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. Saturday, January 2nd is day eight of the tournament. The second of four quarter-final games that day will be Finland vs Sweden.
2021 World Junior Championship Predictions
Finland vs Sweden
For the second of four quarter-final games at the 2021 World Junior Championship, Finland, the second-place team in group A, will face off against Sweden, the third-place team in group B. The classic rivalry should be a close game with a little bit of everything. Finland managed to cruise through a fairly weak group A, with the exception of Canada. Sweden, on the other hand, had some struggles in a tough group B, featuring both the United States and Russia.
Overall, Team Finland has had a strong start to their tournament, going 3-0-0-1 in group play. Their one loss was a 4-1 defeat to Canada, in a game that would decide the winner of the group. The loss was definitely not Finland’s best game, as Canada dominated in possession. The Finns ended up getting outshot 40-19.
After their four round-robin games, Topi Niemela, Anton Lundell, and Kasper Simontaival lead the charge offensively for Finland. Niemela, the Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman prospect, leads the team with two goals and five assists for seven points. Right behind him is team captain and Florida Panthers first-rounder, Anton Lundell, with three goals and assists for six points. Simontaival has two goals and three assists for five points.
Overall, Finland has seen the success they have because of their strong top line of Lundell, Simontaival, and Roni Hirvonen. The three of them, along with Niemela, have been Finland’s main producers of offence. While the first line has been very strong, the second line has been able to provide some support for them. This is a good sign because to win in this tournament teams need contributions from all over their lineup. Brad Lambert, a 2022 draft-eligible, has done exactly that, with two assists and a goal against the powerhouse that is Team Canada. Given his age, he has been a very impressive player for the Fins thus far in the tournament.
Speaking of impressive players, goaltender Kari Piiroinen has been lights out for the Finns. He’s posting a goals-gainst-average of 2.01 and a save percentage of .918. He did a good job to hold his own against a stacked Canadian offence that threw 40 shots at him.
After an upsetting overtime loss to Russia, Sweden’s 54 game round-robin win streak finally came to an end. They fought hard to tie the game in the waning minutes of the third period, with a shot by Alexander Holtz bouncing off Noel Gunler’s shin pad past Yaroslav Askarov, but the late-game heroics were not enough. To follow, Sweden had another tough opponent, being the United States. The US shut the Swedes out 4-0 in a commanding victory. Sweden still seemed a little rattled from their loss to Russia, and they did not play their best hockey.
Despite a rough ending to their round-robin play, Sweden still has a chance to go deep into this tournament and contend for the gold medal. Leading the charge for them offensively is a three-way tie between Noel Gunler, Victor Soderstrom, and Simon Holmstrom. Each one is tied for the team lead with five points. Gunler leads the team in goals with four.
If Sweden wants to go really deep into this tournament, they are going to need their best players, Lucas Raymond and Alexander Holtz, also known as the “terror twins,” to step up. They each have a goal and two assists for three points through the four games. If the two of them can begin to resurface offensively, Then the team will be in really good shape.
In terms of goaltending, Sweden has tried both Hugo Alnefelt and Jesper Wallstedt. Even though the results were not what he wanted, Wallstedt played a solid game against the Russians. Alnefelt had a good start to the tournament but then struggled a little more against some of the stronger teams. If Sweden wants to be as competitive as possible, they give Jesper Wallstedt the opportunity to have the net and let him run with it.
Despite struggling in their last two games, Sweden still has the edge in this matchup. Depth goes a long way in this tournament, and Sweden seems to have more of it than Finland. They are able to get contributions from all over their lineup, as their scoring is relatively spread out. If they are able to contain Finland’s top line, then they, for the most, will be able to contain Finland’s entire offence. In terms of defence, Finland will have a hard time matching up against Sweden’s smooth-skating, highly-drafted D-core. While Sweden has the edge, Finland will still make them work for a victory.
Prediction: Sweden wins 3-2
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