A different New Year’s Eve
by Andrew Podnieks|31 DEC 2023
Sweden has yet ot allow a goal at the 2024 IIHF World Juniors.
photo: © International Ice Hockey Federation / Matt Zambonin
There are few dates on the hockey calendar more reliably thrilling than New Year’s Eve at the World Junior Championship. It’s traditionally the last day of the group stage, when quarter-finals matchups are determined, and there is a sense of goodbye and hello as the calendar flips to a new year.

In the past, there have been some matchups we have come to expect or hope for, and there are some rivalries that have made New Year’s Eve an integral part of the story. For instance, Canada and the United States have played ten times on this date, more than any other countries (but, most recently, 2016). Sweden and Russia have played seven times, and Sweden-Czechia and Czechia-Russia have met six times.

But this year in Gothenburg we will see some non-traditional games. They still have that importance and they still are the final games of the 2023 year, but they are a little different. 

Herewith is a brief primer of what to expect.

United States-Slovakia, Frolundaborg, 12.00

These teams have played only twice on New Year’s Eve previously, both American victories. In 2012, it was 9-3, and back in 2002, 3-1. But this year it turns out this is a massive game, the winner taking first place in Group B. The Slovaks currently have 9 points and the U.S. 8, and a Slovak win would give them top spot for only the third time since the current tournament format was adopted in 1996 (1999, 2002). They also won the last meeting, 6-3 last year, but, of course, the Americans have to be the favourites in this one given their more consistent and higher level of success over the years. Still, a game that a week ago might have seemed of middling interest is now front and centre.

Sweden-Finland, Scandinavium, 14.30

One of hockey’s greatest rivalries, they have for the most part managed to avoid each other on the final calendar day, having played only twice on this date at the U20. The most recent came in 2012, a 7-4 Sweden win. Prior to that, Sweden won 7-1 in 2009. Can Sweden score seven again in 2023? Not likely, although Finland hasn’t been super impressive yet, winning only one of their three games, while Sweden has a spotless 3-0 record and no goals against. A Sweden win would give them first place in the group, but more important Finland, currently in fourth, is trying to move up in the standings to avoid the top seed in Group B for the quarter-finals (Slovakia or United States).

Czechia-Switzerland, Frolundaborg, 17.00

This New Year’s Eve rivalry is but three lines long, all wins for the Czechs. In 2017, they won, 6-3. In 2012, it was 4-3 in overtime, and in 2006 it was 4-2. It is a game perhaps not that important in the standings but a game both teams want to win to build momentum for the quarters. Czechia, in third, has four points while Switzerland, in fourth, has three points. Whichever team finishes third will avoid having to face either Sweden or Canada, but the fourth-place team will also play either Sweden or Canada. In other words, pick your poison.

Canada-Germany, Scandinavium, 19.30

Although they have played 28 times at the World Juniors, they have never met on 31 December. What a way to close out 2023—a first-time matchup with first place in Group A on the line for Canada (possibly) and a quarter-finals berth in the balance for the Germans. Indeed, a German win would give the team a place in the playoffs, while a loss might send them to the relegation game. The dynamics of the standings are ever-changing, so the German mindset has to be win and control their destiny. But Canada has won 27 of those 28 games between the teams, the lone German W coming back in 1981.