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2024 WORLD JUNIORS CHAMPIONSHIP – January 2nd, 2024 – Game Recaps + Three Stars

Goaltender Michael Hrabal of Czech Republic during the 2024 IIHF World Junior Championship quarter final between Canada and Czech Republic on January 2, 2024 in Gothenburg.
Photo: Jesper Zerman / BILDBYRÅN

Slovakia 3, Finland 4

What a hockey game this was, filled with non-stop action and several momentum swings. Just when one side looked to be taking hold of the game, the pendulum swung. The best example of that was late in the third period when Aleksanteri Kaskimaki one timed the puck past Adam Gajan to give Finland a 3-2 lead with under two minutes to go. Not even a minute later, with Gajan pulled, the Slovaks tied it on a wobbling wrister to send the game to overtime. It certainly seemed like the Slovaks would have all the momentum heading into overtime, but not even 30 seconds into the extra frame, Jere Lassila burst in alone and buried one past Gajan to send Finland to the semifinals. It was quite a remarkable turnaround for the Finns, who were a loss away in the round robin from hitting the relegation round, but now find themselves facing the United States in the semi-finals on Thursday.

Canada, 2, Czechia 3

Would you even consider this to be an upset? I know I wouldn’t, and several of our scouts predicted this exact outcome for Canada in our WJC pre-tournament guide. Additionally, several of our scouts predicted a strong tournament performance for the Czechs. The Canadians looked completely overwhelmed by the speed of the Czechs in the opening frame and Mathis Rousseau let in two goals he’d probably like to have back: his first real moment of shakiness in this tournament. The second and third were largely dominated by Canada as they managed to flip the script, hemming the Czechs in their own zone for large stretches. But kudos to the Czechs, who largely weathered the storm by remaining disciplined (not taking a single penalty in the game) and clogging up shooting lanes, all while receiving great goaltending from Michael Hrabal. It seemed like this game was headed to overtime, but some sloppy puck management in the defensive end by Canada led to the game winner by Czechia with 11 seconds to go. Sure, you can identify it as puck luck, as Jakub Stancl’s shot bounced off Oliver Bonk and in, but the Czechs had improved drastically over the course of this tournament and deserved to move on.

United States 7, Latvia 2

In the only non-competitive game of the quarterfinals, the United States squashed Latvia; although to Latvia’s credit they kept competing right to the final whistle, even scoring the final goal of the game. The forecheck and speed in transition, in combination with the greater skill and creativity of the Americans was just too much for Latvia on this day. The lineup tinkering by the United States, with Oliver Moore moving on to the first line, pushing Jimmy Snuggerud to the fourth line, proved to be successful as that line generated a couple of goals and Snuggerud was more successful with Danny Nelson and Quinn Finley. It was also the best game of the tournament for Seamus Casey as he was a standout from the back end. The United States now prepares for Finland in the semifinals, an opponent who will obviously not be taken lightly.

Sweden 3, Switzerland 2

The final game of quarterfinal day gave us a way better and closer matchup than anticipated. After the first period, it seemed like this one was destined to be a blowout like the U.S./Latvia one before it. But the Swiss clamped down and frustrated the heck out of Sweden in the second and third periods, sending this game to an overtime frame. In the OT period, Rodwin Dionicio got called for a questionable hooking penalty, sending Sweden to a powerplay which they converted on to push them through to the semi-finals. Axel Sandin Pellikka walked in and snapped a wrist shot past Alessio Beglieri, serving as the OT hero. This was a tough pill to swallow for Dionicio, who had been one of the better defenders in the tournament thus far, as he snapped his stick and handed it to the official. The hometown Swedes will now take on a Czech team that has beaten Canada and pushed the United States to the brink in recent games. Without question, they will need to be sharper on Thursday to beat Czechia.

Three Stars of the Day

#1 Michael Hrabal - Goaltender - Czechia

One could probably make the case that Hrabal’s defenders deserved this more than him with how many shots they blocked in the third period, but he was just so poised and solid in today’s win over Canada. He stopped 28 of 30 and really limited second chance opportunities in the second and third period when Canada was pressing. His size and athleticism have such a profound impact on the mentality of shooters as it was clear that the Canadian players were trying to be perfectly precise with their shots to try to beat him, thus the amount fired wide today. It’s been a bit of an up and down/inconsistent tournament for Hrabal, but top prospects are supposed to be at their best when it matters most and Hrabal was just that today. Does he have another big game in him on Thursday against Sweden?

#2 Seamus Casey - Defense - United States

Another player who has had an up and down tournament, Casey’s inconsistent play seems to have stemmed from the illness he picked up that caused him to miss a round robin game. However, judging by today’s performance against Latvia, he is finally healthy. Casey was all over the ice, excelling at both ends. He finished the game with three assists and was a +4 overall. Casey’s poise in the offensive end was on display today as he did a great job of getting pucks to the net, two of which directly resulted in U.S. goals. He was also a standout defensively with his ability to shut down the transition game thanks to his high-end skating ability. Puck management has been a bit of an issue for the U.S.’ defense in this tournament and if Casey can replicate this performance moving forward, it would greatly improve this team’s chances of capturing gold.

#3 Jere Lassila - Center - Finland

The overtime hero for Finland today in their victory over Slovakia, Lassila had an excellent overall game finishing with a goal and an assist. The assist was off a great play in puck pursuit as he won a battle behind the net then centered it to the slot for Lenni Hameenaho, who put Finland up 2-1 at the time. Then he finished things off in overtime by exploding into the offensive zone, splitting the defense and beating Adam Gajan to play hero. Overall, it’s been a great tournament for Lassila, a previously undrafted pivot. The Finnish captain has always performed well for Finland internationally, but his lack of size, combined with a lack of explosiveness has previously kept him from drawing NHL interest. That may not be the case anymore as Lassila looks to have improved his skating and has had a great year in Liiga with JYP, where he is third among U20 players in the league with 10 assists.