.

“Me and Dans Ločmelis entered the zone and I just screamed at him ‘Dans!’ and he flipped me the pass over an opponent’s stick, and I thought, ‘Yeah, I’m going to the net,’ and I think the goalie wasn’t in my place, so I slipped it in,” Vilmanis said of his 6-1 goal.

“You know, that’s a kid who… there’s not many hockey players in Latvia,” Ābols said. “There’s a lot of rumours about him in Latvia, like ‘Oh, Sandis Vilmanis becoming a star? Sandis Vilmanis becoming an NHLer?’ That’s put a lot of pressure on him. First two World Junior Championships quickly in August and then December. You can’t say he was that good then, but today he was the leader.”

3. Eriks Mateiko, LW, Latvia (2024 NHL Draft)

It's almost impossible to overstate the importance of getting that first goal today for Latvia. They hadn't scored to this point in the tournament. They hadn't even looked especially competitive. Get behind the Germans early, and things can snowball.

Luckily, Ēriks Mateiko had other plans. The Latvian winger caught a puck high in the slot and wired it past Philipp Dietl only 2:46 into the first period, giving his team a much-needed confidence boost against a tough opponent.

“He played the second year in the QMJHL, and that’s different," Ābols said after the game. “His team, they’re not the best in the league. He gets a lot of ice-time, but he doesn’t have to play with a lot of pressure. Now he’s here, he has to play with a lot of pressure. Now he comes here after playing and scoring a point average in Québec, and we expect him to go. I know that he was disappointed after the first three games. No wins, no goals, no points – nothing. Once again, he behaved himself, and he scored a huge goal for us.”

There was a surprisingly substantial number of NHL scouts in attendance, many of them almost certainly there to watch the first-time draft-eligible Mateiko. I asked the Saint John Sea Dogs winger how he would describe his game to scouts and a North American, and he gave an answer I'm sure they would love to hear.

“I would say I’m a power forward; a big forward who tries to go to the net and score some greasy goals around the net. Blocking shots, playing for the team, taking a hit – just trying to get the momentum for the team and be the best player I can.”

Screw it, let's rock with a fourth star tonight…

Jonas Taibel is no stranger to the Swiss national team. This is the 19-year-old’s third trip the World Juniors, and his game against Norway was the best of the bunch. The captain led the charge offensively recording a goal and two primary assists to help lead his club out of a possible relegation round and securing a quarter final birth. His goal was pretty as he curled out from the mid circle and beat the netminder up high under the bar with a perfectly-placed wrister.

Taibel had been snakebitten in this event despite creating loads of opportunities. And it looked like that was going to continue as he had some glorious chances earlier in the game that he couldn’t quite materialize into points.

One he broke through, you could see the relief. All three of his points came during the second period burst that knocked the wheels off of the Norwegians who came into that stanza with a lead. On top of the production, the former QMJHL forward had some jam to his game, finishing hits and being strong along the wall. He attacked the paint and wasn’t shy about whacking at loose pucks.

It was a standout performance from the team’s leader and exactly what they needed to keep their medal hopes alive.

The Highlight of the Day

Man, can Dionicio ever do some cool stuff with the puck…

Your World Juniors stats for the day:

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This article is about:
World Juniors 2024 Germany U20 Latvia U20 Norway U20 Switzerland U20 WJC-20 Rodwin Dionicio Eriks Mateiko Jonas Taibel Sandis Vilmanis
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