Canada vs Czech Republic
Usually when you see Canada matched up against an opponent that is not one of the “Core Four” (USA, Sweden, Finland and Russia), you expect a blowout. Do not expect that to be the case in this Semi Final. This isn’t your typical Czech Republic team that finishes 7th. The Czech beat Finland in a shootout in the quarterfinal and are looking for their first medal since 2005 during the NHL lockout with an upset Bronze medal win over the host Americans. Canada did play the Czech Republic in a pre-tournament game in London which ended in a 9-0 rout in favor of the Canadians. The reason why I don’t read too much into that is the Czech were without their top 3 players.
Martin Necas (12th overall, 2017 Carolina) has been a force for the Czech Republic, leading the way with 9 points which has him 2nd in tournament scoring behind USA centre Casey Mittelstadt. Filip Zadina (Eligible 2018) has scored in every game but one and us 2nd in goals with 5. Filip Chytil (21st overall, 2017 NYR) has 4 points in 5 games and made the Rangers out of training camp. On Defense Libor Hajek (37th Overall, 2016 Tampa Bay) has been a force all tournament and is used to playing 25+ minutes a night back in the WHL with the Saskatoon Blades. Hajek leads all defensemen at the World Juniors with 7 points.
Team Canada comes into this Semi Final without being tested in the Quarters are a 8-2 thrashing of Switzerland (whose coach saw it coming). This is a different Canadian team than we have seen in the past couple years. They only have one top 10 pick (Cale Makar 4th Overall, Colorado) and only have one play in the top 10 in scoring (Jordan Kyrou with 7 points). Canada lost one game this tournament which was the outdoor storm in the shootout to team USA which nobody should read too much into. The thing that worries me about Canada is that they’re lacking a go to offensive player up front which could be a key factor in this game. The strength of the team is Carter Hart who has a .961 save percentage in the WHL. Hart hasn’t been overly tested in this tournament but that should change in this game.
Keys to the game
Czech Republic: Find a way to get Necas and Zadina involved early and get some offensive pressure.
Canada: Stay out of the box. 6 penalties cost them in the outdoor game against the states. And Discipline has been a key failure for Canada in past tournaments (cough, Jake Virtanen, cough)
Prediction: Canada is too deep to lose this game. 4-3 Canada wins
Sweden VS USA
Star power. That is the word I would use to describe this semifinal. USA is coming off a 3-2 win against Russia and Sweden beat the Slovaks 3-2 and have not lost this tournament.
Each team’s top 3 forwards have been brilliant this tournament. Sweden’s top trio of Elias Petersson (5th Overally, 2017 Vancouver), Lias Andersson (7th Overall, 2017 Rangers), and Alex Nylander (8th Overall, 2016 Buffalo) all have 6 points in the tournament to go along with the projected 2018 1st overall pick Rasmus Dahlin’s 6 assists. The Swedes are deep and skilled which should pose a problem for the Americans.
But on the US side. Casey Mittelstadt (8th Overall, 2017 Buffalo) has been the tournaments best player with 10 points. He struggled a bit against Russia and should be looking for a bounceback game on Thursday. Kiefer Bellows (19th Overall, 2017 Islanders) has the best release of anyone in the tournament and that has showed by him having the goal scoring lead with 6 including the game winner against Russia). Brady Tkachuk will be a top 5 pick in this years draft and has been great all tournament and has 7 points. On defense Adam Fox (66th Overall, 2016 Calgary) did get beat on Russia’s 2nd goal in the Quarterfinals but has had a very good tournament and will need to play big minutes to shutdown Sweden’s firepower.
Keys to the game
Sweden: Play defense. All of the firepower up front cannot outweigh the play in the own zone. Filip Gustavsson has had a strong tournament in goal and this will be his biggest test.
USA: Joseph Woll. He is expected to start and has been inconsistent. He made some nice saves in the quarters but let in a soft first goal. His play will be key.
Prediction: Sweden wins this game 5-4 in a shootout.
Follow Adam Ehrmantraut on Twitter @AEhrmantraut.