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  • Of all the plays Switzerland would like back after its costly shootout loss to Finland, it's the headshot heard 'round Helsinki that might loom large by the end of the world junior championship.

    The Suomi surmounting a two-goal deficit to win 5-4 had more to it than Markus Granlund being generally awesome. With 8:11 left, Swiss forward Lukas Sieber elbowed Finland's Ville Pokka in the head after a whistle, when the New York Islanders prospect had slowed up due to play being stopped. Finland's Teuvo Teravainen tallied on the ensuing power play to resurrect Finland, whose eventual win took it from from being out of medal contention to still having a semifinal bye in play.

    Now that's costly. It could also be controversial: you can just hear Canadian fans wondering how hard the IIHF would come down on a member of Team Canada for a dirty play. Sieber was not ejected even though he targeted Pokka's head and elbowed/checked him fter the whistle. Canadian hockey chauvinism does course through this country's often colourfully expressed discontent with IIHF officiating, but the baseline for officiating is to at least be consistent.

    Read More »from World junior championship: Headshot on Ville Pokka helps get Finland off the hook (VIDEO)
  • The atmosphere in Ufa is, er, a little different than what Canadians are used to (CP)

    With first place on the line, there are several story lines to anticipate heading into Canada and Russia's New Year's Eve clash. One is shaping up to be this: For quite possibly the first time in the history of the tournament, Team Canada will play in front of a hostile crowd during an IIHF U-20 world championship game.

    The world juniors have been somewhat of a Canadian holiday tradition over the last 20 years, with hundreds of Canadian fans packing to European locales in the Czech Republic and Sweden or Finland to cheer their team. Even across oceans, the pockets of fans in the stands tend to be decked out in red and white, even while playing against host teams. Conversely, Russia's games this tournament have seen dedicated, loud fans pack the stands, creating an atmosphere that never existed prior to this season. International hockey has made its way back into national importance in Russia with the recent success of the men's National Team at the IIHF world championships and the junior success of the program developing NHL stars like Alexander Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin and, hopefully Nail Yakupov.

    So Canada will have to face that. On TV it seems as if Canada has brought a good packet of fans to fill up one side of the ice, but they'll be shouted down by a more boisterous, less passive Russian fan base, who may even be rowdier than usual in response to a bizarre comment made by Canadian coach Steve Spott a month ago about the city of Ufa, where the tournament is taking place.

    Read More »from World junior championship: Spott’s “24 hour darkness” comments inspire Russian fans to bring lamps to NYE clash
  • Calgary Flames prospect Markus Granlund (Getty Images)No. 1 Star - Markus Granlund, Team Finland

    It was unthinkable that Finland could potentially have been left out of medal contention this tournament.

    Group A in the 2013 IIHF U-20 world championship, featuring the Czech Republic, Latvia and Switzerland, is the weaker of the two groups, yet the Finns, after losing Miro Aaltonen to a broken ankle in the first game of the tournament (and were without Olli Määttä due to illness), lost to the Czechs and were down 4-3 late to the Swiss. A regulation loss, and a Czech win over Latvia would send Finland to the relegation round.

    Luckily for the Finns, Calgary Flame prospect Markus Granlund stepped up, banging home a Joel Armia rebound past Swiss goalie Melvin Nyffeler with just 1:39 on the clock to tie the game. He also scored a pretty goal in the shootout's sixth round to give the Finns the victory in Game Winning Shots:

    An overtime loss would have been more manageable, allowing the squad to control their own destiny with a win against Sweden.

    Now, while Finland managed just a 4-4 game in regulation against Switzerland, which looks bleak on paper, look at the goaltending disparity between the two teams. Finland outshot the Swiss 57-23. Granlund had six shots on net, but Tuevo Teravainen, an overlooked Chicago Blackhawks first rounder who has put together a very solid tournament, had eight shots, including two goals. While we're glancing at the stat page, it's also easy to miss top prospect Aleksander Barkov's 25-for-30 night in the face-off circle.

    No. 2 Star - Malcolm Subban, Team Canada

    After forgettable performances against Germany and Slovakia, Malcolm Subban put together a shiny plate-worthy game against the Americans in a 2-1 win in the tournament's marquee game thus far. The Belleville Bull and Boston Bruins prospect stopped 36 of 37 shots, and held the Americans scoreless on five of six power plays, essentially solving Steve Spott's penalty killing woes with some timely saves. Most impressively, he kept John Gaudreau scoreless on a breakaway save in the first period.

    Read More »from World junior championship: Markus Granlund keeps Finland alive, tops BTN’s 3 stars
  • Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is instrumental to Canada's aggressive game (CP)

    It was fairly apparent early on in Team Canada's latest game that an American team coached by Phil Housley would be a much tougher test for Steve Spott's group than Germany or Slovakia. Players developed in less hockey-friendly nations don't run hard systems, and their defensive strategy usually involves lining up players to poke check the puck carrier, like henchmen in action movies. Also like henchmen in action movies, they have a very small success rate at separating a Canadian player from the puck.

