Buckle up kids, the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championships is about to be pure fire.
Monday brings the semifinals and the cream of the crop has risen to the top with four of the “Big Five” powerhouses set to battle for a spot in the gold medal game. Both semi-finals are also rematches of the 2020 medal round meetings. Two sides will surely seek revenge.
Canada took first place in Group A and the tournament, while the United States won Group B and will face Russia and Finland respectively. We dare say that this puts the two American squadrons on a collision course. But before we get there, let’s dive into the semi-finals.
World Juniors 2021: Semi-final predictions
Canada vs. Russia
How did they get here
Canada swept through the competition with a perfect 4-0 in the preliminary round, beating their opponents 33-4, before knocking out the Czech Republic in the quarterfinals. Russia sent the United States in its eyelid lifter and was later caught off guard and excluded by that same Czech squad. The team rallied to win the next three, including a tough quarter-final encounter with upstart Germany. These two teams also met in their only exhibition game, but the headline for that contest was the loss of Captain Kirby Dach to a wrist injury.
A long-standing rivalry, these two fighters battled for gold last year with the Canadians showing courage, determination and unwavering confidence in their squad. Trailing 3-1 in the third period, they came back by scoring three unanswered goals, including an impressive backhand from Akil Thomas as he was falling with 3:58 left in the game, to seal the victory 4-3. Before Canada won gold, these two countries met in the 2020 preliminary round, where Russia gave Canada the worst defeat in their world youth history.
CANADA vs. RUSSIA 2020: Preliminary round | Gold medal game
Six players return from the 2020 gold medal-winning team (Quinton Byfield, Bowen Byram, Dylan Cozens, Jamie Drysdale, Connor McMichael and Dawson Mercer), while Russia sees three from their silver medal squad (Yaroslav Askarov, Vasily Podkolzin and Maxim Groshev). The head coaches also return as “The Professor” Igor Larionov was promoted from assistant last year as was Canada’s chief banker Andre Tourigny, who does not think they are very emotional despite the number of returnees.
“I think it’s enough, we don’t have to add anything,” Tourigny said. “The history between Canada and Russia is well documented and everyone knows how great the game will be and there is nothing bigger than that right now … I think it will be a great game.”
Some statistics to know
- Dylan Cozens: seven goals, 13 points (second best in tournament)
- Energy efficiency: Canada: 31.25 percent (5 of 16); Russia: 30.7 percent (4 out of 13)
- Death penalty: Canada – 75 percent (12 out of 16); Russia: 94.12 percent (16 of 17)
X Factor: Devon Levi
Like the quarterfinals, Levi will be critical to Canada’s success in this one. The goalkeeper has started every game (he was thrown against Germany to get Dylan Garand some time) and has allowed only three goals, all in the power game. Before the quarterfinals, he had only faced 61 shots; Against the Czechs, he once again showed strong positioning and a calm and firm presence despite facing an onslaught (29 shots) which was something he enjoyed.
“It was a lot of fun being busy in the first period. It really keeps you in the game,” said Levi, who took 12 shots on frame before getting his second shutout of the tournament. “It’s a different kind of game, right? So in the previous games it was a bit more difficult to stay focused. I found that in this game it was easy to have fun and go out and play, for sure.”
The big number: 0
In the last two games, the Canadians have laid chicken eggs in the power play, going 0 of 6 (0 of 1 against the Czechs). Since the start of the tournament on Boxing Day, they have scored just five goals in 16 opportunities and the goals came against the weakest opponents in their group – two against Germany and three against Austria. Russia has been good, really good, on penalties with 16 of 17, so it will be a difficult task ahead, but it could be essential to advance to the game for the gold medal.
Choice of SN: Canada, 4-3
United States vs. Finland
How did they get here
The Americans lost their first tournament to Russia, left it behind and then came out and topped Group B with three straight wins. They had a little scare in the quarter-finals against a tough Slovak side, but advanced with a 5-2 win much closer than the scoreboard. As for Finland, they won some tight matches before losing in the preliminary round against Canada. In the quarterfinals, it was the “Battle of Scandinavia” where the Finns rallied from a 2-0 hole to avenge their 2020 bronze medal loss to Sweden; Maple Leafs prospect Roni Hirvonen scored with just 23.3 seconds left in regulation time to seal the victory.
Like the other semi-final, these two teams met in an exhibition match that saw the Americans win 3-2.
This could really be tagged as 2019 and 2020 history. Two years ago, the Finns beat the United States in the gold medal game when now-Ranger Kaapo Kakko scored the lead goal with 1:26 left. Last year, Finland blanked the Americans in the quarterfinals, dashing the hopes of the Americans for the fifth year in a row with a medal.
Eight players return from last year’s team for the USA (Bobby Brink, Cole Caufield, Arthur Kaliyev, Spencer Knight, Alex Turcotte, Dustin Wolf, Cam York and Trevor Zegras), while Knight was one of three goals in 2019. For Finland, there are five boys returning from 2020 (Santeri Hatakka, Ville Heinola, Mikko Kokkonen, Kari Piiroinen and Aku Raty); Heinola and Anton Lundell, who missed last year with injury, also won gold two years ago.
United States vs. FINLAND: 2019 | 2020
Some statistics to know
- Trevor Zegras (USA): nine assists and 15 points (first in the tournament)
- Power Play Percentage: US – 42.11 (8 of 19); Finland – 40.00 (6 of 15)
- Penalty percentage: United States – 87.5 (7 of 8); Finland – 84.21 (16 of 19)
- Penalty minutes (less than two minutes): US —10; Finland – 21
X Factor: Bobby Brink
The Flyers prospect has been a thorn in the side for goalkeepers in 2021. He has scored two goals, both on goal, and has four assistants. Teaming up with John Farinacci and Brett Berard, the line has been dominant in games, especially on the forecheck check that led to Farinacci’s sure goal in the quarterfinals. Along with the top six, having a third line that can create opportunities gives head coach Nate Leaman flexibility with the lineup.
The big number: 21
Of the four remaining teams, Finland has been the most undisciplined with 19 power plays for the opposition. Considering that the United States has the best power play percentage in the tournament with eight goals, this bodes well for the Americans. Special teams could be critical in this one and it should be noted that the Americans have only allowed one goal when short-staffed.
Choice of SN: United States, 4-2
World Juniors 2021 odds to win the gold medal
Betting odds courtesy of DraftKings to January 1.
Final World Juniors 2021 Teams
- Bronze medal: Russia
- Silver medal: U.S
- Gold medal: Canada
MORE: Hockey Experts Choose Who Will Win Gold
World Juniors 2021: Latest news
- Time, TV channel, live broadcast, where, when, schedule
- How has COVID-19 impacted the tournament?
- Rosters, NHL draft status, 10-team jersey numbers
- Breakdown of prospects for all NHL teams
- Predictions: Hockey experts choose who will win the gold
- It’s gold or bankrupt ‘: NHL players remember World Youth Championship memories
- A team-by-team guide to the U-20 championship
- Dach, Caufield, and the four main stories
- Oilers’ Philip Broberg impresses with three assists for Sweden
- Senators’ Tim Stuetzle scores twice in Germany’s overtime win
- Predictions, Odds, X Factors, Breakdowns for Quarter Finals
- Leafs prospect Roni Hirvonen sends Finland to semifinals with late goal
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.