Ask the Experts II
by Andrew Podnieks|04 MAY 2021
Hulking defenceman Simon Edvinsson played his best game in the quarter-finals against the U.S.
photo: Chris Tanouye / HHOF-IIHF Images
share’s Lucas Aykroyd and Andrew Podnieks have had time to reflect on their answers in round one of ATE, and now, as the writers congregate (virtually) for the semi-finals and medal games in Frisco, they weigh in on the core issues as the U18 reaches its climax. So here we go!

Most Important Goal

Aykroyd: Sweden’s Fabian Lysell had two goals, not three, in the 5-2 quarter-final win over the Americans. However, the 18-year-old Lulea forward’s eventual winner – a perfect shot high to Gibson Homer’s stick side off the rush at 1:26 of the third period – constituted a hat trick of sorts all the same. First, it eliminated the host team. Second, it ended a record-setting U.S. medal streak that spanned 16 tournaments (nine gold, four silver, three bronze). And third, it kept alive Sweden’s dream of repeating as champions.

Podnieks: Confidence and momentum are so critical in a short tournament like this, so I’m going to go back to Finland’s first game, against Russia. Suomi trailed 3-1 in the third, but a late goal by Samu Tuomaala with the extra attacker led to a 4-3 win in the penalty-shot shootout and propelled Finland to the semis. If Russia won 3-2 or 4-2, Finland might not have had that feeling of invincibility it has nurtured over the last week.

1st Overall Draft Choice

Owen Power and Luke Hughes have been considered favourites for the first overall pick for the 2021 draft. Has the play of any of the top players here changed scouts’ minds on that?

Aykroyd: If the NHL – in these unprecedented times, as they say – expanded its draft to include underage players, both of the 2023 front-runners would be in play. Connor Bedard, 15, and Matvei Michkov, 16, have been spectacular. But there won’t be a rule change, so I’ll say no. Top 2021-eligible prospects like Dylan Guenther, Simon Edvinsson, and Samu Tuomaala have performed well, but not miraculously.

Podnieks: Simon Edvinsson was a beast in the third period against the U.S. in the quarter-finals, and Shane Wright has been great for Canada, only upping his status for the 2022 draft. Not having either Power or Hughes here is too bad, but their reputations and reports are first-rate and they don’t need the tournament to prove themselves. Another top prospect for this year, Dylan Guenther has been terrific, but on a Canadian team stacked with talent he has not stood out to any exceptional degree to surpass Power or Hughes.

Biggest Disappointment?

Podnieks: Given the amazing streak of 16 medals in a row, and playing at home, and getting a pretty decent season in during the pandemic, it was completely shocking to see the U.S. lose to Sweden. The Swedes just looked sharper, crisper, more prepared, and the Americans didn’t have their usual killer tenacity down the stretch. That Fabian Lysell goal 43 seconds after the U.S. tied it was a real back-breaker, but there was still half a game left. Puzzling and disappointing.

Aykroyd: Watching the Czech Republic get outscored 21-4 in its last two games against Russia (11-1) and Canada (10-3). To be fair, coach Jakub Petr didn’t have a stacked roster, and the hopes of returning to the medal podium for the first time since 2014’s surprising silver were always slim. But look at the Swiss. They were outscored 9-0 in their last two games against Canada (7-0) and Finland (2-0), but they went out on their shield in the quarter-final, blocking shots and pushing to the bitter end. The Czechs could have kept it closer, as they proved in their 2-1 shootout loss to the Americans during the preliminary round.

Best Coach?

Aykroyd: Tough to argue with Canada’s Dave Barr. He’s maximized his great depth, and his team has truly committed to two-way hockey. Canada has never trailed, like Pat Quinn’s 2004 World Cup of Hockey team or Mike Babcock’s 2014 Olympic team. Of course, the key phrase is “so far.” Andre Tourigny’s World Junior team in Edmonton never trailed either until the 2-0 loss to the Trevor Zegras-led Americans in the gold-medal game. No room for complacency!

Podnieks: Who is Albert Leshyov for 500? The Russian coach seems to have done more with less this year. Russia entered the tournament with seemingly few top prospects, and no one knew much about Michkov. Yet Russia has scored 32 goals, second most after Canada, and is in the semi-finals. 

Early MVP Signs?

Podnieks: This is the hardest to predict because you’d like the MVP to be the guy who does something special under the greatest pressure—score the golden goal, make the big save in the final minute. But Samu Tuomaala has scored critical third-period goals in three games and has been a standout in every way for Finland.

Aykroyd: Matvei Michkov. He’s already made a permanent impression with his 10 goals – whether or not he breaks the single-tournament record (14) held by Alexander Ovechkin and 2019 MVP Cole Caufield.

Medal Winners?

Aykroyd: With a 38-8 goal difference, the Canadians have been bulletproof so far, and it would be foolhardy to bet against them for the gold medal. I can’t see Sweden stopping Canada in the semi-finals, not after the 12-1 group-stage thrashing. As for the other matchup, Russia is frighteningly opportunistic – as in 16 goals on 69 shots in their last two games – and goalie Sergei Ivanov is there to bail out his team when necessary. Conversely, the Finns’ inability to muster more than two goals against underdog Switzerland is a bit concerning, but it was a bounceback quarter-final win after a tough 5-4 OT loss to the Americans. So I’ll predict Canada for gold, Russia for silver, and Finland for bronze.

Podnieks: I agree with Lucas on the gold. Canada has everything, really, an abundance of riches. But I’ll swap silver and bronze. The Finns have proved resilient and have shown an ability to do what it takes to win, so I think they’ll take silver and Russia bronze.