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2024 WORLD JUNIOR CHAMPIONSHIP – December 26th, 2023 Game Review

Gavin Brindley of USA during the 2024 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship between USA and Norway on December 26, 2023 in Gothenburg.
Photo: Carl Sandin / BILDBYRÅN

Slovakia 6 vs. Czechia 2

The most recent match between these hockey rivals and former nation siblings went in the favour of Slovakia, with the Slovakians riding a three-goal burst early in the third period to extend a narrow 2-1 lead into a 5-1 rout and eventual 6-2 finale. It was an impressive victory considering their last medal at this tournament was a bronze in 2015, as well as the fact that the two best eligible players for their country, Juraj Slafkovský and Šimon Nemec, are currently playing for their NHL clubs instead. Forward Servác Petrovský led the way offensively for the winning side, with two goals and one assist, while Samuel Honzek, Filip Mešár, Maxim Štrbák and Viliam Kmec all chipped in two points apiece. Czech starting netminder Michal Hrabal was never quite able to find stable ground in his crease, allowing six goals on 34 shots while looking shaky throughout.

Canada 5 vs. Finland 2

Canada's depth and balance will be their most important attributes at this year's event, and they utilized both masterfully on Tuesday, skating away with a 5-2 win in a game that they were in control of throughout, aside for some penalty troubles. Despite being assembled as more of a checking line, the trio of Nate Danielson, Owen Beck and Owen Allard was Canada's best overall, generating the first two goals and tilting the ice throughout most of their shifts. Projected 2024 1st-overall draft selection Macklin Celebrini also had a huge goal in the second frame on a net-front scramble that needed video review to be confirmed. Crucially, the undrafted Mathis Rousseau made 24 saves and looked plenty sharp, instilling some confidence about the team's seeming weakness between the pipes. Defenseman Arttu Kärki recorded assists on both Finnish goals, while goaltender Niklas Kokko turned aside numerous quality scoring chances but wasn't able to deny all of them.

United States 4 vs Norway 1

If the Americans were expecting a casual skate in their tournament opener, they were given a quick wake-up call, as the heavy underdog Norwegians came out ready to play hard. While the outcome of a U.S. win was easily predicted the narrowness of the 4-1 score and the back-and-forth exchange of scoring chances in the first half certainly wasn't. Gavin Brindley's 2-0 goal finally broke the dam for the red, white and blue, and he followed it up with another two and a half minutes later, snuffing out most of the spark that their opponents showed early on. The diminutive Markus Stensrud was simply sensational in net for Norway, making a multitude of stellar saves, and 40 overall, while preventing the score from getting obscene, which could end up being important later on in the tournament if goal differential comes into play as a tiebreaker.

Sweden 6 vs. Latvia 0

The last match of the day was by far and away the least eventful of the opening four, as the host Swedes outshot Latvia 35-20 and trounced them on the scoreboard to the tune of 6-0. At no point did the game ever really seem close, though that didn't deter the cheers from the raucous home crowd. Latvia had a five-minute powerplay just 25 seconds into the first period, on a nasty boarding penalty by Swedish defender Elias Salomonsson, but wasn't able to generate anything from it, and shortly after it ended it was obvious that a vitally important opportunity for them as underdogs had been unfortunately squandered. Jonathan Lekkerimäki and Filip Bystedt, 1st-round picks of the Vancouver Canucks and San Jose Sharks, respectively, each scored two goals apiece, while goaltender Hugo Hävelid didn't face the toughest of tests to earn the 20-save shutout.

Three Stars:

1) Gavin Brindley — United States

The first half of the game between the United States and Norway had all the necessary ingredients for an historic upset. However, Brindley had other ideas. A notorious workhorse and spark plug who was also part of the bronze medal-winning American roster last year, he narrowly pounded home a powerplay one-timer to make it 2-0 and then went beautifully bar down shortly afterwards to make it 3-0. That second marker took the wind out of Norway's sails for a while and they never fully recovered.

2) Maveric Lamoureux — Canada

Lamoureux didn't have a particularly flashy or exciting game, but that was by design, focusing his attentions instead on keeping the Finns quiet and under control over the course of his team-leading 24:50 of ice time. The rangy blueliner was a suffocating defensive presence and undoubtedly frustrating for his opponents to get through. He did, however, help create the game's opening goal when his shot from the point went off Danielson and in, and he was similarly rewarded on the score sheet in the dying minutes when he calmly buried an empty-net goal from center ice.

3) Adam Gajan — Slovakia

Things easily could have gone south for the Slovakian netminder Gajan after allowing a goal just 1:01 after puck drop, but to his credit he immediately bounced back and once again looked like the star player who was crucial in almost upsetting Canada in the quarterfinals of the 2023 tournament. Dialed in and on his toes, he kept things tight and tidy for the remainder of the game's opening 40 minutes, which in turn helped his confident teammates break the deadlock late in the second period and then produce their outburst of goals in the third.