Photo courtesy of the IIHF
It was a light schedule for the U18s on day three with Canada playing Latvia and Finland taking on the Czech Republic. In predictable fashion, Canada handled its business beating the Latvian team 4-2 but was it ever close as the Canadians avoid the scare. The Finns and Czechs played another back and forth game as Group B, the ‘Group of Death’, continues to be stressful for all involved!
Canada 4-2 Latvia
Shortly before puck drop, the Canadian team announced that they would be without captain Shane Wright and defender Corson Ceulemans for non-COVID-related precautionary reasons. With a game against an undermanned Latvian squad, the Canadians should have had no issues. Well, I did say should.
The Latvians have a bit of a history giving Canada a hard time and this one should be added to the list of feisty Latvian performances against one of the world’s hockey superpowers. The first period was a bit of a confidence breaker for Canada as they were able to find some room thanks to Latvian penalty trouble, including a five-on-three, but with 17 shots and zero goals through the first frame, the Canadians had to be sweating a bit because they just didn’t seem to have their juice.
The second period is where things got a bit more frisky. Logan Stankoven finally got the Canadians on the board with the man advantage. He was able to get a shot off from an awkward shooting posture but with a shot like his, it doesn’t matter how you stand (sometimes). The Kamloops Blazers star is one of the best scorers in the 2021 NHL Draft. After Mason McTavish added a second marker, the Canadians seemed poised to open the floodgates. *shakes head disappointedly*
The Latvians began to pressure and they seemed to be building towards something. Canada was bending and they would eventually break. With the puck bouncing around the Canadian zone and three players in red around the net front, no one can find the puck and Anri Ravinskis buries it from in traffic. The Latvians pulled within one.
To the third we go, the Canadians again looked to gather the momentum. Halfway through the period, the man with the ‘C’ on his chest with Wright out of the lineup, McTavish is able to pressure the Latvian defender in the neutral zone and steal the puck. He finds Dylan Guenther on the two-on-one to put the Canadians up by two again.
With the Latvians deciding that they weren’t going down quietly, they continue attacking. Fighting to stay in this one, the Latvians scored off the rush as Sandis Vilmanis roofed a backhander as he streaked towards the net on the powerplay. The Latvians wouldn’t lay down for a powerhouse and the Canadians needed to find something to go their way. Ben Gaudreau was excellent in the Canadian net and he wound up being the difference. He made a number of excellent saves, particularly when the game was close in the third period. For his first real action in well over a year, Gaudreau looked great in the Canadian net.
With Gaudreau playing well at his end of the ice, the Canadians were dying for some insurance and it would come from their temporary captain, McTavish. Scoring a goal late in the period on a late powerplay, the high-end 2021 draft prospect had a look of relief on his face as the Canadians officially avoided the scare. Game over, 4-2. McTavish and Gaudreau were the stars of the night for Canada while Latvian netminder Karlis Mezsargs was their savior as he faced 51 shots by the game’s end. Breathe Canada, the giant known as Latvia is behind you.
Finland 6-5 Czech Republic
The drama in Group B is non-stop! The action started early in this one as the Czech squad jammed a puck home 30 seconds into the game! Gabriel Szturc bangs it in from in tight after getting a few wacks at it. Some excellent work in the corner Jaroslav Chmelar who battled to get it and wrapped it around onto the net. The Czech Republic was putting the pedal to the metal early! Adding another goal on a nice shot by defender Matej Pinkas just after a powerplay expired, the Finns found themselves down 2-0 with less than five minutes off the clock.
Halfway through the period, the Finns seemed to finally wake up and get things going. They began to play a bit more physically and started pressuring in the offensive zone. After some nice movement in the offensive zone, Ville Koivunen emerged from behind the net and received a pass. Skating low to high in the zone, he turned a fired from the top of the circle, beating the netminder and getting pretty fired up in the process. The Finns were officially back in this one.
After tying the game in the early second, Aleksi Heimosalmi decided it was time he did something cool. Going back into his end to retrieve the puck below the goal line, Heimosalmi saw some open ice in the neutral zone and decided it was his. Burning up the wing, evading traffic and pressure, the young Finnish defender walked down the wing and beat the goaltender with everyone thinking he was going to pass to a teammate driving the slot. The Finns found their first lead of the game but it would be short-lived. After a few nice saves by each goaltender, the Czech Republic scored to tie the game on another play from in tight on another hard-working shift. After 40, it was tied at three.
In the first five minutes of the third period, the Czech Republic decided to take the game into their own hands. Two quick goals by the Czechs put Finland on their heels. David Moravec slid down the boards and got a bad angle shot through to the net and by the netminder and then Lukas Pajer lets a shot from the slot go that ping pongs around and off of Jakub Altrichter and in. A two-goal lead restored after the Finns fought back.
The fight was far from over though. With a powerplay in the latter half of the frame, Samu Tuomaala finds some open ice on the backside as Jimi Suomi finds him from the blueline. Tuomaala lets go of his big shot, redirected by the defender in front and Finland pulls within one goal with just under eight minutes to play. Tuomaala wasn’t done with the theatrics there though. On another powerplay, after some excellent puck movement by the Finns who stayed patient and allowed the lanes to open. Tuomaala goes cross-slot to Samu Salminen to tie the game at five!
After a bit of a questionable penalty call as Heimosalmi went into the boards hard with very little contact by the Czech forechecker, the Finns were gifted a powerplay to end regulation. With all of the big names on the ice, Tuomaala decided to play hero once more. With under 30 seconds, the young Finnish sniper collected a pass on the left half-wall, waited for Brad Lambert to cross the goaltender’s face in front of the net, and sniped it far corner with the momentum of Lambert’s movement pulling the goalie. Finns win a drama-filled game, 5-6 in regulation after being down two goals on two separate occasions!
The World Under-18s are so much fun!
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