CHICAGO--Today might be Good Friday on the Catholic calendar, but to the eight hockey teams playing at the WW U 18 Championship the day has more sporting importance as well. All teams will be fighting for one reason or another in four important games.
The first semi-final of the day will feature Canada and Germany. For Canada, a place in the finals is always expected, but the Germans are the surprise of the tournament, having beaten Finland 2-1 in overtime to get here. They have pretty much conceded a loss in today’s game, having already been beaten by Canada 15-0 in the Preliminary Round, but they will be trying to improve in a few areas.
First, of course, they’ll try to limit Canada to many fewer goals than 15. Second, they’d like to score at least once. Most important, however, they’d like to play the same kind of game as they did two days ago--patient, confident, with good goaltending and hard work. This will prepare them for an expected bronze-medal appearance, their first.
The late semi-final is the closer one, the Americans playing Sweden. But since Canada hammered Sweden 8-0 in the Preliminary Round, and Canada and the U.S. are comparable opponents, it will take a miraculous effort from Sweden to make this a close game against the team that won gold in the first two editions of this event, in 2008 and 2009.
The Swedes have plenty of skill, but they are not as big and quick as the Americans and can’t play at top speed with the same effectiveness. The likely result will see a third straight Canada-U.S. finals at the WW U18, but never say never.
The Czechs and Russians will play the second game of their best-of-three Relegation Round series, the Czechs having won the first game, 5-0. If they win today, it will mark the first time since 1954 when the Russians started to play international hockey that a team from Russia will be demoted to a lower level.
The closest they came previously was at the 2005 World Women’s Championship. That year, the Russians finished last of eight teams, but the IIHF increased the field to nine teams for 2007 and they remained in the top pool.
Lastly, there is the fifth-place game between Japan and Finland, two teams that didn’t reasonably expect to be in this one. For Japan, the appearance is a happy one and reflects an excellent tournament in which they remained competitive throughout. By far the smallest team, they have proved to be hard-skating go-getters, never giving up and getting terrific goaltending from Shizuka Takahashi.
For the Finns, they expected to be in the semi-finals, at least, so this is a disappointing game on their calendar. However, finishing fifth is better than sixth, so it’s important to them to play with pride and forget about the past. Ending any tournament with a win is always a team’s goal.
All in all, Good Friday should provide hockey fans with four decent games in Chicago. The gold and bronze games will be played tomorrow, and teams fly home on Easter Sunday.