Welcome to the 2021 World Junior Championship predictions. Each day, Last Word on Hockey will take a look at each game and give our predictions of the results. Wednesday, December 30th is Day Six of the tournament and features Finland vs Slovakia.
2021 World Junior Championship Predictions
Finland vs Slovakia
Similar to both of the Finland games so far this tournament, they come in as the heavy favourites. Slovakia, however, has shown that it isn’t just a free win this tournament. Team Slovakia has gone 1-1-1 so far, taking a victory over Team Switzerland and holding Team Canada to only three goals. Finland will try to continue this dominance they have had through the tournament, and will Slovakia create a massive upset in their fourth game of the tournament.
Team Finland has shown dominance throughout this entire tournament. Anton Lundell has been a strong player for the Finnish team, and will likely continue to be moving forward. With two goals and an assist through two games thus far, Lundell has proven his value as expected. Similarly, Aku Raty has also posted two goals and an assist in the same timeframe, already tying his point total from last year’s tournament. These two players have been able to contribute over 40% of Finland’s goal totals. Moving into their next game against Slovakia, Finland should look for scoring and high-quality chances from the other forwards on the team. Brad Lambert was able to contribute two assists against Switzerland after having a strong first game, yet staying off the scoring sheet. Expect Lambert to continue to thrive moving into Finland’s third game of the tournament.
Topi Niemela has been a strong player for Finland thus far, leading the team with four points in two games. His strong offensive contributions have helped Finland through the first two games. He will be a player to watch as Team Finland takes on Team Slovakia to see if he can keep his strong play rolling. Ville Heinola is another strong defenceman for Finland. While he hasn’t had the same success on paper as Niemela, Heinola is one of the most important players on the Finnish roster. He will be key moving into this game against Slovakia on both ends of the ice.
The Finnish goaltending has split the games so far this tournament. Roope Taponen had the better game against Switzerland, while Kari Piiroinen allowed three goals on 22 shots in the game against Team Germany. It is tempting to ignore the small sample size and roll with Taponen with such a short tournament, however, Piironen has proven over the 2020-21 season that he is better than that single performance. Both goaltenders provide solid options for Finland going into this game.
Slovakia, while not showing the same dominance as Finland, hasn’t been a pushover team either. Winning their first game, and taking another to overtime, they have been able to keep each game close. They don’t have the same offensive weapons as some of the top teams in the tournament, but they have been able to keep things close with a combination of solid goaltending and being able to limit shots on goal.
Simon Latkoczy and Samuel Hlavaj have both provided Team Slovakia with a fighting chance in each game. They will need to do the same for Slovakia to have a chance against Team Finland. It will be difficult for Slovakia to compete with the Finnish offence or their excellent defence. Goaltending can change the tide in any game or tournament, though. The Slovakian team will need to suppress shots as they did against Canada and get the same quality goaltending as they did against Team Switzerland.
As stated, Slovakia will have an uphill battle. Team Finland comes into this game as the clear favourites as one of the tournament’s best teams. Their strong offence and even stronger defence group make them difficult to crack. Slovakia will have to rely on slower defensive play, relying on goaltending and hoping they can get a goal or two off at the same time. It won’t be impossible for Slovakia to take it, as they have already put together a strong 2021 World Junior Championship so far, but it is unlikely.
Prediction: Finland wins 3-1.
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