Arguably the greatest rivalry in junior hockey, Team Canada and Team USA, will battle it out once again at the U18 World Championship semi-finals on Saturday thanks to quarter-final victories on Thursday.
Canada, who finished first in Group B action, was fortunate to face a failing Swedish team in their 1/4 final matchup. The Swedes, who tend to do well at junior tournaments, finished fourth in their group, with their lone victory coming against the Germans. The Canadians were the better team all game long, with captain Mitchell Stephens scoring two while Jansen Harkins and Deven Sideroff, who both had so/so tournaments early on, added a goal each. The Swedes already had two goals of their own, and would later add a third when a pass to Ethan Bear at the Canadian point got past the defenseman and all the way down to the empty net on a delayed penalty call to help bring the Swedes within one in the third. The Canadians were able to hold on, however, as Graham Knott scored his first goal of the tournament to give his country the 5-3 victory with just four minutes to go.
The Americans, who had seen multiple big time victories all tournament long, had no issue finding the back of the net in their game against the Czech’s. The Americans began the tournament with a shocking 3-1 loss to the Russians, who fell 5-0 to the Swiss in a surprise of their own on Thursday. USA finished with a 7-2 victory, with 2016 NHL Draft star leading the way with a three point performance. 2015 NHL Draft prospect Pavel Zacha did get a goal of his own with eight minutes to go, but their American counterparts, loaded with some incredible talent at every position, finished with the big five goal advantage to secure a spot in the second round.
The battle of the two North American rivals on Saturday will easily be the most interesting event of the tournament. The Americans tend to put a stranglehold on this tournament, with their championship last year marking their fourth title in five years. The Canadians, however, took home the Ivan Hlinka tournament gold last year, defeating their American rivals by a score of 11-5 in the semi-finals to earn a spot in the final battle against the Czech’s. Canada has the slight edge thanks to their perfect 5-0 record so far, but the Americans have outscored its opponents to the tune of 37-9. Who’ll come out on top? It’s anyone’s guess at this point.
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