COVID finally reared its ugly head and took its toll on the 2022 World Junior Championship in a big way. A pair of positive COVID tests forced the United States to forfeit their Day 3 game against Switzerland, giving the latter a 1-0 win. As of this writing, the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) hopes to allow the USA vs. Sweden game on Day 4 to proceed as scheduled. But more positive tests could force more forfeitures.
Meanwhile, Canada absolutely handled its business, beating Austria by a score of 11-2. Connor Bedard, resumptive first-overall pick in 2023, had his coming out party on a global stage, scoring four goals as just a 16-year-old. (By contrast, Connor McDavid had just four points in the entire tournament when he played at age 16). Now, they’re in line for perhaps their toughest test yet, though they’ll still be extreme favorites. With the United States’ future in the tournament cast into doubt, there doesn’t seem to be anyone — other than the dreaded virus — who could possibly stop the Canadians at this point. They appear to be the juggernaut of this tournament.
Finland vs. Czechia (Edmonton, 2:00 PM)
Finland: Team Preview
Czechia: Team Preview
Both teams in this matchup are coming off a Day 3 break. On that day, they wrecked Austria 7-1, with goals from six different scorers. Brad Lambert collected three points, with two assists and the team’s final goals. Few players came into the tournament with more to prove than Lambert, whom some viewed as a potential top-three pick in next year’s draft before he began a rocky campaign in Finland’s Liiga. A strong showing at this tournament could prevent him from falling like a rock into the second round, like his teammate Aatu Raty did the year before him. One player whose NHL future is already known is Ville Koivunen, who scored the opening goal of both the first and third periods. Drafted by the Carolina Hurricanes in the second round of the 2021 Draft, he looks like just another fantastic young prospect headed to Raleigh when he’s ready for NHL action.
Czechia lost a tough matchup to Germany on Day 2, falling 2-1 in overtime. Their lone goal came off the stick of Jan Myšák, a 2020 second-round pick of the Montreal Canadiens. They fought a good fight against the Canadians on Day 1, but are still winless in this tournament. And Finland certainly won’t be an easy matchup. They’ll need Myšák to continue to lead the team if they have a shot.
Players to Watch: Brad Lambert, Ville Koivunen [CAR] (FIN); Jan Myšák [MTL] (CZE)
Slovakia vs. Russia (Red Deer, 4:30 PM)
Slovakia: Team Preview
Russia: Team Preview
Slovakia got shut out by Sweden on Day 2 of the tournament but managed two goals against the United States in their first matchup. Both those goals came off the stick of Martin Chromiak, the 2020 fifth-rounder of the Los Angeles Kings, currently dominating with the OHL’s Kingston Frontenacs. Through two games, Chromiak has been about the only shining star for the Slovaks. They’ll be looking for more from Juraj Slafkovsky and Filip Mesar, both considered top prospects in this year’s draft.
Russia has made a habit of being unpredictable in round-robin games, and this year has been no exception. Sweden avenged their streak-breaking loss from last season on Day 1, beating Russia 6-3. But then the Russians handled Switzerland 4-2. Whatever questions there may be about the team, there are no questions about Matvei Michkov, who has been one of the stars of the tournament so far with three goals and is expected to go shortly after Bedard in the 2023 Draft. He’ll look to continue his highlight-reel display against Slovakia on Day 4.
Players to Watch: Martin Chromiak [LAK] (SVK); Matvei Michkov (RUS)
Canada vs. Germany (Edmonton, 7:00 PM)
Canada: Team Preview
Germany: Team Preview
Once again, the host nation gets the primetime slot, taking on Germany in Edmonton. And why should they not receive the royal treatment? They’ve absolutely been the team to beat so far. In their first game, 2021 first-overall pick Owen Power stole the headlines with a hat trick. In their second game, the presumptive first-overall pick in 2023 Bedard one-upped him. One wonders if Game 3 will be time for Shane Wright, the — you guessed it — presumptive first-overall pick in 2022, to steal the stage. He certainly has all the tools, and Germany likely won’t offer too much opposition.
