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. Thursday, December 31st is Day Seven of the tournament and starts with a matchup between the Czech Republic and Austria.
2021 World Junior Championship Predictions
Czech Republic vs. Austria
Believe it or not, this game is much more important than the supposed quality of the two teams would suggest. The Czech Republic and Austria occupy the bottom two spots in Group B, but only three points (or one win) separate the two. If Austria were to win this game in regulation, it would actually move them into the fourth spot in the division, guaranteeing them a spot in the quarterfinal. It would be Austria’s first appearance in the quarterfinal at the highest level of the World Juniors. Needless to say, while they are a heavy favourite, this is a crucial game for the Czech Republic to win.
To start, the Czechs will be without defenceman Michael Krutil’s services. He’s been suspended for this game due to a violation of the IIHF’s slew-footing rule. Krutil had been pointless through three games and had posted a -3, so it isn’t the biggest loss.
The IIHF Disciplinary Panel has issued a one-game suspension to Czech Republic defenceman Michael Krutil, for a violation of IIHF Official Rule 160-Slew-Footing. Story: https://t.co/BB2xhogSfC pic.twitter.com/xLSdYpgzun
— IIHF (@IIHFHockey) December 31, 2020
The Czechs certainly haven’t been strong offensively, relying on a neutral-zone-trap-like system to be effective. The deployment of this system led directly to their 2-0 upset win against the Russians. They’ve implored this system due to an anemic offence. The Czechs have only scored three goals in their three games, with only six skaters getting on the scoresheet.
That’s not to say their team hasn’t been effective. The shooting talent isn’t there, but the Czechs have played solid systematic hockey so far. Their defence is spearheaded by 2021-eligible Stanislav Svozil, who despite a lack of production has been a transitional beast for the Czechs. Their offence has really been led, however, by a trio of NHL-draftees in Michal Teply, Jan Mysak, and Jaromir Pytlik. Other impressive names to watch in this game are 2021-eligibles Michal Gut and Adam Raska. While they’ve yet to get on the scoresheet, they face their weakest matchup yet in this Austrian squad. If the Czechs start to roll, their capable depth could end up padding their stats somewhat.
In goal, the situation hasn’t been as solid. Lukas Parik has been good but not great, posting a .883 save percentage. Nick Malik has been a straight liability for the squad with a .837. If Austria is to somehow pull off the upset, it’ll likely be based on a poor goaltending performance from the Czechs.
The Austrians finally scored their first goal of the tournament in their last game against the Russians, scored by Senna Peeters. However, with the Czechs’ demonstrated ability to shut down much stronger opposition in the Russians, it’s unlikely Austria will find twine again in this game.
Despite some heroic performances so far from goalie Sebastian Wraneschitz, the Austrians will likely be on the outside looking in when all is said and done. They would need a regulation win to surpass the Czechs in the standings, so an overtime miracle won’t do them any good. Yet, there are still some names to keep an eye on for the Austrians if they are given a bit of space. Marco Rossi has been quiet so far but still has game-breaking ability. 16-year-old Marco Kasper has been able to break through as one of the better players on the squad, as eyes start to turn on the 2022-eligible forward.
Regardless, this matchup shapes up to be a similarly disappointing outing for the Austrians against a sound Czech team.
There’s no doubt that the Austrians have the feel-good power behind them (and the goaltending) to possibly pull off the upset. Anything can happen, after all. But the Czech Republic’s clear favouritism doesn’t just come from their superior talent. Their system is perfectly tuned to offensively stifle the Austrians, eliminating an already weak attack. It should be an easy walk to the quarterfinals today for the Czechs
Prediction: Czech Republic wins 6-0.
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