Day two of the World Junior Championship is here! After an exciting first day, which featured a ton of goals (largely from one game) and upsets, the tournament continues. With a full slate of games, let’s focus on group B. Slovakia will take on Finland. This is Slovakia’s first match-up, and Finland is coming off of an upset loss.
2023 World Junior Championship Predictions
Slovakia Vs. Finland
As stated before, Slovakia will be playing in their first game today, and the Finns are expected to be a steep challenge. That is, before they were upset by Switzerland on day one. Finland, looking to bounce back in their second game of a back-to-back is never easy. Meanwhile, Slovakia is well-rested, looking to make a big impression to open their tournament.
World Junior Championship: Team Slovakia
Slovakia is coming into this tournament with some big names on offence and defence. Starting with the forwards, they have Filip Mesar, a first-round pick of the Montreal Canadiens in 2022, is one of their top forwards. This season, he has scored 22 points in 17 OHL games thus far, and has always been a top contributor in international games. On defence, they have Simon Nemec, who was the second overall pick of the New Jersey Devils in the 2022 draft, leading the way. Nemec has played well in the AHL with the Utica Comets thus far, with 11 points in 24 games this season.
They also have some solid depth options in Dalibor Dvorsky (2023), Adam Sykora (New York Rangers), and Servac Petrovsky (Minnesota Wild) up front, with Maxim Strbak (2023) on the back end. Goaltending is a concern, however, and something to watch in this game.
Player To Watch
The player to watch for the Slovak squad could be either of the top prospects they have in Mesar or Nemec. With Juraj Slafkovsky remaining in the NHL, Mesar would be expected to take the lead on offence. But the true player to watch is their likely starter, Matej Marinov. Marinov has looked really good in the USHL with the Fargo Force, with a .928 save percentage and 1.87 goals against average across 12 games thus far. In fact, since last season, Marinov only had below a .915 save percentage once, in his first USHL season, transitioning from European sized rinks. He’s been improving recently, and the Slovaks might need him to keep that trend going into the tournament.
World Junior Championship: Team Finland
Finland is one of the hockey powerhouses, though not quite at the same level as Canada, Sweden, and the USA. But they’ve always been a tough out. However, they were upset in their first game of the tournament. Playing against Switzerland, they were brought to overtime, where they fell 3-2. The Finns were led by Kalle Vaisanen (Rangers) and Sami Paivarinta, with two points each (one goal and three assists, combined). Vaisanen scored, as did Konsta Kapanen.
The Finns, however, were out-shot by quite a margin (27-16). They did not play very well in their own end, with two of their three goals allowed coming off sloppy turnovers, and one goal was a tough break. Finland needs to clean up their board play and puck control in their own end. If they want to beat Slovakia, they need to test the Slovaks goalie with a high volume of shots and be smarter with the puck.
Player To Watch
The player to watch for the Finns is Jani Nyman (Seattle Kraken). Nyman had a few really good looks, but just couldn’t find the back of the net. Nyman, who is known for his goal-scoring ability, should come out motivated against Slovakia. Against a shaky defence (on paper) and questions in their crease, if Nyman plays as well offensively against Slovakia as he did against Switzerland, look out. He won’t miss golden opportunities two games in a row.
On paper and with historical context, Finland is the favorite in this one. However, with some shaky defensive moments against Switzerland, it’s fair to question if they can step up against a pesky Slovakian squad. However, Finland has some strong talent with Koivunen and a likely motivated Nyman coming in. Add in the frustration and the need to bounce back, Finland will look to overwhelm the Slovaks.
Prediction: Finland wins 4-2