2

Team Canada Game Day Preview: Semi-Finals vs Russia

Team Canada punched their ticket to the semi-finals with a win over the Czech Republic on Saturday night and now, they will have to pass their toughest test yet as they have a semi-final matchup against a Russian group that many considered the co-favourites to win the gold medal when the tournament began.

For Canada, the win over the Czech Republic was not their best of the tournament, but there were still plenty of positives to pull from it.

They were actually outshot 29-25 in the game and allowed the Czechs to get 11 shots in the third period. It was the first time this tournament that Canada didn’t outshoot their opposition and that’s certainly a concern, especially considering how dangerous Russia’s group of forwards is.

On the positive side of things, Devon Levi was very good, stopping all 29 shots. He’s looked tremendous since the tournament began. Coming into this year’s tournament, goaltending was really the biggest question mark surrounding Team Canada and Levi has turned out to be one of their most consistent players. His 0.64 GAA and 0.967 SV% are second only to Dustin Wolf (USA) and Wolf has played just twice. 

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

In a tournament that’s filled with first-round picks and high-end NHL prospects, it’s pretty remarkable that Levi has found a way to be one of, if not the best goaltender at the event.

Their blueline has been very good as well. Bowen Bryan and Jamie Drysdale have been getting a lot of attention, and rightfully so, but Thomas Harley, Kaiden Guhle, and Justin Barron have also all been very good.

Head Coach Andre Tourigny shook up his forward lines during the team’s quarterfinal game trying to give his group a bit of a spark and we still don’t know what his plan will be heading into tonight’s game against Russia. He clearly wasn’t happy with what he was getting from his forwards.

Canada will need a much better effort from its group of forwards. Specifically, they’ll need to finish off chances. The depth and skill in Canada’s forward group is still their biggest strength and tonight, they’ll need that group to perform like their biggest strength against a very good Russian team.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Tonight’s game is also a rematch of last year’s gold medal game, so there’s no doubt that Team Russia will have revenge on their minds. It should be an absolutely incredible game, as it usually is when these two countries meet.

THE OPPOSITION

This Russian team is very good. They have plenty of high-end forwards capable of taking over a game, solid depth, a mobile group of defensemen, and one of the most talented goaltenders in the tournament, Yaroslav Askarov. If they beat Canada tonight, you wouldn’t even call it an upset. They’re legit.

Now, they have been a little inconsistent throughout this tournament. If you take out the win over Austria, where they scored seven goals, they’ve only scored 11 goals in their other four games. For how good skilled their group of forwards are, I’m surprised they haven’t scored more.

I mentioned Askarov and while he has been good, he hasn’t been unbeatable by any means. He’s allowed nine goals in four games including a total of six in two games against Sweden and the USA, which were the two toughest opponents he’s faced.

Askarov along with Canucks prospect Vasili Podkolzin, Leafs prospect Rodion Amirov, and Wild second-round pick Marat Khusnutdinov are the team’s best players and will likely be the key players if Russia wins but it is worth noting that they have six other skaters with at least three points in the tournament. They’re a deep group and Canada won’t be able to take any shifts off.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

WHAT I’M EXPECTING

When these two teams met in a pre-tournament game, Canada was able to walk away with 1-0 victory. That won’t be enough today. Canada’s quest for a second straight gold medal hinges on three things. Devon Levi continuing to be an incredible story, significant contributions from forwards not named Dylan Cozens, and timely special teams. If they get those three things, they will win this game. My prediction: 4-2 win for Team Canada.

THE OILERS

Canada’s Dylan Holloway (10) and Russia’s Maxim Groshev (28) work for the puck during the first period of a game leading up to the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championships, Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2020, in Edmonton, Alberta. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP)

Dylan Holloway was moved off the top line and to the middle of the ice for the third period of the game against the Czech Republic. I thought Holloway was playing a pretty good game and I don’t think the move to the second line was a product of his play. I just think Andre Tourigny wanted to try and spark his team a little bit. 

Holloway continues to impress me with his tenacity on the forecheck and as I said earlier in the tournament, I think he’ll become more impactful as the games get tighter and little plays stand out more. It will be interesting to see if he sticks at centre tonight.

As for Phillip Broberg, his tournament is unfortunately over after the Swedes lost to the Finns in heartbreaking fashion. It didn’t end up being a great tournament for Broberg who dominated in his first game of the tournament but didn’t stand out much after that due to a nagging leg injury. It’s really a shame that he wasn’t healthy.

AROUND THE WJC

The other semi-final taking place today features a matchup between Team USA and Team Finland, who is coming off an incredibly emotional victory over Sweden in the quarterfinals. Team USA is definitely the favourite coming into this one, but I think there’s a decent chance we see an upset here. The Americans didn’t look great against Slovakia whole the Finns should be feeling on top of the world after the way they beat Sweden. Some say that momentum does not carry over from game to game but I think at this tournament it kind of does.

The USA is the better team but it’s far from a lock that they win tonight.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

It’s worth noting that both the gold and bronze medal games go tomorrow night.