Sunaya Sapurji

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Sunaya Sapurji is the junior hockey columnist for Yahoo! Sports Canada. Sunaya previously worked at the Toronto Star for 10 years as a copy editor and writer covering the Ontario Hockey League.

  • World Junior 2015: Swiss bliss as Germans sent packing in relegation final

    Kay Schweri #18 of Switzerland battles for the puck against Fabio Wagner #16 of Germany. (Photo by Dennis Pajot/Getty Images)Kay Schweri #18 of Switzerland battles for the puck against Fabio Wagner #16 of Germany. (Photo by Dennis Pajot/Getty Images)
    The Germans will be saying auf wiedersehen to the top tier of the world junior championship after they were relegated on Saturday night.

    Switzerland sent Germany packing to Group A Division I by sweeping their best-of-three series with a 5-2 victory. The Swiss had come close to making the quarter-finals but were undone by a shootout loss to Denmark. The Danes ended up advancing, only to lose 8-0 to Team Canada on Friday night.

    “The difference between the quarter-finals and the relegation round was one goal – the overtime shootout loss to Denmark,” said Swiss head coach John Fust. “It’s invaluable experience. We have the youngest team in the tournament; we’re a core of (1996 and ’97 birth years). There’s no other team that had as few (19-year-old’s) as us and it was a bit of a gamble, but that’s the best we have for such a small nation.”

    Belarus, who won the Group A Division I tournament in Italy this year, will take Germany’s place at the 2016 world junior championship in Helsinki,

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  • Matej Paulovic #29 of Team Slovakia celebrates a victory over team Finland with teammates Martin Reway #10 and Denis Godla #30. (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)Matej Paulovic #29 of Team Slovakia celebrates a victory over team Finland with teammates Martin Reway #10 and Denis Godla #30. (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

    After Canada embarrassed Slovakia in the opening game of the world junior championship in Montreal last week, the Slovaks held a meeting.

    Star forward Martin Reway told the media he was “embarrassed” after the 8-0 loss as a third-year forward. Whatever was said afterwards worked, as the Slovaks rebounded with important victories over defending champions Finland and rival Czech Republic to advance to the semifinal.

    “Canada woke us up,” said Slovakian coach Ernest Bokros, through an interpreter. “That was our wake-up call and since then we’re playing well.”

    Bokros said playing against Canada, the home team in Montreal, in a building packed with more than 14,000 rabid fans in the Bell Centre left his team starry-eyed. Now he says, they’ve become accustomed to the big arena and loud fans, which is good because facing Canada in the semifinals at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre on Sunday will be no different.

    “The opener against Canada for most players was the first big game at such a big

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  • Zach Fucale uses power of positivity as Canada concentrates on world junior gold

    Zach Fucale spent a lot of time on the ice as a kid.

    He started out in speed skating. After each of his hour-long sessions was over, he and his dad Jack would walk past the rink where the hockey would be taking place. There, standing on the tips of his toes, he would look over the boards to watch the play unfold.

    Then, one day, he finally decided: "Daddy, I want to play hockey."

    For Jack Fucale, who had grown up in Montreal as a diehard Canadiens fan, it was an easy sell. His wife Catherine, however, needed some convincing. When she eventually relented, Zach was signed up and started playing as a forward.

    "He would automatically go and stand between the two orange cones the coaches put down and try to stop the puck," said Jack. "He would just play goalie."

    The orange cones are long gone, but Zach Fucale is still playing goalie. On Friday night, the 19-year-old came through with an 8-0 victory over Denmark in the quarter-final of the 2015 world junior championship. It's his second

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  • World junior darlings Denmark prepared to give it their all in quarterfinal game against Team Canada

    Prior to coming to North America for the world junior championship, Denmark's George Sorensen had played in a total of two games.

    With his hometown team in the top Danish league, the Herning Blue Fox, the 19-year-old is the backup goaltender. Since he doesn't get a lot of work, he has to make the most of the few chances he gets. There was the World Jr. A Challenge in Kindersley, Sask., in the week leading up to the world junior championship, where Sorensen helped Denmark claim silver.

    Here in Toronto at the world's premiere junior tournament, Sorensen has received his biggest opportunity to date and he has quickly become a fan favourite by backstopping the unlikely Danes to a quarterfinal berth.

    "It has been more than excellent," said head coach Olaf Eller of Sorensen's play. "He has been exactly the guy who has kept us in games. It has been terrific what he's been doing for us."

    [More on World Junior Championship: Scores & schedule | Stats | Teams]

    The Danes qualified for the

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  • McDavid vs. Eichel plays second fiddle to another Canada-U.S. world junior classic on New Year’s Eve

    MONTREAL - The buildup for Canada’s game against the U.S. had started long before the two teams had taken the ice.

    It began to ramp up back in the summer when both teams opened training camps in Brossard, Que., and Lake Placid, N.Y. There the focus was on Canada’s Connor McDavid, the top-ranked player for the 2015 NHL draft, and America’s Jack Eichel, the player trying to usurp him next June at the NHL entry draft.

    At stake in the game was top spot in Group A of the World Junior Hockey Championship and the chance to face the underdogs from Denmark. A 5-3 victory for Canada on New Year’s Eve means the young, upstart Danes will have their hands full trying to contain an offence that came at the U.S. in wave after wave - occasionally crashing upon the crease of goalie Thatcher Demko.