Believe it or not, Canada has some players who weren’t drafted first-overall that have still made a major impact. Cole Perfetti, the 10th-overall pick in 2020, actually leads the tournament with six points (one goal, five assists). he played two games with the Winnipeg Jets to start the season, but his play in Alberta may force them to give him an extended look in the second half of the season. Mason McTavish also made his NHL debut this season, after the Anaheim Ducks took him two picks after Power. He’s also played with the San Diego Gulls and his OHL team, the Peterborough Petes, this season. He’ll likely return there after the tournament, but there’s always a chance the Ducks decide not to wait.
Germany will have a nearly impossible task trying to beat Canada at home. They’ll need more from Florian Elias, one of their few returning top players from last year’s tournament. He has no points in two games so far. Luca Münzenberger (Edmonton Oilers, pick #90, 2020) has a goal and an assist, and Alexander Blank has two assists, to tie for the team lead in points. It’s tough to imagine they’ll have enough firepower to keep up with Canada, but they have proven to be a tough matchup over the last two years.
Players to Watch: Connor Bedard, Shane Wright, Cole Perfetti [WPG] (CAN); Luca Münzenberger [EDM], Alexander Blank (GER)
Sweden vs. United States (Red Deer, 9:30 PM)
Sweden: Team Preview
United States: Team Preview
As of this writing, this game is scheduled to go ahead as planned. And we should hope that it does because it should be a marquee matchup. Sweden is a round-robin darling, and is back to its winning ways, beating Russia 6-3 and Slovakia 3-0. William Eklund (San Jose Sharks, pick #7, 2021) and Helge Grans (Los Angeles Kings, pick #35, 2020) lead the way with three points apiece (all assists). Daniel Ljungman (Dallas Stars, pick #154, 2020) and Theodor Niederbach (Detroit Red Wings, pick #51, 2020) lead the team with two goals apiece. Sweden is getting contributions from everyone and looks like one of the teams of the tournament so far. But we’ve seen this story before: they’ll have to prove it in the medal round to earn real respect.
The United States has nine players with one point apiece after their Game 1 win against Slovakia. The backbone of the team remains the stout defense, led by Jake Sanderson and Luke Hughes. We know that at present, both are still eligible to play because TSN’s Bob McKenzie confirmed that the COVID-positive players are a forward and a goaltender. Hopefully, Logan Cooley, the top-rated American player for the upcoming draft, will be able to join them.
But the bigger story here is the threat of the virus. More positive tests likely mean another forfeiture, and possibly the practical end of the tournament for the Americans. So if you want a great hockey game and a controversy-free tournament, knock on wood that the U.S. players remain healthy.
Players to Watch: William Eklund [SJS], Helge Grans [LAK] (SWE); Jake Sanderson [OTT], Luke Hughes [NJD], Logan Cooley (USA)
Hoping for Health
Now that the threat of COVID-19 has officially pierced the veil of the 2022 World Junior Championship, it will continue to cast a bigger shadow over the remainder of the tournament. There was already controversy about the cancellation of the women’s tournament, but there’s no question the IIHF will do everything in its power to preserve the integrity of the men’s tournament. Ultimately, health will have to win out. Hopefully, they won’t be faced with that choice, and Tuesday’s scare will be the last such panic the IIHF faces.
If it is, Wednesday is set up to be the best day of action yet. There are clear favorites in most games, but they aren’t as lopsided as some previous slates. Germany has generally been hard to beat, even in defeat, and will be looking for revenge after their one lopsided loss from last year’s tournament. Russia looks strong but is always unpredictable in the round-robin. And Sweden vs. the U.S. should be one of the best games yet if it’s allowed to proceed. Here’s hoping it is — no matter what team you cheer for, everyone is hoping for a healthy end to the tournament with lots of great hockey over the next week.
All Your THW 2022 World Junior Championship Coverage
Stephen Ground is a veteran of over three years at THW, focusing on the St. Louis Blues, NHL goaltending, and the annual World Junior Championship. He is the co-host of the Two Guys One Cup Podcast, a hockey podcast focused on the Blues.