    One way you can tell how strong a defensive system is by how the offensive team entered the zone. In charting out zone entries in the games against Slovakia and Germany, the Canadians had no trouble carrying the puck into the zone, but they were stymied early on against an American team. Housley predominantly used his checkers in the early part of this game, and it wasn't until Canada turned to a more attacking style that they were able to successfully bring the puck in and hope for chances.

    The genesis for this is from Eric T. over at NHLNumbers, who showed during the summer that teams were more likely to generate shots and scoring chances on plays where the puck was carried into the zone rather than dumped-and-chased. This is intuitive, since the dump-and-chase play is analogous to a punt in football, where a team is essentially conceding possession of the puck for a better spot on the ice. Eric found that NHL-level players showed little disparity in actual offensive zone ability, but the difference between players lay in their ability to bring the puck into the zone.

    Read More »from World junior championship: Canada finds success against USA with more aggressive attack
  • Nail Yakupov talks to the media in Ufa, Russia

    UFA, Russia — After evading the media since the start of the tournament, Russian captain Nail Yakupov, finally broke his silence and spoke to reporters.

    Before he started, however, Russian press attaché Mikhail Zislis, said the first-overall pick of the Edmonton Oilers would only answer three questions from reporters.

    The first question was in regards to comments he allegedly made to a Russian website before the start of the tournament.

    “I will have to keep a cool head and ignore provocations,” Yakupov was quoted as saying by R-Sport. “Especially against the Canadians. These guys play dirty. We got used to that, we played a few games in North America, so our team is ready."

    On Sunday however, Yakupov, backed away from the comments saying he had never said anything of the sort.

    “I said a different thing,” said the former Sarnia Sting forward in English. He was asked to clarify what he had said about the Canadian team.

    “I forgot,” he said. “I don’t know.”

    It was then that Zislis jumped

    Read More »from World junior championship: Nail Yakupov says ‘dirty’ comment lost in translation
  • Malcolm Subban had allowed 3 goals in each of Canada's first two games (Nathan Denette, The Canadian Press)

    Malcolm Subban, a human lightning rod for three weeks, was rather grounded in Team Canada's biggest win yet at the world junior championship. Not coincidentally, it came while the goalmouth around Canada's net was the only place in Ufa, Russia that was clear of traffic during their 2-1 win over Team USA.

    Being goalie for Team Canada means being the nerve centre for an entire nation. Twenty-four hours ago, Subban was seen by many as not up to the job. Part of that was the ghosts of goaltending letdowns past, but more of it owed to his lack of a signature performance since the beginning of Canada's selection camp. It was easy to make a case the job had given rather than earned, to turn around a T-shirt slogan used by his Belleville Bulls.

    It is safe to say the combo of the above two elements — better D and a dialled-in goalie — changed a lot of impressions. Those should a sleep-deprived nation rest easy ahead of Monday's momentous matchup with Team Russia (9 a.m. ET/6 a.m. PT, TSN/RDS, BTN livechat), which will decide the Group B bye to the semifinal. Confidence is contagious.

    More to the point, there was what Subban, who stopped 36-of-37 shots, did when the former momentarily deserted him. With 8:58 left, Team USA's Jacob Trouba, denied three times earlier in the day, broke the shutout bid with a pinball goal right after John Gibson denied Ty Rattie on a short-handed 2-on-1 rush. The puck deflected by Canada's Xavier Ouellet, eluded the other defenceman Griffin Reinhart and trickled past Subban. The U.S., which had not generated much offensively, suddenly smelled blood.

    Almost immediately, Seth Jones led a Team USA rush. There was the Boston Bruins goalie of the future again, doing a split save with those Inspector Gadget legs to deny Ryan Hartman's rebound shot and preserve the lead.

    Read More »from World junior championship: Malcolm Subban bests John Gibson in goaltending duel, Canada should sleep more easily
  • Buzzing The Net is hosting a Team Canada livechat every time the national junior team is in action at the world junior championship, continuing Sunday at 12 noon ET/9 a.m. PT following their showdown vs. Team USA.

    [Sunaya Sapurji's must-read: Rattie, Jones put friendship on hold]

    Yahoo! Sports' Sunaya Sapurji is Ufa for the tournament. Here at home, Cam Charron is representing the nocturnal sorts on the west coast while Neate Sager will represent the early risers back east — both of which counters our regular habits. Please brew some coffee for a second wind and check in. Happy new year and bring your own peanuts!