    The loss puts the Americans up against Russia in the other quarter-final, giving the U.S. a much more dangerous foe.

    After the first period on Wednesday, it was clear that the narrative of the

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  • Leon Draisaitl #29 of the Edmonton Oilers. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)Leon Draisaitl #29 of the Edmonton Oilers. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

    MONTREAL — The Edmonton Oilers have certainly made a fine mess of things.

    According to a report from Sportsnet’s Mark Spector the NHL team is expected to return talented German centre Leon Draisaitl back to junior in the Western Hockey League.

    Draisaitl, 19, has played in 39 NHL games and has two goals and five assists. The native of Cologne, Germany would have been eligible to play for Germany at the 2015 world junior championship, but the Oilers decided to keep him. After the decision was made, Draisaitl was a healthy scratch.

    "When we first contacted them the situation in Edmonton was a little different," said German coach Pat Cortina, adding their talks with Edmonton were cordial. "I understood their way of thinking then. I guess it's too bad it wasn't like this when we first asked.

    "In hindsight it's unfortunate. He definitely would have helped us, it would have been nice to have him ... but we can't change that. We don't have him here now and we won't have him here tomorrow." 

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  • Team Canada's goaltender Eric Comrie THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan RemiorzTeam Canada's goaltender Eric Comrie THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

    BROSSARD, Que. — Goaltender Eric Comrie will get the call for Canada in net against the United States on Wednesday afternoon.

    The game between the two undefeated teams will decide who will earn the top seed in Group A.

    Comrie’s last start was a 17 save shutout in a 4-0 win over Germany earlier in the round-robin. Zach Fucale, the starter in last year’s tournament in Malmo, Sweden, made 27 saves in a 4-1 victory over Finland on Monday night.

    “We like both of our goalies and I thought Zach played well last night,” said Groulx on Tuesday morning after practice. “But I also think Eric deserves a chance to play tomorrow.

    “We really feel good about both goalies, so we don’t look further ahead. It’s tomorrow (first) and then we’ll address (the rest) after.”

    The Americans, who have not named a starter, will likely counter with Thatcher Demko who came up big in their 2-1 shootout victory over Finland in the opening game of the tournament.

    Comrie, who plays for the WHL’s Tri-City Americans,

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  • World Junior 2015: Finnish coach miffed over Groulx comments

     

    MONTREAL — It wouldn't be a world junior championship without a little international controversy.

    The latest issue stems from the post-game press conference after Canada's 4-1 victory over Finland on Monday night. Prior to a question and answer period with reporters, it is customary for each coach to give a brief opening statement with general thoughts on their team's play.

    Finnish head coach Hannu Jortikka went first and spoke English - which was passable given that it's not his first language. He was followed by Canadian head  coach Benoit Groulx, who chose to make his opening remarks in French. There was no English translation provided.

    This apparently did not sit well with Jortikka, since the International Ice Hockey Federation requires either English to be spoken or translators to be present during press conferences if the coach can not speak English.

    From the IIHF guidelines: "Translation to English will be provided as mandatory and also translation to other languages will be

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  • World Junior 2015: Canada to face familiar foe in Finland's Saros

    Finland goaltender Juuse Saros. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Graham Hughes)Finland goaltender Juuse Saros. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Graham Hughes)

    BROSSARD, Que. — The Finns are making some bold moves in preparation to face Team Canada on Monday night.

    In the morning, head coach Hannu Jortikka announced that goaltender Juuse Saros would start for Finland, thus far winless (0-0-1-1) at the tournament. The 19-year-old had a shaky outing in the team’s 2-1 upset loss to Slovakia, giving up two goals on the first seven shots. On the other hand, Ville Husso, his partner in the Finnish goaltending tandem, turned in a solid 36 save performance against the U.S., in a shootout loss.

    In the 2014 world junior championship in Malmo, Sweden, Saros was voted a tournament all-star. He helped beat Canada in the semifinal with a 23 save effort en route to a 5-1 victory. The Finns eventually won gold and the Canadians came home without a medal for the second year in a row.

    “We have two good goalies and of course Saros made one mistake (against Slovakia) everybody knows that,” said Jortikka after practice. “But last year, you can see that he almost

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  • World Junior 2015: Jake Virtanen's family allegiances proudly Canadian -- with a soft spot for Finland

    MONTREAL — There are no divided loyalties for Jake Virtanen. As a dual citizen of both Finland and Canada, his choice has always been to wear the maple leaf and he’s done so proudly here at the world junior championship.

    But the same might not be totally true for everyone in the Virtanen household.

    Jarmo Virtanen, Jake’s grandfather, is a proud Finn, born and bred.

    “My grandpa gets a little nervous when we play Finland,” said Virtanen. “He was born there … and my dad and my grandma, so playing against Finland I think my grandpa has a little mixed feelings. I think he has a soft spot for them. He lives here though, so I think he’s for Canada all the way.”

    Jake’s father, Ranier, settled down in B.C. as a teenager after spending time in both countries as a child. The Virtanens hail from Jakobstad/Pietarsaari, a bilingual town of 20,000 in western Finland where the majority of the population speaks Swedish.

    Long before Jake ended up playing for Canada, the world junior championship was a

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