WJC: Canada captures Group A; Sweden rolls over Switzerland

December 31, 2017
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Canada has clinched Group A of the 2018 IIHF Under-20 World Junior Championship, and will play the fourth seed of Group B in the quarterfinal round of the playoffs.

This was accomplished on Saturday night at KeyBank Center when Canada shutout Denmark 8-0, finishing their group play with a 3-0-1-0 record and 10 points.

The Canadians get goals from seven different players in the win, including Tampa Bay Lightning prospect Brett Howden, who scored twice and was named as Canada's Player of the Game. Other goals for the Canadians came from Sam Steel (Anaheim Ducks), Robert Thomas (St. Louis Blues), Alex Formenton (Ottawa Senators), Cale Makar (Colorado Avalanche), Drake Batherson (Ottawa Senators) and Michael McLeod (New Jersey Devils).

In goal, Carter Hart (Philadelphia Flyers) had a relatively easy effort with 18 saves on 18 shots faced for his second win of the tournament.

Canada will play in the 4 p.m. game of the quarterfinal round on Tuesday. Their opponent will be determined during the final day of preliminary games on Sunday.

Denmark has had a rough go at things in this year's World Juniors, giving up a total of 21 goals through three games while only scoring one for themselves. They will look to avoid playing in the relegation round on Sunday when they will play Slovakia at HarborCenter at 6 p.m.

The loser of the relegation round will drop down to Division I of the tournament, and will be replaced by Kazakhstan in the 2019 World Junior Championship in Vancouver and Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.

The relegation round will feature Belarus, who went winless in preliminary play after suffering a 6-5 loss to the Czech Republic on Saturday.

At one point in the game, the Belarusians held a 2-0 lead on the Czechs, looking to pull off a big upset in the tournament. However, the Czechs respond with five unanswered goals in the second period to go up by three goals. The Belarusians pulled back to within one halfway through the third period, but Czech forward Marek Zachar scored the eventual game-winning goal three minutes later to put the game on ice. Belarus scored 1:29 later to make it 6-5, but their late push was not enough.

Zachar finished the contest on Saturday with his third period goal, an assist, and two shots on goal as he was named as the Czech Republic's Player of the Game.

Buffalo Sabres defensive prospect Vojtech Budik finished the contest with his first two points of the tournament, registering two assists in the win. Budik also won three faceoffs in the win, and registered a plus-1 rating in a team-high 21:16 of total ice-time.

The Czech Republic also got two-point efforts from Libor Hajek (Tampa Bay Lightning), Filip Chytil (New York Rangers), and Radovan Pavlik in the win.

Belarus got a two-goal effort from Yegor Sharangovich, but his efforts were not enough to save themselves. Vladislav Gabrus finished the game with a goal and an assist and was named the Player of the Game for Belarus.

The Czech Republic will finish out group play on Sunday with a matchup with Switzerland at 12 p.m. at KeyBank Center.

The Swiss had another tough loss on Saturday when they matched up with Sweden at HarborCenter. They kept things close for a while, ending the first period tied 1-1 and the second period 3-2, but Sweden opened things up in the third period with four goals en route to a 7-2 win.

Swedish captain Lias Andersson (New York Rangers) had arguably his best game of the tournament with two goals and an assist on three shots, and was named as the Player of the Game for Sweden. Vancouver Canucks top prospect Elias Pettersson also had a game with two goals and an assist on two shots in 15:38 of total ice-time.

Buffalo Sabres prospect Alexander Nylander ended the game with an assist to add to his piling up point total this tournament. Nylander now has a goal and four assists in three games, and is one point back of Pettersson, fellow Swede Rasmus Dahlin (2018 NHL Draft eligible) and fellow Sabres prospect Casey Mittelstadt for the tournament lead in scoring.

Swiss goalie Matteo Ritz was tested early and often in this game, facing 42 shots on goal while stopping 35 of those shots.

The Swiss got goals from Marco Miranda and Nicolas Muller in the loss, but it was defenseman Dominik Egli taking home the Player of the Game honors with three shots on goal in 20:48 of total ice-time.

Sweden will close out preliminary play on Sunday when they take on Russia in the late game at KeyBank Center. The winner of this game will determine who will take the top spot in Group B. The winner of Group B will face the fourth-seeded team in Group A.

The final game of the day was the early game between Finland and Slovakia at KeyBank Center.

Sabres goalie prospect Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen helped lift the Finns to their second win of the tournament, stopping 24 of 26 shots faced in a 5-2 win.

Finland led for a majority of this game, taking the lead late in the second period and never looking back. The Finns get a two-point effort from Joona Koppanen (Boston Bruins) with a goal and an assist on two shots on goal in 13:22 of work. Koppanen came away with the Player of the Game honors for Finland in the win. 

Forward Alex Tamasi was named Player of the Game for Slovakia with an assist in 17:57 of total ice-time.

Finland will close out group play on Sunday with an important matchup against Mittelstadt and the United States on Sunday at 4 p.m. The winner of this game will secure the second place spot in Group A.

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