The opening games of the IIHF World U18 Championship are in the books. Russia put the Slovaks away 8-2, while the Finns outlasted Norway 5-3. In the evening games, Team USA outlasted Switzerland 2-1, and the Czechs were able to steal a 2-1 victory from Sweden.
Switzerland vs. USA 1-2 (0-1, 1-0, 0-1) Game Sheet Photos
CRIMMITSCHAU – The Americans opened the scoring early on in the game. Forward Dan Carlson brought the puck in from the left end and tried to jam it away at goalkeeper Luca Bolthauser. Carlson’s effort allowed for a rebound to come to linemate Ryan Haggerty, who put it in the back of the net.
Haggerty’s goal opened up the game a bit, as both teams went end to end and put pressure on the opposition. Team USA tried to assert themselves physically, punishing the opposition along the boards and having a body in front of Bolthauser every time they were in the Swiss zone. On the other end, the Swiss had opportunities to get even with a trio of power plays. Despite a few great chances, Switzerland wasn’t able to convert and the first period ended 1-0 for the U.S.
The second period saw a shift in momentum for both teams, as the U.S. took penalties that forced them away from their physical game. The period began with the Americans on the man advantage, but Switzerland managed to kill it off and create an opportunity to equalize. Swiss forward Lukas Balmelli won a draw in the U.S. zone and passed the puck quickly to Dario Simeon in front of the net, who slipped it past U.S. goaltender John Gibson.
Simeon’s goal gave instant life to the Swiss offence, and they began to pressure the Americans in their zone.
Towards the end of the period, the game devolved into a stalemate as each team took a number of penalties, and the horn sounded with the score tied at 1 apiece.
“We knew they were going to play hard so we were ready for a battle out there,” said USA’s captain Robbie Russo. “Penalties threw us off a bit in the second and prevented us from playing the way we wanted, but in the third our coach told us to just get back into our game.”
And get back into the game they did. Though they played admirably, the Swiss barely got a sniff of the US net in the third period. The Americans were able to play physical once more, dominating possession and getting the puck down low in the opposing zone, forcing the Swiss to either try and keep up or take a penalty. Holding the puck behind the net, US forward JT Miller outmuscled the Swiss defence and passed the puck up to Reid Boucher, who fired a wristshot that passed Bolthauser on the far side.
Following the goal Team USA was able to control the pace of the game and dictate the play physically, as the Swiss managed only six shots on net and couldn’t put enough pressure on Gibson. The final horn sounded a 2-1 victory for the Stars and Stripes, who get a night’s rest before playing their next game against Slovakia on Friday afternoon.
Czech Republic vs. Sweden 2-1 (0-1, 0-0, 2-0) Game Sheet Photos
DRESDEN – It took a few periods for them to get going but the Czechs came back from a one goal deficit to take their opening game against Sweden 2-1.
The game started a bit rough, as Czech forward Tomas Hertl was given a ten-minute misconduct for checking a Swedish player from behind. Midway through the first period, Sweden broke the deadlock with a goal from Leksands forward Filip Forsberg.
Through the first two periods it looked like Sweden was the superior team, as Tre Kronor outshot the Czechs 34-18 through the first two frames. However, Czech Republic goaltender Matej Machovsky kept his team in the game while the offence tried to find its legs, making 44 of 45 saves as the Swedes outshot the Czechs nearly two to one.
Each of Machovsky’s 44 saves turned out to be crucial, as the Czechs seized two power play opportunities in the third period to put themselves in front 2-1. First, defenseman Tomas Kvapil scored his team’s first goal of the tournament after Mikael Vikstrand was banished to the penalty box for interference. Later on, Swedish forward Joachim Nermark was called for slashing, leaving the door open for Czech star Dmitrij Jaskin to score the goal that put his team ahead for good.
Russia vs. Slovakia 8-2 (3-0, 2-1, 3-1) Game Sheet Photos
CRIMMITSCHAU – It could have been a closer match between Russia and Slovakia, but early mistakes and costly penalties proved to be too much for the Slovaks, who fell 8-2 to the Russians in their opening game.
Russia’s power play got going early as Slovakia’s Vladimir Dolnik was penalized just over two minutes into the game for holding. Halfway into the man advantage, Russian forward Nikita Kucherov was left all alone beside the net. Teammate Mikhail Grigorenko found him with a pass and he promptly shot in in the glove side of goalie Patrik Rybar for the 1-0 lead.
Two minutes later, Emil Bagin was sent to the penalty box for two minutes on an interference call. The Slovaks once again left a Russian player open down low, this time it was Anton Ivanyuzhenkov, who took a pass from Maxim Shalunov and put it on the net. Rybar was able to stop the initial shot, but the ensuing rebound went straight onto the stick of Vladimir Tkachev, who shot it past Rybar to put the Russians up by two goals.
Despite the power play goals by Russia, Slovakia still could not avoid taking penalties, and the bench of the Slovak penalty box remained warm for most of the first period. The refs finally called a penalty on Russia after the Slovaks had taken their fourth, but the 4-on-4 play seemed to suit the Russians just fine, as Grigorenko took a pass down the middle, split the defenders and below Rybar’s glove to increase the lead to 3-0.
Slovak frustrations boiled over in the second period. Defender Peter Bezuska was given a ten minute game misconduct for checking from behind, and the weakened Slovak defensive corps allowed Russia two quick goals, the first from Shalunov and another by Anton Slepyshev off of a breakaway. While Slovakia was able to notch a power play goal courtesy of Filip Vasko and another in the third, the Russians didn’t look back, potting three more goals in the third period to seal the game.
Finland vs. Norway 5-2 (2-0, 1-2, 2-0) Game Sheet Photos
DRESDEN – The Finns let a two-goal lead slip away, but regained their composure and overcame an outstanding effort by Norwegian goaltender Steffen Sodberg to win 5-2 in their first match of the preliminary round.
Everything went according to plan early on for Team Finland, one of the favourites going into the tournament. Miro Aaltonen opened the scoring at 13:28, and Tomi Wilenius added another marker less than two minutes later.
With Norway managing little in terms of offence, Finland was looking comfortable in the driver’s seat. But a funny thing happened early on in the second period.
First, Norway’s Endre Medby found the back of the net on a power play following a tripping call against the Finns. Then the Norwegians killed off two successive penalties and tied the game at 2-2 following a goal by Andreas Heier.
Though Norway’s offence was finding some success, the real star of the game was Sodberg, who by the end of the second had stopped 30 shots. Sodberg would end up stopping 51 of 56 shots on goal, compared to his Finnish counterpart Samu Perhonen, who was not quite as busy and only had to make 11 saves through the whole game.
Despite Sodberg’s strong showing, he was unable to stop Finland from adding the go-ahead goal just before the end of the second period, as Miika Salonaki converted a power play opportunity for the Finns. Salomaki and teammate Kalle Torniainen added a goal each and Norway’s attack fizzled out in the third period, giving Finland the 5-2 victory.