For the first time since 2006, Team USA finds itself idle during the quarterfinal round. Having earned a bye with a 4-0-0-0 record at the IIHF World Under-18 Championship, the U.S. can breathe a little easy today.
The same can’t be said for Canada, Germany, Finland and Russia. All four will compete for a spot in the semis. Russia takes on Finland this afternoon, with the winner meeting Sweden in the semifinal. Canada and Germany go head-to-head tonight to decide who will meet Team USA.
Coming up after the jump, a preview of each quarterfinal game and some news and notes on Team USA.
In the early tilt today, we might see one of the better games of the tournament. Finland has a solid puck-moving team that plays a hard-nosed style. Russia, meanwhile, plays an overwhelming offensive style and can out-skill just about every team here. Goaltending could be the difference in this one.
Samu Perhonen will likely get the nod in the cage for Finland, while it is expected that Andrei Vasilevsky will be between the pipes for Russia. Vasilevsky has the tournament’s highest save percentage (.940), while Perhonen has struggled a bit, particularly against the more highly-skilled teams.
Joel Armia and Markus Granlund make the Finnish offense go. Armia leads Team Finland with nine points (2-7), while Granlund is second with five point (1-4). They move the puck extremely well and have been deadly on the power play. That bodes well for Finland against a Russian team that has been prone to bad penalties (except when it played the U.S.).
Russia seemingly has offense from all over, but will likely rely heavily on it’s big scoring line of Mikhail Granlund, Nikita Kucherov and Nail Yakupov. Those three represent the three top scorers in IIHF World Under-18 play. If Finland can find a way to slow them down, they’ll have a shot.
I like this Finnish team a lot and I think they will work hard on the ice as you can almost always count on from a Team Finland. They’ll have to out-work Team Russia and make the most of every opportunity they get. If Russia gets a few in early, it could be curtains, so a good start is of paramount importance for either team.
In the nightcap, it’s Team Canada going up against a German team that is sure to have a raucous crowd on hand. The home team has gotten tremendous support from its fans.
I haven’t seen Canada play much, but from everything I’ve heard, it’s your typical Canadian team. They will play physical, they will chirp the other team relentlessly and they will play hard.
Germany is a well-coached and pretty disciplined team. They’ve battled the injury bug all tournament. I haven’t heard any updates about who is in and who is out for Germany as they’ve seemingly had at least one player leave every game with injury. If it’s a short bench for Germany, it could be a real tough night.
Canada can’t be overconfident against a German team that will play until the final whistle. If the crowd gets rolling as it did against Russia, the German players will just feed off of it. When the crowd is chanting and singing, it almost looks like Team Germany has a little extra jump.
Malcolm Subban has been the horse in goal for Team Canada, while Marvin Cupper has been the go-to goaltender for Germany. Subban has a 2.34 GAA and .929 save percentage, and is statistically the better goalie. However, Cupper has that game-stealing way to his game, where he might not stop every puck, but he can keep his team alive. He’ll have to play out of his mind tonight for Team Germany to have a chance.
It likely comes down to goaltending and discipline for Germany. If the players get intimidated quickly, it might not be a great night. However, with the crowd support and moderate success in the preliminary round, Germany can play with some amount of confidence. We know Canada will be confident. As long as they aren’t over-confident and play the way they’re capable, it shouldn’t be close.
Team USA News and Notes:
Tyler Biggs will not receive any further punishment for his hit against Team Germany, late in the game. It was a fair ruling considering that Nikita Nesterov received no suspension after cross-checking a German player in the neck. Neither hit was good, but the latter was more suspendable than Biggs’s hit.
The U.S. practiced today and it looked like the team had a lot of jump. That’s good to see, since they’ll have to keep that intensity going for one more off-day. Sometimes these long layovers can lull a team to sleep, but it appears the players are still locked in and focused on a strong finish.
USAHockey.com has had some great pictures up on its site from the tournament. Check out this gallery to see just how cool this building looks when it’s packed with nearly 4,000 screaming Germans.
Yesterday, I traveled with the USA staff to tour the Buchenwald concentration camp near Weimar, Germany. If you’re ever in this part of the world, I strongly recommend you try and see one of these camps. It’s an incredibly powerful experience and an important histroy lesson. Sobering, to say the least.
That’s it for today, but be sure to check back tomorrow for a quarterfinal recap, and find out who Team USA will be playing on Saturday.