The final four: U20 semi-finals

From four to two. Who will survive the semi-final round?

04.01.2008
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And then there were four...Sweden, Russia, USA and Canada. Photos: IIHF/HHOF Images

PARDUBICE, Czech Republic - While it’s generally considered an exercise in futility to attempt to predict the outcome of any hockey game, there are some interesting notes entering semi-final day at the U20 World Championship. Here are some trends to keep an eye out for when the four teams take to the ice today.
++ All four of this year’s semi-finalist teams are the same nations that made the top four last year. The match-ups are even the same as in 2007, Russia topped Sweden 4-2, while Canada beat the U.S. in a seven-round shootout, 2-1. ++ The rivalry between Canada and the United States isn’t necessarily all hype. All but one of the meetings between the squads since the turn of the century has been decided by just one goal with Canada winning in six of the seven meetings.  2007 – Canada  6, USA 3 (preliminary round)
 2007 – Canada 2, USA 1 shootout (semi-finals)
 2006 – Canada 3, USA 2 (preliminary round)
 2004 – USA 4, Canada 3 (gold medal game)
 2003 – Canada 3, USA 2 (semi-finals)
 2001 – Canada 2, USA 1 (quarterfinals)
 2000 – Canada 4, USA 3 (bronze medal game)
++ Sweden has not won a medal at the U20 Championship in the last 11 years. It is the longest medal drought of any of the four semi-final teams. The last time Sweden took home a medal was in 1996 when they earned silver. ++ It is the 10th straight semi-final appearance for the Canadians, the longest streak among all teams at this year’s championship. USA is in its sixth straight U20 semi-final, while Russia is in its fourth straight semi-final game. ++ Canada coach Craig Hartsburg confirmed that Steve Mason will start in the semi-final game against the U.S. Mason has won in all three of his starts and currently leads all goaltenders with a .951 saves percentage. It can only be assumed that Jeremy Smith will be in net for the Americans. Smith has started in all four of the U.S. games and is nipping at Mason’s heels with a .938 saves percentage. ++ Sergei Bobrovsky and Jhonas Enroth have been the go-to goaltenders from Russia and Sweden, respectively. Look for the pair to be on the ice this afternoon. ++ The U.S. brings the most firepower to the semi-final round with three of its players among the top 10 tournament scoring leaders. James van Riemsdyk leads all players with 10 points in four games. Teammates Colin Wilson and Jordan Schroeder each have seven points and rank fifth and seventh, respectively. Russia, Sweden and Canada each only have one player among the top 10 scorers. ++ Russia should do its best to play five-on-five hockey against the Swedes. Currently the Swedish power play ranks first among all teams with a 30 percent success rate, while the squad’s penalty kill ranks second in the tournament with an 88 percent rate. ++ It might not be a coincidence that the four remaining teams are also the four most disciplined. The semi-finalists are four squads with the fewest penalty minutes. USA leads the pack with 54 penalty minutes in four games. ++ Canada has not lost a semifinal game at the world junior championship since 2001 in Moscow. ++ Should Canada and Russia win, it will be the fourth consecutive gold medal meeting between the nations. If USA wins, it will be their first appearance in the golden game, since they won in 2004. For the Swedes, the potential gold medal game appearance would be their first since 1996.

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