Sunday, January 01, 2006

2006 World Junior Hockey Championship
Day 7: Bring on the Quarter-finals

A week into the festivities in Vancouver, Kamloops and Kelowna, and it's a day off for everyone involved. The New Year's Day break gives us an opportunity to breakdown tomorrow's games.

January 2
Rel: Switzerland v. Latvia, 4pm et/1pm pt
Pacific Coliseum - Vancouver

This game won't be televised, but all of the relegation games will be played with just as much intensity as the playoff matchups. At stake for Switzerland and Latvia, as well as Slovakia and Norway who will play Tuesday, is a chance to stay up in the main tournament next year in Helsinki. Latvia, which is making its first appearance at the WJHC, and Norway, which hasn't been here since 1991, should be considered the teams favoured to be relegated, but when it comes down to such a small pool of games, anything can happen.
--Switzerland has looked impressive here, as evidenced by the tough games they gave both Canada and the U.S. I also liked what I saw from the Latvians in two games in Kamloops, including a 3-1 loss to a powerful Russian team. Goaltender Ugis Avotins was especially good for Latvia.
Switzerland 3, Latvia 2

QF1: Sweden v. Finland, 7pm et/4pm pt
GM Place - Vancouver

The games move to the home of the Vancouver Canucks, GM Place, as the NHL club, incidentally, continues on a stretch of 14 of 18 games on the road.
--The winner here faces Canada in the semi-final game, which is likely why most North American viewers will be tuning in. Looking at this draw, the Canadians have to be heavily favoured to, once again, advance to the gold-medal game, as they easily handled the Fins in the round robin and Sweden hasn't been a WJC medal contender for nearly a decade.
--As I reported last Friday, however, the Swedes have been turning heads and could offer a challenge, especially if they keep scoring the way they did in back-to-back 10-2 and 6-0 wins over Latvia and Slovakia. Nicklas Backstrom, 18, has looked fantastic for Sweden.
Sweden 5, Finland 3

QF2: United States v. Czech Republic 11pm et/8pm pt
GM Place - Vancouver

The loss to Canada landed the Americans with this extra, must-win contest to play, but they get a fortunate draw in a Czech club that has been anything but impressive in the tournament, especially considering they have such an experienced team this year.
--The Czechs are coming off of a 7-2 pounding against Russia on New Year's Eve, a game in which they tellingly left veteran netminder Marek Schwarz on the bench for. Without Schwarz leading the way in goal, there's not enough for them to advance. 17-year-old phenom Micheal Frolik has been invisible for the Czechs.
USA 4, Czech Republic 1

If my predictions bear out, Tuesday will see Canada face Sweden, and Russia versus the Americans. Can't wait.


At 11:27 a.m., January 02, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Re: "most North American viewers"

Is the tournament even being broadcast in the U.S.? I won't bother asking about Mexico...



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