Russia – Switzerland 4-3 (2-0, 1-0, 1-3)
MINSK – Russia made it into the semi-finals at this year’s World U18 Championship after earning a 4-3 win against Switzerland. Russia held a 4-0 lead with five minutes left in regulation when Switzerland had an incredible comeback to pull within one. Ultimately, time ran out on the Swiss efforts, but it was a positive end for the determined Alp nation.
The Swiss have had an impressive run at the event and put in a gutsy performance today, but couldn’t get over the hump against the bigger, stronger, skilled Russians. Swiss goaltender Lukas Meili was put through the ringer by the Russians but stood his ground, allowing his team to mount an occasional counterattack.
Ultimately, the Swiss had a few minor breakdowns that cost them dearly. Evgeni Kuznetsov put in the 1-0 shorthanded goal just over five minutes into action with a deke that would make Alexander Ovechkin proud. Maxim Shalunov doubled the lead three minutes later, but the Swiss buckled down after the goal and held the Russians scoreless for more than 20 minutes before surrendering the 3-0 goal. Roman Berdnikov forced the puck in mid-game for the important third goal just as a Russian power-play expired.
Berdnikov put in his second goal of the game for the 4-0 lead, seemingly putting the game out of reach for the Swiss. But a late comeback bid by Switzerland made the last five minutes a thriller for the sold out Palace of Sports crowd. Reto Schmutz and Kaj Leuenberger scored two goals coming 35 seconds apart in the twilight of the game, making it 4-2.
The Russians still sensed they were safe when Gregory Hoffman scored with the extra attacker on the ice to make it a surprising one-goal affair. The Swiss pushed until the last second, but couldn’t come up with the game-tying goal and are now bound for the fifth-place game.
Both of last year’s finalists, USA and Russia, are into the next round and on track to make it into the finals again. But before punching their card for the gold medal game, the Russians will have to overcome Sweden tomorrow in the semi-finals, while the Americans will need to top Sweden.
The Russians have been in the finals the last three years, but the last time they took the U18 gold was in 2007.
United States – Czech Republic 6-0 (2-0, 3-0, 1-0)
MINSK – USA will skate in its ninth straight semi-final at the World U18 Championship after dominating the Czech Republic 6-0 in today’s quarterfinal in Minsk.
The U.S. broke the game open late in the second period, taking advantage of Czech penalty problems with two power-play goals in a five-minute span to go ahead 4-0. American Austin Czarnik was the biggest nemesis for the Czechs, putting in three goals, including two in the second-period surge.
The U.S. was clearly the stronger team, but held only a 2-0 lead at the end of the first period after putting in a quick pair less than two minutes apart.
The Czechs had the chance to cut the lead in half with many chances on their lone power-play of the second period, but the momentum was killed when the tide turned dramatically with a five-on-three for the U.S. The Americans hit a post just as the two-man advantage expired, but made up for it with three seconds left in the five-on-four when Austin Czarnik put in the 3-0 tally with an odd-angle shot.
After that, the Americans dominated the period as Nick Shore put in another power-play goal, while Czarnik followed up 20 second later with the 5-0 marker. The goal was the end the game for Czech goaltender Libor Kasik, who was replaced by Roman Will. On the other end of the ice Jack Campbell had little excitement facing only eight shots in the first 40 minutes.
It was more of the same in the third period when Bryan Rust jammed in the 6-0 goal – also on the power play. It was the lone goal of the period as Will managed to keep the Americans in check, but could do little to prevent the eventual loss.
In their eight trips to the semi-finals, the Americans have only gone home empty handed once, in 2003. The defending champions currently have a six-year medal streak. Last year, the Americans also played their quarterfinal game against the Czechs and won 6-2. They went on to top Canada, 2-1, in the semis and Russia, 5-0, for the gold.
The Czechs will play in their second straight fifth-place game. They lost the placement game last year, 4-2, against Sweden.
Slovakia – Belarus 5-1 (1-0, 2-1, 2-0)
BOBRUISK – After losing its first relegation round game today against Slovakia, 5-1, it would take a miracle for host Belarus to stay in the top division at the World U18 Championship.
Slovakia, meanwhile, is essentially safe from relegation after today’s win as it would also take an extraordinary string of events to send the Slovaks into third or fourth place. Slovakia now has six points in the group and Belarus is still looking for its first point at this year’s event.
It looked like it would be ugly for Belarus early in the game when Petr Trska scored just 19 seconds after the opening face-off. But Belarus re-grouped after the quick goal and held the Slovaks scoreless through the rest of the period.
Unfortunately for Belarus, it started the second period on its heels again, allowing the 2-0 goal just 40 seconds into action. Belarus again regrouped, as the teams exchanged goals to close the second period at 3-1. Slovakia’s Marek Tvrdon scored twice in the third period to bring the final to 5-1
Both teams have the day off tomorrow as Canada and Latvia are the only game in Bobruisk. If Canada wins that game, then both Belarus and Latvia would get relegated, while Slovakia and Canada would return to next year’s top division. Should Latvia win the game, the group remains wide open.
(Nathan also is a writer for Maineiacs Post to Post and the Maine Hockey Journal. He can be reached at email@example.com)