FARGO-MOORHEAD, USA – On the last day of Preliminary Round action, Finland hammered Slovakia 7-0 to claim first place in Group B, and the USA took second over Russia despite losing 6-5 to the Russians. Earlier, Canada defeated Sweden 4-2 for top spot in Group A, and Switzerland beat Germany 8-3 en route to relegation play.
Canada and Finland get automatic byes into Friday's semi-finals. In Thursday's quarter-finals, the USA will play the Czech Republic and Russia will play Sweden.
Russia – USA 6-5 (0-2, 3-1, 3-2)
In one of the most exciting games of the 2009 IIHF World U18 Championship so far, Russia outlasted the USA despite being outshot 55-26. Vladimir Tarasenko sparked the Russian attack with three goals and an assist.
Finland, the USA, and Russia finished tied with 9 points apiece after the Preliminary Round and were tied with three points apiece in head-to-head games. Finland obtained top spot in Group B and a bye into the semi-finals due to its superior goal differential (10-8) based solely on games between those three teams, which is the first IIHF tiebreaker. The USA (9-9) got second and Russia (10-11) third.
In Thursday's quarter-finals, the USA will play the Czech Republic and Russia will play Sweden.
After an early penalty parade, the Americans jumped out to a 2-0 first-period lead on goals by William Wrenn and Chris Brown.
But the Russians roared back to grab a 3-2 lead midway through the second period, as Evgeni Kuznetsov, Vladimir Tarasenko, and Kirill Kabanov scored. Jeremy Morin knotted the score at 3-3 at 14:17 of the middle frame.
However, even after William Wrenn put the Americans up 4-3 on the power play early in the third, the Russians couldn't be contained. Tarasenko tied the game at 8:50 of the third, and then completed his hat trick, putting Russia up 5-4 with a solo shorthanded effort less than two minutes later. Maxim Kitsyn scored what proved to be the winner with under four minutes left, as Jeremy Morin's second of the game brought the USA close but not close enough.
The Americans pulled goalie Adam Murray for the extra attacker with less than a minute to go, but the victory belonged to Russian netminder Igor Bobkov.
Slovakia – Finland 0-7 (0-3, 0-2, 0-2)
The line of Toni Rajala, Mikael Granlund, and Teemu Pulkkinen continued its torrid pace, combining for 10 points as Finland blanked Slovakia in its Preliminary Round closer.
Finland, the USA, and Russia finished tied with 9 points apiece after the Preliminary Round and were tied with three points apiece in head-to-head games. Finland obtained first place in Group B and a bye into the semi-finals due to its superior goal differential (10-8) based solely on games between those three teams, which is the first IIHF tiebreaker. The USA (9-9) got second and Russia (10-11) third.
Finnish goalie Joni Ortio got his first shutout of the tournament as Finland outshot Slovakia 55-11.
Toni Rajala set the tone by scoring just 28 seconds into the game. Jere Laaksonen made it 2-0 at 6:10, and then Teemu Pulkkinen finished off a play with his linemates at 13:49.
That was all the Finns really needed, but they pumped in two more goals in each of the remaining periods. Remarkably, they didn't score on the power play until Mikael Aaltonen's 7-0 goal with just over 10 minutes to play. That was the end of Slovak goalie Juraj Holly's night, and he was replaced by Tomas Pek. After that, the teams closed out the game with a string of penalties.
Canada – Sweden 4-2 (2-0, 1-2, 1-0)
Joey Hishon led the way with two goals as Canada earned top spot in Group A in a hard-fought battle that was hyped as a potential preview of 2009 and 2010 NHL first-round picks. The Swedes, who finished second, will face off in quarter-finals action Thursday against the third-place team in Group B.
Brett Connolly added a goal and an assist and John McFarland had two helpers for Canada, which finished the Preliminary Round with three regulation-time wins and one overtime win.
The defending champions managed to hold such highly touted offensive forces as Magnus Svensson-Paajarvi and Oliver Ekman-Larsson off the scoresheet.
Canada broke the game open late in the first period when Byron Froese and Hishon scored goals 36 seconds apart. Sweden responded early in the second period with Gabriel Landeskog's power play goal, but Hishon beat Swedish goalie Robin Lehner on a rebound to make it 3-1 at the five minute-mark.
Tre Kronor wasn't finished, however. Tim Erixon cut the deficit to 3-1 at 11:40 of the middle frame on the power play.
Back and forth the teams went in the third period, but Sweden simply couldn't solve Canadian netminder Michael Zador despite firing 16 shots on goal. Connolly sealed Canada's victory with an empty-netter with 16 seconds left.
On the night, Canada outshot Sweden 43-38. Last year, Canada edged Sweden 3-2 in the semi-finals en route to gold.
Switzerland – Germany 8-3 (1-0, 4-2, 3-1)
Talk about a disappointing day for Deutschland.On Tuesday, the Germans had a chance to secure a quarter-final berth at the IIHF World U18 Championship for the second straight year. All they needed was a single point versus Switzerland. But instead, the Swiss played spoilers in Moorhead, building an insurmountable second-period lead en route to their first tournament victory.
The result means both Germany and Switzerland will compete in the Relegation Round this year.
Nino Nieddereiter paced the Swiss attack with two goals and an assist, while Sven Bartschi and Reto Schappi had a goal and an assist apiece. Romain Loffel added a pair of helpers.
The Swiss got off to a sloppy start, as goalie Benjamin Conz took a delay-of-game penalty at 3:22 and his teammates followed that up with a too-many-players-on-the-ice minor at 6:18. But Nino Nieddereiter opened the scoring for Switzerland with four minutes left in the first period.
Then, to the shock of German fans, Matthias Rossi and Sven Bartschi extended Switzerland's lead to 3-0 with two goals in 28 seconds early in the second period.
By the midway point, the Germans had clawed their way back into contention with an even-strength tally from Julian Bogner and a power-play marker by Dennis Steinhauer.
But five minutes after the latter goal, Nieddereiter made it 4-2 for the Swiss with the eventual game-winner on a feed from Mathieu Maret. Reto Schappi closed out the second-period scoring for Switzerland, beating German netminder Lukas Steinhauer at 18:56 with the man advantage.
The Swiss added insult to injury in the third period, pumping in three more goals, while Marcel Ohmann got one more past Conz with under seven minutes remaining.
It was a far cry from the last Germany-Switzerland meeting at this tournament. On April 21, 2005, Germany blanked Switzerland 2-0 in the Relegation Round.
(Nathan also is a writer for Maineiacs Post to Post and the Maine Hockey Journal. He can be reached at email@example.com)