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2024 WORLD JUNIORS CHAMPIONSHIP – December 27th, 2024 Game Reviews

GOTHENBURG, SWEDEN - DECEMBER 27: Germany players celebrate after a 4-3 Preliminary Round - Group A win against Finland at the 2024 IIHF World Junior Championship at Scandinavium on December 27, 2023 in Gothenburg, Sweden. (Photo by Matt Zambonin/IIHF)

Game Recaps

Slovakia 3, Switzerland 0

After a tremendous, rather dominating performance over Czechia the day prior, there was definitely some thought that Slovakia would beat up on Switzerland. Don’t let the scoreline fool you, as Switzerland largely controlled play in this one, outshooting the Slovaks by a rather large margin. No offense meant to the Swiss, but it was a rather flat performance by Slovakia in a game that was a mismatch on paper. If not for goaltender Adam Gajan, the Swiss would have likely taken this one. There’s something about putting on the Slovak jersey that makes Gajan, last year’s top WJC goaltender and an early second round pick of Chicago, an unstoppable force. His third period save on Gregory Weber was a thing of beauty and it preserved a 1-0 lead for Slovakia at the time. Eventually, the Slovaks notched two empty net goals and took this one 3-0 to go to 2-0 in the tournament. Despite the loss, the Swiss have to hold their heads high for how they outplayed Slovakia and must regroup to prepare for an even tougher test against the United States tomorrow. The Swiss coaching staff led by Marcel Jenni has to be especially happy with the performances of Miles Muller, Leon Muggli, and Alessio Beglieri.

Finland 3, Germany 4

What a monumental occasion! The Germans beat Finland for the first time ever at the U20 World Junior Championships, with Finland owning a perfect 25-0 record previously. Right out of the gate, this one felt like an upset, with Germany dominating time of possession in the first period, including outshooting Finland 13-6. Finland managed to secure the lead twice in an action packed second period, but each time Germany battled back. Eventually, Veit Oswald scored his second of the game to put Germany up for good (he opened the scoring in the first period). The third period saw Germany clinging to life, with goaltender Philipp Dietl holding down the fort, including a late powerplay for Finland that they were not able to capitalize on, despite pulling goaltender Niklas Kokko to gain a 6 on 4 advantage. Finland now takes an 0-2 record into their game against Latvia on Friday. Finland will need to win here…and win big (for protection against a three-way tie should Latvia beat Germany), to avoid a disastrous exit into the relegation round. A special note to the Finnish coaching staff; please watch some of Arttu Karki’s highlights from the OHL this season where he works the half wall on the Soo Greyhounds powerplay and is an absolute load to handle. Utilizing him there instead of the point could help the team’s 1 for 10 powerplay thus far.

Czechia 8, Norway 1

For the second straight day, Norway came out and played a very competitive first period against a top hockey nation, only to run out of gas in the second half of the game. The two main offensive cogs in the Czech lineup did their part as both Jiri Kulich and Eduard Sale finished the game with hat tricks. Michael Hrabal was also much sharper in the crease compared to a weak effort against Slovakia on day one. This was a big game for Czechia in order to get back on track before facing the powerhouse Americans on Friday. At this point, the Norwegians have to be proud of how they have played, but closing out games better has to be a priority. They’ll be in tough against Slovakia next but will have Saturday circled on their calendars as the big one as they take on Switzerland in what will likely be a battle to see who ends up in the relegation round.

Canada 10, Latvia 0

It was the Macklin Celebrini show in this game as the draft eligible forward and double underager (for this event) posted five points in the blowout victory. As the Latvians do, they kept the game close early, even if their chances were largely from the perimeter. However, by the third period, they had completely run out of steam and Canada expanded on their blowout. After Canada scored four goals in a span of about four minutes, Latvian coach Artis Abols even took a timeout to try to motivate his team to keep playing. Other than Macklin Celebrini, Carson Rehkopf and Matthew Wood also had big games for Canada, scoring twice each. Ironically, both players were swapping in and out of the Celebrini/Yager line and finding equal success. Wood was apparently battling an illness and was set to be the 13th forward in this game, but judging by his play you would have never known it. Canada now prepares for its biggest test against Sweden on Friday, which will decide who gets the top seed in Pool A.

Three Stars of the Day

#1 Adam Gajan - Goaltender - Slovakia

Last year Gajan came out of nowhere to capture the tournament’s top goaltender award, nearly leading Slovakia past Canada in the quarterfinals. He entered the 2023 tournament as Slovakia’s third string netminder and finished as a household name who would eventually become the 35th overall selection (to Chicago) in the 2023 NHL Draft in his second year of draft eligibility. Now, Gajan enters the 2024 WJC’s with large expectations and thus far he has lived up to them. He was great in Slovakia’s win over Czechia on day one and he was even better on day two against Switzerland posting a well earned shutout. Gajan made 36 saves against Switzerland, including a highlight reel game saving stop in the third period on the penalty kill against Gregory Weber. He was dialed in all game, fighting through traffic to make saves, limiting second chance opportunities, and showcasing his excellent athleticism to cover his posts.

#2 Macklin Celebrini - Center - Canada

I’m sure an argument could be made for Celebrini to be the first star of the day, but Gajan was just so good for his team in preventing a major upset. Celebrini, as previously mentioned, ended the 10-0 blowout of Latvia with one goal and four assists. His goal came after Matthew Wood sprung him on a breakaway where he finished on the backhand. Three of his assists were primary assists, with the setup of Brayden Yager's first period goal being the prettiest as he carved up the neutral zone and hit him with a drop pass after drawing in both defenders by attacking them head on. After two days, Celebrini finds himself at the top of the tournament’s scoring lead and is already 12th all time among U18 scoring for Canada at the event. Given his points per game average thus far and ice time/responsibility received, it seems pretty conceivable that he could pass the likes of McDavid, Crosby, and Lemieux to push into the top five among Canadian U18 players.

#3 Veit Oswald - Wing - Germany

No offense meant to Jiri Kulich and Eduard Sale, who probably deserve a spot on this list after hat tricks against Norway, but Veit Oswald’s two goals were a little more historically important. Oswald, a big winger out of EHC München, opened the scoring for Germany in the first period by banging home a loose puck near the crease during a scramble. Then he scored the eventual game winner in the second period by taking the puck to the net and banking it in off Finnish netminder Niklas Kokko. The second goal was a tad controversial as Oswald clipped skates with Finnish defender Jesse Pulkkinen before receiving the pass that sent him flying down the wing. Pulkkinen fell, affording Oswald the room to make a dash for the net. This is occasionally called interference, but it was not and Oswald made history helping Germany beat Finland for the first time.