2023 World Junior Championship Predictions: Finland vs Latvia

Day four of the World Junior Championship is here! Group B is shaking up to be interesting. Finland sits in second, behind only Switzerland, but ahead of Team USA (fourth). Today, they will be taking on Latvia, who is looking to snag their first win of the tournament. 

2023 World Junior Championship Predictions

Latvia vs Finland

Latvia is the underdog coming in. They lost to the USA in their first match, then fell just short in a tight battle against the Swiss in a shoot-out. Meanwhile, the Finns are coming off of a big bounce-back win. Their first game against Switzerland ended in a shoot-out loss, a shocking one for the Finns. But they took their frustrations out on Team Slovakia in the form of a 5-2 win. 

Team Latvia

Latvia just falling short against the Swiss was a tough blow for a team who came in as overwhelming underdogs. They put up a good fight against the Americans as well before they pulled away in the second half of the game. But a constant in both of those games? Strong goaltending from Patriks Berzins. Facing by far the most shots in the tournament (75), Berzins has a save percentage that ranks fourth among all goalies with 40+ shots faced. 

Their defenseman, Gustavs Ozolins, leads the Austrians in points, with three. Their top forward is Rainers Rullers (2023) with two points of his own. With no true star on their team, like a Sandis Ozolinsh of years past, it’s not a total surprise that the offence has been spread out. However, Klavs Veinbergs (Tampa Bay Lightning), Sandis Vilmanis (Florida Panthers), and Dans Locmelis (Boston Bruins) are the only guys who were drafted on the roster. They’ve combined for just one goal. They need more from those three guys. 

Player To Watch

The player to watch for Latvia is Berzins. The Latvian netminder has proven he can keep them in games. If given some sort of offensive help, he can steal them a win. That being said, the three names mentioned above that are NHL prospects need to deliver. The odds are stacked against them as is, but if they want to shock the hockey world and advance past the group round, they need this win. Berzins is the guy they will lean on, but they’ll need help from their top dogs to get the upset. 

Team Finland

Despite the win over Slovakia, the Finns once again saw themselves get outshot. They took advantage of their opportunities this time around, so it did not matter at the end of the day. But still a concerning trend for a strong team. Their big names came through, with Oliver Kapanen (Montreal Canadiens) and Joakim Kemell (Nashville Predators) both scoring two points. The guy that was deemed the “Player To Watch” ahead of that game, Jani Nyman (Seattle Kraken), also potted a goal of his own. 

While the offence was much better in this contest than their first, there was still some shakiness in net. Aku Koskenvuo (Vancouver Canucks) started against Switzerland and gave up a couple of iffy goals. Then, they called on Jani Lampinen against Slovakia. The first goal, he lost track of the puck after making a save, then the second one was a poor rebound right to the net-front man. Better defending and goaltending, and the Finns could be undefeated. They’ll look to build the momentum into today’s game. 

Player To Watch

Initially, paying attention to their stars up front, like Kemell or Brad Lambert (Winnipeg Jets), would be the right call. However, for the reasons mentioned above, it’s whoever starts in the net that needs to be watched. Lampinen could go again after the win, or they can go with Niklas Kokko, who has yet to play. He was a second-round selection of the Kraken in the 2022 NHL Entry Draft and has looked okay in Mestis with Hermes (.904 sv% and 2.88 goals against average). Or, they go back to the goalie who started the tournament for them, Koskenvuo. Whoever it ends up being, keep a close eye on them. 

2023 World Junior Championship Matchup Prediction

Similar to their last game, Finland is the favourite coming in. By a wide margin. However, they’ve had their flaws. But Latvia lacks star power in all three phases, and it’s why they’ve yet to win a game. The goaltending has been great, but it can only get them so far without help. Finland is the better team, coming off a big win. They should march on. 

Prediction: Finland wins 6-1.

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