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    Read More »from World junior championship: Canada-USA replay chat, Sunday 12 noon/9 a.m. PT!
  • Canada's Dougie Hamilton, Anthony Camara and Malcolm Subban try to stay loose before Sunday's showdown (Nathan Denette, CP)

    As children of a common mother, a Canada-U.S. matchup should come with a playbill instead of a program. It has, whether it's the Olympics, world junior championship, a soccer game or the women's hockey worlds — and don't forget that time 'we' beat them in the first World Baseball Classic — become drama far beyond sport.

    The form then calls for a sort of dramatic personae, an attempt to figure out who could be the main actors on Sunday (4:30 a.m. ET/1:30 a.m. PT, TSN/RDS in Canada, NHL Network USA) when the neighbouring rivals meet in Group B play in Ufa, Russia. A regulation-time win will move the endlessly critiqued Canucks closer to a bye to the semifinal. Team USA, whose offensive punch is not as close to being 100-proof as Canada's but which has looked closer to peaking through its two games, needs a win to lock up a medal-round berth next week.

    [Related: Subplots abound when Canada, U.S.
    meet at world junior hockey championship
    ]

    What wins out between Canada's irresistible offence and the immovable American defence and goaltending? How does Canada manage with having 11 players? Here is a glance at some of the players who will play pivotal roles in Sunday's tilt. Someone else will too, of course, since this drama is unscripted.

    Read More »from World junior championship: Team Canada-Team USA; a dozen difference-makers
  • JC Lipon's absence leaves Canada with 11 forwards for the U.S. game (The Canadian Press)

    Team Canada got by with a streamlined forward corps vs. Slovakia at the world junior championship. With JC Lipon suspendedas expected — for his checking-to-head major/game misconduct, the Maple Leaf will have just 11 forwards eligible for Sunday's important showdown vs. Team USA.

    Even though Team USA is very strong, it might not be a worrying matter for the Canadians. A team that is growing often comes to rely on its major cogs, so having fewer than four full lines means more will be put on the plates of the Ryan Nugent-Hopkins-Jonathan Huberdeau-Mark Scheifele and Ryan Strome-Jonathan Drouin-Brett Ritchie scoring lines. They accounted for four goals vs. Slovakia. And Canada gets Lipon and centre Boone Jenner on Monday for the second of its back-to-back games vs. Russia, when depth could be more imperative.

    [2013 WJC: Team Canada says determination,
    not dirty play, defines its success
    ]

    Remember, it's junior hockey. Teams rely on their big wheels. From Rob Vanstone:

    Canada finished Friday’s game with 10 forwards. Is that necessarily a negative? The depleted roster led to increased ice time for players who are accustomed to logging significant minutes with their junior teams. Canada elevated its play when its remaining forwards were able to establish a rhythm and set the pace. That is not always possible when the roll-four-lines mentality dilutes everyone’s effectiveness. (Regina Leader-Post)

    Read More »from World junior championship: JC Lipon’s 1-game ban leaves Team Canada with 11 forwards vs. Team USA
  • Makarov flummoxed Team USA and Alex Galchenyuk (Nathan Denette, The Canadian Press)No. 1 Star - Andrey Makarov, Team Russia

    Andrey Makarov began the game against the American team with an incredible toe save off of Paul Gaudreau and continued his strong play throughout the second and third periods, perfect on even strength and stopping 27 of 28 throughout the game to pace Russia to a victory of Team USA in an incredible Friday morning game.

    Goaltending hasn't been the story yet in these IIHF U-20 world championships, but we hadn't yet been treated to a slate of games like Fridays, with several close scores and outcomes in doubt. The Americans and Russians played to a wide-open, yet tightly-fought 2-1 game, with Makarov and the Russians coming out on top. Russia managed 42 shots at Kitchener Ranger John Gibson and for the most part, he was just as good as Makarov despite being beaten by Vladimir Tkachyov midway through the third period on an individual effort from top Russian prospect Valeri Nichushkin.

    Makarov, however, seems incapable of playing anything below an elite level on the international stage. Despite being undrafted, he became the last player signed under the previous National Hockey League collective agreement, to the Buffalo Sabres on an entry-level deal. That's all despite some shakiness in Saskatoon, but everything goes right for him at these tournaments. A perfect 10-for-10 in the third period, including stops off good chances from Rocco Grimaldi and Sean Kuraly helped the Russians maintain their one-goal lead throughout the third, and there was no nervousness around the net on the late American powerplay.

    No. 2 Star - Mark Scheifele, Team Canada

    TSN analyst Ray Ferraro described Schiefele's game against Slovakia as a "man's game" during the third period. We'll ignore the possible implied misogyny and instead focus on the fact that Schiefele was forced to play a surprise professional game, taking a lot of abuse and contact, being on the receiving end of two illegal hits, one going uncalled in the offensive zone.

    Read More »from World junior championship: Andrey Makarov sits in familiar position atop BTN’s 3 Stars

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