Today marks the concluding day of the 2021 World Junior Championship. From all of us at Last Word on Hockey, it’s been a pleasure to cover this one-of-a-kind tournament this year. The day kicks off with Team Russia and Team Finland facing off for the bronze medal.
2021 World Junior Championship Predictions
Russia vs. Finland
It’s safe to say that one of these teams was much closer to reaching the gold medal game than the other. That team would be Finland, who suffered a heartbreaking last-minute 4-3 loss to the United States last night. Finland will have the chance today to win their first bronze medal since 2006, a team headlined by Tuukka Rask and Leo Komarov. They’ve won three medals since then, all gold. The Russians didn’t put up nearly as much of a fight, going away without so much as a whimper in a 5-0 drubbing at the hands of the all-powerful Canadians. The Russians will look to medal for the third straight year, having won bronze in 2019 and silver at last year’s tournament.
Russia will need a big rebound game if they want a chance at the bronze medal. While Canada is no joke of a hockey team, the Russians were dominated at every turn. They weren’t helped by their goaltending, which has largely been their biggest disappointment of the tournament. Despite having some league-best numbers in the KHL this season, Yaroslav Askarov, the Nashville Predators prospect, has an underwhelming .910 save percentage in five games played. He was Russia’s handicap in their loss to Canada as well, as his positioning (or lack thereof) and stick issues led to multiple goals against.
It’s not all doom and gloom for the Russians, however. Their top guns have come to life in the past few games, with names like Rodion Amirov, Yegor Afanasyev, and Vasili Podkolzin scoring with some more consistency. However, their defence, save for the play of one Semyon Chistyakov, has been rather underwhelming. They caved against a strong Canadian offence, and if they aren’t able to shut down the Finnish attack, Askarov could have fits again in this game. It’s hard to believe, but after yesterday’s performances, Russia comes in as the underdog in this game against a resilient, competitive, and powerful Finnish team.
That same powerful Finnish team largely outplayed the United States in their semifinal bout and may have won if not for the play of American goalie Spencer Knight. Yet a loss is a loss, and Arthur Kaliyev has demoted the Finns to the bronze medal game.
There are a multitude of reasons for optimism if you’re partial to the Finns. One has got to be decent, but not great, goaltending. Coming into this tournament, it was viewed as this team’s heel, but Kari Piiroinen has held the fort with a .902 save percentage. Finland’s defence has also been good at shutting down a variety of top-flight offences, with solid play from defensive d-men like Mikko Kokkonen keeping them in some tough games. Against a Russian team who’s had trouble building a consistent attack, this could prove fruitful.
Finland’s deep and seemingly never-ending offensive attack should also help their chances. Anton Lundell, Kasper Simontaival, Topi Niemela, Roni Hirvonen, and 17-year-old Brad Lambert have all been steamrolling the opposition at times. If the Russian defence folds yet again, Finland could win their first bronze in 15 years.
The playoff games at the 2021 World Junior Championship have not disappointed. This one is likely to be no different. Two hockey powerhouses, while one more established than the other, will battle for a metal medal, which is always a fun watch. Today, however, the stronger nation comes in with the weaker team and no momentum. An angry Finnish squad will be at the ready to defend their pride after a heartbreaking loss and will take advantage of a nonconfident Russian squad.
Prediction: Finland wins 4-2.
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