Recapping the 2020 World Junior Championships

The World Junior Championships came to an end Sunday with the playing of the medal games. Sweden took on Finland in the Bronze medal game, while Canada and Russia faced off for the Gold.

The first of the two games was between the Swedes and the Fins for the Bronze medal. Finland jumped out to a 1-0 lead nearly nine minutes into the first period. A shot from the left dot went off Carolina Hurricanes prospect Patrik Puistola’s foot and ended up in the back of the net. It was only four minutes later that the Swedes went on the power play and tied it up. Maple Leafs prospect Rasmus Sandin ripped a wrist shot home off an assist from Rangers prospect Nils Lundkvist.

With each team exchanging chances, the game was knotted at one with a little over a minute left to play in the first period. It was then that Canucks prospect Nils Hoglander tossed a pizza across his own blue line to the middle of the ice that was intercepted by Matias Maccelli. Maccelli walked in on a breakaway and buried the go-ahead goal making it 2-1 at the end of the first period.

The second period started with the Fins having momentum from the end of the first. After 10 minutes of play with no scoring, Canucks prospect Nils Hoglander came down on a 2v1 with WJC leading goal scorer, and Kings prospect Samuel Fagemo. Hoglander shot for the far pad, and a rebound came right out in front of the Finnish net. Fagemo, trailing on the backside, came in and finished the play, tying the game at two. It was just a few minutes later that the Swedes took a 3-2 lead on a power-play goal by Linus Oberg.

The Swedes closed the game in the third period, beating the Fins 3-2 and claiming the Bronze Medal.

Notes: Nils Lundkvist was fantastic for the Swedes finishing the tournament with seven assists, and eight points. Karl Henriksson centered 2020 top prospects Lucas Raymond and Alexander Holtz throughout the tournament as he typically does internationally. Holtz and Raymond will be potential targets for the Rangers in the upcoming 2020 draft.

The second of the two games was between Canada and Russia for the Gold medal. Coming into this game, the biggest story was whether or not Team Canada’s captain and Coyotes prospect Barett Hayton was going to play. In the semi-final game the day before, Hayton took a nasty spill and slid into the boards, crunching his shoulder. Many thought that the injury was going to hold him out, but the captain was not going to miss this one.

Another major story in this game was that Russian goaltender, and arguably the top goalie prospect in the world, Yaroslav Askarov, was benched for this game. Askarov will likely be a top-10 pick in the upcoming 2020 draft. Before recapping the game, I just want to add that this was one of the best WJC Finals that I have seen in quite some time.

The first period kicked off with a lot of juice for both teams, as well as the fans. The arena was loud, the fans were into it, and the game got off to a great start. An exciting first period that included a post hit by Blue Jackets prospect Liam Foudy, Barett Hayton playing with an injury, and a plethora of penalties, ended in a 0-0 tie. Like the first period, the second period was much of the same; a ton of excitement but both teams kept off the score sheet for quite some time. It wasn’t until Yegor Zemula took a shot from the point that got deflected into the back of the Canadian net and gave the Russians the first goal of the game.

After consecutive penalties by the Russians moments after their goal, the Canadians found themselves on a 5v3. Just 20 seconds into the two-man advantage, Sabres prospect Dylan Cozens put away the tying goal, cleaning up a shot from 2020 top prospect Alexis Lafrenière. It was just three minutes later that the Russians took back the lead on a goal from Grigori Denisenko. At the end of two, the Russians went into the room with a 2-1 lead.

The third period began with the Canadians on the power play, and a chance to tie the game but they failed to do so. Nearly nine minutes into the second period, the Russians extended their lead to 3-1 on a goal from Maxim Sorkin. The Canadians had their backs against the wall and needed their big guns to step up.

In less than one minute, the Canadians cut the lead in half on a goal from Connor McMichael. A shot from the dot bounced around and went off McMichael and into the back of the Russian net. Soon after, the Canadians found themselves on the power play. It was at 8:38 when captain Barett Hayton tied the game. Hayton, who was battling a shoulder injury, played and gave his team much needed life.

Just four minutes later, the Canadians scored what would be the Gold Medal clinching goal. Kings prospect Akil Thomas received a stretch pass that he caught up to in front of the Russian netminder, and buried on the doorstep. It was an incredible game, as well as tournament. The Canadians claimed the Gold medal, with the Russians claiming Silver, and Sweden Bronze.

Five Rangers prospect played in the tournament: K’Andre Miller (USA), Zac Jones (USA), Nils Lundkvist (Sweden), Karl Henriksson (Sweden), and Nico Gross (Switzerland).

To me, Zac Jones and Nils Lundkvist were the standouts. Lundkvist finished the tournament with eight points, while Jones was extremely impressive throughout. K’Andre Miller had his lumps defensively but showed the flashes of brilliance we all know about.

Future 2020 first overall pick Alexis Lafrenière is as good as advertised. He was the tournament MVP, and deservedly so. He finished the tournament with a 4-6-10 line in five games.

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