The collective showcase of skill on display during the World Junior Championship is unlike any other. Every athlete who gets the chance to participate – regardless of their role or roster – is not only doing so with national pride on the line, but they are also basically auditioning for future employment in the pros.
While onlookers are justifiably drawn to the creative goal scorers or dynamic defenders who set the pace throughout any given game, none of that should overshadow the netminders putting in noteworthy performances along the way. In fact, a strong showing in net can often be the difference necessary to secure victory in this type of tournament.
Although this year’s World Junior Championship was cut short, before the Preliminary Round was even able to conclude, the game’s brightest stars still found a way to put on a show within the limited sample size they were given to work with.
Reflecting on the games played prior to the official cancellation of those that remained, here are the performances that stood out for all the right reasons.
Commesso Infuses Confidence Into Team USA
If plans carried on as they were originally outlined for Drew Commesso at this time last year, he would have been participating in his first-ever World Junior Championship in 2021. However, that didn’t end up being the case, as he was forced out of action just prior to the competition.
Having already been drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks in 2020, it’s not as though Commesso missed a chance to level up his pre-draft ranking. Yet, that doesn’t negate the benefits that come from leveraging the international stage to showcase one’s skill set. Needless to say, being given another chance to represent Team USA in the 2022 World Juniors was more than welcomed by the now 19-year-old.
As the reigning champion, it was important for Team USA to maintain that momentum from the first puck drop. Fortunately, Commesso didn’t take the opportunity to start their opening match against Slovakia for granted, as he did his part to close this one out in the USA’s favour by a score of 3-2. He made 23 saves in the contest.
Not to be overlooked, Simon Latkoczy of Slovakia stopped an impressive 39 of 42 shots faced. However, Commesso was a little more clutch when it mattered most, having battled through a busier third period than Latkoczy. Proving that a save count isn’t the only factor at play, as the timing of a goalie’s elevation can make all the difference when it comes to securing the win. Commesso’s efforts even earned him player of the game honours for Team USA.
Bugl’s Busy Workload Helps Germany Bounce Back
There is no denying that Team Germany has earned their place within the conversation in recent years. They’ve become far more of a force to be reckoned with at this tournament, despite less recognizable rosters than their competition. Safe to say, though, they’re still often considered an underdog. A title that never stops the Germans from working to surprise.
After suffering a 3-1 loss at the hands of Team Finland on opening day, Germany would have to dig deep to bounce back. First off, they played the very next day. Second, and no less important, it was against a strong Czechia club. None of which seemed to matter to Florian Bugl.
It’s a good thing Germany relied on Bugl for the second of their back-to-back contests, as he was more than capable of lifting their lineup from despair. Not only were his 39 saves impressive enough in their own regard, but they proved necessary to help secure the 2-1 overtime victory.
Currently undrafted and playing in the minors overseas, it’s safe to say that this performance alone propelled Bugl into discussions he may not have otherwise been part of. What comes next for the 19-year-old’s career is yet to be seen, but accomplishing what he did in this game will certainly work to his advantage.
Wallstedt Stands Tall in Sweden’s Shutout Victory
With all the glory that comes alongside being a first-round pick, comes an elevated sense of pressure to prove that such a selection was justified. And when it’s a goalie drafted that early, it only fuels the debate even further. Yet, the satisfaction that arises from silencing skeptics must make it worthwhile.
Ranked first among European goaltenders by NHL Central Scouting heading into the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, Jesper Wallstedt had earned himself a lot of pre-draft attention. So much so that he was predicted as being selected much earlier than he actually was, leaving him available for the Minnesota Wild to steal him at 20th overall. Surely, any team that passed him up is questioning their decision-making at the moment.
Needless to say, the Wild obviously enjoyed the show Wallstedt had put on in this year’s World Juniors. First, he helped lift Sweden above Slovakia for his and their second win in as many nights. Second, he earned a shutout en route to the 3-0 victory. Third, and most impressive, he stopped all 48 shots thrown his way in that contest.
That he’s a humble winner makes it even easier to wish him continued success.
“It’s always a confidence boost, but I couldn’t do this performance without the team in front of me,” Wallstedt said. “We had a lot of blocked shots and we put their shots in areas where I often could control the saves, so this performance couldn’t be done without the great team in front of me.”
Already earning comparisons to Henrik Lundqvist, the winningest Swedish goaltender in NHL history, Wallstedt is obviously the real deal. Although being 20 by the time next year’s tournament gets underway means he’ll be ineligible to return, it’s likely that Wallstedt will already be at a point in his journey that no longer includes having to work his way through the World Juniors.
Early Conclusion to 2022 World Juniors
It’s an unfortunate reality that many of this year’s participants were playing in what was likely their last opportunity to partake in this tournament. However, health comes before hockey, and the decision to cancel made the most sense for all.
What fans can still hope for, though, is that the athletes who were destined to reach greater heights are provided with another pathway to do so. At the very least, the small sample size of success that any were able to accomplish should help showcase why they deserve to maintain such a spotlight.
Freelance thinker, paying too much attention to digital aesthetic. Oxford comma enthusiast. Spider-Man supporter. Sports fan, with two favourite hockey teams. If the Blackhawks and Maple Leafs ever meet in the Stanley Cup Final, you can find me wherever they’re playing that night.