The first Saturday of the World Juniors provided some intriguing games as the competition level took a step forward.
It started with Switzerland and Denmark meeting in a game that was must-win to avoid the relegation playoffs at the end of the preliminary, that was followed by Finland taking on Slovakia, Canada took on the Czech Republic and then ended with the marquee matchup of Sweden and USA.
The Canucks were well represented on this day with all four players suiting up for their respective countries.
Toni Utunen (Finland)
Tonight: 0-0-0, 4 SOG, 14:47 TOI
Tournament: 3GP 0G-0A-0PT
Toni Utunen saw some more ice today compared to yesterday and made the most of it with four shots on goal.
That total of 14:47 was ranked fourth among Finnish defenceman as they cruised to a 5-1 win over Slovakia.
It will be interesting to see how he is deployed in Finland’s final preliminary round game against the Americans.
Michael DiPietro (Canada)
Tonight: 23 saves on 24 shots – 1.00 GAA & 0.958 SV%
Tournament: 2-0-0, 0.50 GAA. 09.74 SV% and 1 S/O
Michael DiPietro did what he was supposed to do in a game that Canada should’ve won.
Facing 24 shots, DiPietro turned away 23 of them and showed that he appears to be the right man for the job for the remainder of the tournament. So many times in the past, Canadian goalies have given up that goal or two that keeps the pesky teams in the game and then it’s a high stakes ride for the rest of the contest. After giving up the tieing goal to Ondrej Machala at 6:40 of the first period:
Ondrej Machala (@HCPCE) slams one home to tie it up for the Czech Republic!
— Hockey Daily (@HockeyDaily365) December 30, 2018
To be fair, DiPietro had no chance on. After that, he shut the door and made quite a few noteworthy saves along the way.
— TSN (@TSN_Sports) December 30, 2018
With the Czechs out of the way now, Canada will face Russia on New Years Eve and the pressure will be on. Assuming that Russia will defeat Switzerland tomorrow, then Russia and Canada will be playing for top spot in Pool A and it could go a long way towards the matchups the rest of the way.
If DiPietro can play the way he did tonight and let the Canadian offence do their thing, then Canada could lock up that top spot before the calendar flips to 2019.
Quinn Hughes (United States)
Tonight: 0-1-1, 4 SOG, 27:23 TOI
Tournament: 3GP 0G-2A-2PT
The Americans were looking to end Sweden’s preliminary win streak at 46 games and gave them a run for their money, coming back from a 4-0 deficit to force overtime before losing in overtime.
Hughes was being watched very closely by the Swedish forecheckers and thus was fairly limited in his chances in the first half of the game. There was one sequence where he created a great chance but moments later had a mistake that led directly to the goal that put Sweden up 3-0 at the time:
After the Swedes went up 4-0, the Americans slowly started to chip away and the balance of play evened out. Hughes was then able to create some offence on is own, eventually picking up a secondary assist on Ryan Poehling’s second goal on the night
Hughes had a fantastic chance in overtime but was unable to bury the puck on the scramble. After that opportunity, he was dog tired and had to defend for a considerable amount of time. The Swedes scored on one of the subsequent shifts.
It was up and down game for the Canucks top prospect but when he was in control of the puck in the offensive zone, he showed how he can dictate the game out there. On the flipside, when he tries to do too much, it looks really bad.
Overall, there have been some encouraging signs from his performance and with a little more shooting luck from his teammates and Hughes would have a higher point total.
Hughes did end the game with the most time on ice among all American players.
Tyler Madden (United States)
Tonight: 0-0-0, 0 SOG, 22:23 TOI
Tournament: 3GP 1G-1A-2PT
Tyler Madden didn’t stand out in the same ways as previous nights but was solid overall. He led all American forwards in total time on ice
With the relentless forecheck of the Swedes, Madden wasn’t able to dictate the play as he did against Slovakia and Kazakhstan. This resulted in him being lost in the weeds a bit for the USA.
Once the Americans started to storm back, Madden saw regular shifts but it was the big guns buzzing for the Americans and thus they stood out.
Madden did get an overtime shift and had a couple of fantastic defensive plays:
— Vanessa Jang (@vanessajang) December 30, 2018
He followed that up with this one:
Then in the same sequence, Madden with another great defensive play right after Quinn Hughes gets deked out pic.twitter.com/otPiFrKST7
— Vanessa Jang (@vanessajang) December 30, 2018
Madden wasn’t going stand out in every game and in the first half of the game, the Swedes played a game that just shut down the Americans transition and as a result, limited their ability to create a forecheck. This forced Madden to play a more passive game and thus his strengths weren’t utilized on a shift-by-shift basis. With that being said, the fact that he was out in overtime and made those two plays means he did have an impact on the game and should be viewed as a good thing.
The best thing he can do is learn from this game and hopefully get back at it versus Finland.
There will be no Canucks prospects playing tomorrow