BOBRUISK – Sweden came back from a 2-0 deficit to beat defending U18 champion United States, 4-2, in both teams’ opening game at this year’s U18 World Championship.
The Americans controlled the first half of the game, but basically fell flat when the Swedes started applying pressure mid-game.
Sweden took an early first-period penalty and paid the price when Chase Balisy gave the Americans the 1-0 lead just 3:36 into action. The teams exchanged penalties and not much else until Brandon Saad doubled the U.S. lead 2:24 into the second period. Ten minutes later, Sweden finally got the puck past American netminder Jack Campbell with a power-play goal, making it a 2-1 affair.
Sweden continued to chip away at the Americans and its patience finally paid off when Henri Snall put in the equalizer 6:29 into the third period. The goal provided a huge momentum shift, as the Swedes had just killed off a penalty just over a minute before Snall struck, which proved to be the Americans best chance to seal the win.
Johan Larsson delivered the death blow to the Americans with 10:46 left in regulation. The U.S. was rattled by the 3-2 goal and never recovered to challenge for the tying goal. The Americans pulled Campbell in the last 40 seconds, but it only resulted in the empty net goal for Sweden, bringing the final to 4-2.
The Americans will take on Switzerland tomorrow in a game where both teams have unexpected records. Meanwhile, the Swedes will be the first team to play against host Belarus. The crowd tomorrow in Bobruisk is expected to be a sell-out.
Canada - Switzerland 1-3 (0-2, 1-0, 0-1)
BOBRUISK – It’s only day one and already the World U18 Championship had its first major upset as eighth-ranked Switzerland stunned Canada 3-1.
Switzerland jumped out to a surprising 2-0 lead in the first period against a flat Canadian team that was caught on its heels. The defenseman were the stars for the spunky Swiss as Dario Trutmann assisted on both first period goal, while his D-partner Samuel Guerra put in the 2-0 goal with 2:27 left in period.
Canada worked its way back into game, cutting the lead in half midway through the second period when Quinton Howden scored. Although the shots were relatively even, Switzerland had the better chances throughout the game with several breakaways and a a few post shots. Canadian goaltender Calvin Pickard was largely responsible for keeping his team in the game.
But there was little Pickard could do in the waning moments of the game to help his team get the tying goal when he was pulled in favor of the extra attacker. Despite spending much of the nail-biting minute in the Swiss zone, Canada could not get the 2-2 equalizer. Joel Vermin got credit for the Swiss empty-netter with five seconds left after he was slashed on the breakaway, giving Switzerland the 3-1 win.
Switzerland will need to keep its miracle skates sharp tomorrow when it takes on defending champion USA. Canada has the day off to regroup.
GROUP B: MINSK
Czech Republic – Russia 1-4 (0-1, 1-1, 0-2)
MINSK – It wasn’t flashy, but Russia earned its first win at this year’s U18 World Championship with a 4-1 decision against the Czech Republic.
It was a near sellout in the Sport Palace as the fans turned out at the end of a long Belorussian holiday weekend to cheer on their Russian neighbors. Sergei Barbashev rewarded their efforts 7:01 into action with the first Russian goal.
Midway through the game Maxim Shalunov increased the Russian lead, but the two goal lead would not last through the second period as Michal Vachovek cut the advantage in half with a power-play goal in the last minute of the stanza. It was a much-needed boost for the struggling Czech team, which had four power-play chances in the period, yet was out-shot nearly two-to-one.
But any thoughts that the Czechs had of a comeback were squashed when Viktor Antipin scored on a five-on-three and gave Russia a 3-1 lead with at the 48:49 mark. Vladimir Namestnikov brought the final to 4-1 with three minutes remaining. Russia out-shot the Czechs 40-15.
The Czechs have a key game against Slovakia tomorrow, while Russia takes on the Latvians.
Finland – Latvia 7-2 (2-1, 4-1, 1-0)
MINSK – Finland opened the World U18 Championship with an easy 7-2 win against newly-promoted Latvia.
Finland pulled away in the second period with a four-goal output. Top prospect Mikael Granlund was the set-up man, getting four assists in the game, including three in the second-period surge.
Despite the lopsided score, Latvia played well against the Finns, keeping the shot tally balanced. The ultimate decider was the special teams on both sides. Finland was superior in the second period with three extra-man goals, allowing them to jump out to a 6-2 lead.
Until Granlund and the Finnish power-play struck, the game was close. Latvia put in a five-on-three goal to tie things at one midway through the first period before Finland’s Mikael Salmivirta scored a rare equal-strength goal to give the Finns a 2-1 lead at the end of the first.
The second period was all Finland, with the exception on one shorthanded breakaway by Latvia’s Maris Dilevka mid period. A final Finnish power-play goal with just over two minutes left in the third period from Miihkali Teppo brought the final to 7-1.
Latvia returns to action again tomorrow against Russia, while Finland has the day off.
(Nathan also is a writer for Maineiacs Post to Post and the Maine Hockey Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)