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. Monday, January 4th, is day nine of the tournament and we have reached the semifinals. The night starts with Russia vs Canada.
2021 World Junior Championship Predictions
Russia vs Canada
Two powerhouse teams meet in the first semifinal of the day at the 2021 World Junior Championship. The objective is simple. win and go to the gold medal. Lose and it’s on to the bronze medal game. This is Russia’s redemption game for last year’s gold medal matchup between the two. For Canada, they’re still on their mission to repeat gold medal wins since they had their five tournament streak snapped in 2010. For the Russians, however, they look to advance to the gold medal game in hopes of adding a fifth gold medal to their name. Either way, you spin it, this will be an electric game from the opening draw and a lot on the line for both teams.
The Canadians were slightly exposed in their quarterfinal game against the Czech Republic. In one of their lowest scoring games of the tournament, they were held to only three goals. Take into account the competitive level that the Czech Republic was playing at in comparison to the Russians, and it’s concerning. The player of the game for the Canadians was Colorado Avalanche prospect, Bowen Byram. He’s been a huge part of the team’s defensive performance over the last five games of the tournament. We’ve all seen how well he can play against the weaker group of teams, but he will need to continue that excellence against a fiery Russian attack. Teammate and Anaheim Ducks prospect, Jamie Drysdale, and Kaiden Guhle have also been driving forces for their dominant play on both ends of the ice. Upfront the offence is looking, by Canadian standards, for a bounce-back game. It’s not going to be easy to achieve against the Russians, however. Dylan Cozens has been the team’s most productive forward, putting up 13 points in the tournament. He sits on the first line looking to light it up once more and bring the team to the gold medal round. Second in points on the team, Payton Krebs, along with Quinton Byfield and more will be crucial to depth scoring.
Keys to Success
This is the toughest challenge the Canadians have had all tournament. They have been able to perform to their peak level of play on numerous occasions over their five games. This game is more than a step above their previous competition. Even if they get the momentum of play going and are able to get around the Russian defence, they’ll still need to beat the best goalie of the tournament, Yaroslav Askarov. On the rush they’ll need to take any space they can get from the Russians and utilize their speed often. Spreading out the Russians in their own end will give them the most offensive success against this team. It will force Askarov to outplay himself and increase the number of high danger chances for team Canada.
Similar to the Canadians, the Russians’ quarterfinal against Germany showed many flaws in their game. For one thing, the offence needs to get rolling early for the team to have the highest chance to win. Only scoring two goals against a German team that didn’t have many superstars, to begin with, wasn’t something the team was too proud of. That isn’t to say the Russians’ offence was terrible, but not scoring with the efficiency they showed in previous games was the issue. When the team did score though, they showed the best of their ability. Vasili Ponomaryov‘s goal abused the room that Germany left open when killing a penalty. Danil Bashkirov‘s goal was the passing excellence that the Russian’s should have against the Canadians, even if the Canadian defence is tough to get past. On the back end for Russia, their defence was on par with their prior performances, keeping the game low scoring. Their top performers, Shakir Mukhamadullin, Yan Kuznetsov, and leading defensive point-getter Artemi Knyazev were at their best again.
Keys to success
The team will need to rally around its leaders and keep the pressure going from the start in order to beat the Canadians. Vancouver Canucks prospect, Vasili Podkolzin, and Toronto Maple Leafs prospect, Rodion Amirov, will need to play intensely at the opening draw. Not only that, but all four forward lines will need to match that energy and apply that same pressure. If the Russians can smother the lethal Canadian attack from the start, the game will become much easier for them. Continuing their puck-moving as they have in prior games will also be key. They were successful in making quick passes to the slot often, and keeping that up will make it hard for Canada to defend efficiently.
This game at the 2021 World Junior Championship will be all that it is shaped up to be. It will be a fast-paced game showcasing some of the game’s best prospects from around the world. Both teams have fantastic compositions and it will certainly be fun to watch. With that being said, Canada will be able to repeat last year’s success and overpower, the Russians, moving on to the gold medal round once again.
Final score: Canada 5 vs. Russia 4
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