USA and Canada to face off in semifinals at shocking 2021 World Hockey Championship
Their rosters didn’t look like much on paper, but Team USA and Team Canada reached the bottom four at the 2021 World Hockey Championship in Riga, Latvia. They will face each other in the first semi-final match on Saturday, vying for the opportunity to play for gold.
Team USA punched in on Thursday with a 6-1 quarter-final victory over Slovakia. The Americans opened the tournament with a 2-1 loss to defending champions Finland, but have since won seven straight games.
The Canadiens bounced back from a very slow start, when they scored just two goals in their first three games. They started with a 2-0 shutout against the tournament hosts, marking the first time Latvia has beaten Canada at the World Championship. Three days later, after Canada was humbled in a 5-1 loss to Team USA, Germany also earned its first-ever victory over the Canadians, by a score of 3-1.
The other side of the range in the 16-team tournament also yielded some unexpected results. Twelfth Denmark beat No.4 Sweden on Matchday 2, Slovakia No.9 surprised No.2 Russia and Great Britain, 19th, collected just one point as they led Denmark in overtime before to beat Belarus 4-3 for their first victory in regulation time since 1962.
Perhaps even more remarkable, the top scorer at the end of the preliminary round was a member of the Great Britain squad, with seven goals in seven games. Liam Kirk, 21, played two successful seasons with the Peterborough Petes of the Ontario Hockey League after becoming the first British player born and trained to be drafted into the NHL, selected in the seventh round by the Coyotes of Arizona in 2018 When the OHL was suspended this season due to Covid protocols, Kirk spent time playing in Sweden and then had a terrific homecoming for the British League season-ending tournament, with 20 points in 14 games.
Here in North America, the World Championship is often treated as an afterthought. Because it is being held concurrently with the Stanley Cup Playoffs, many top stars are still playing for their NHL teams or are ready for rest, relaxation and rehabilitation after tough regular seasons. In addition, as the tournament is played regularly in Europe, playing hours fall in the morning and early afternoon.
Across the Atlantic, the tournament is a big draw for hockey nations. It normally draws large crowds and is the main source of income for the International Ice Hockey Federation, which uses the profits to fund projects to develop the game in lower level divisions, younger age groups and women’s hockey.
The 2020 world championship, which was scheduled in Switzerland, has been canceled due to the coronavirus. This year, a scaled-down event will be held against a backdrop of bubbles at a pair of arenas in Riga, Latvia.
Latvian fans are known to be some of the loudest in the hockey community, but were only allowed into arenas on the last day of the round robin, Tuesday, and only in small numbers.
Despite fans’ best efforts, Latvia lost 2-1 to Germany in a must-see match, bringing their tournament to an end. Sweden, who won gold in 2017 and 2018, also failed to advance to the playoffs.
With this year’s tournament following a compressed NHL season, and with protocols that included a new quarantine period as well as longer bubble life, even more NHL players than usual have declined. their country’s invitations to participate.
Typically, the best Russian stars will join the team at the end of their NHL seasons. In 2019, for example, the bronze medal-winning Russian squad included Andrei Vasilevskiy at net and forwards Alexander Ovechkin, Nikita Kucherov, Evgeni Malkin, Ilya Kovalchuk and Kirill Kaprizov, to name a few.
Even this year, the Russians have attracted a stronger NHL all-star contingent than any other country, including a particularly strong defensive body with Nikita Zadorov of the Chicago Blackhawks, Ivan Provorov of the Philadelphia Flyers and rising star Artem. Zub of the Ottawa Senators. Following their teams’ first-round Stanley Cup Playoff eliminations, Vladimir Tarasenko of the St. Louis Blues, Dmitry Orlov of the Washington Capitals and Sergei Bobrovsky of the Florida Panthers also crossed the Atlantic to prepare for what is currently called the ROC. team, as the Russian Athletics Federation continues to face sanctions from several doping scandals. But despite the big names, the Russians’ tournament ended Thursday, following their 2-1 overtime loss to Canada.
The last time the tournament was held, in 2019, a Finnish team who executed a patient, defensive team approach won gold with just two players who had racked up NHL experience this season.
This year, the Finns were convinced that the same strategy could yield positive results again. Indeed, they are back in the last four after a disciplined 1-0 victory over the Czech Republic in their quarter-final on Thursday.
With more top players than usual staying at home, countries like the United States and Canada have had to adopt similar strategies. It works for them too.
New York Rangers general manager Chris Drury is the general manager of Team USA. His roster includes two excellent young goalies, Cal Petersen of the Los Angeles Kings and Jake Oettinger of the Dallas Stars. The two are just starting to establish themselves in the NHL and have delivered the tournament’s best team save percentage so far (.953).
The American team’s best penalty, 95.45%, is a testament to the entire team’s willingness to work hard, block shots and do whatever it takes to avoid goals. This effort is led by Brian Boyle, 36, the large defensive center who signed up with the United States squad in a bid to jumpstart his career after he failed to adjust to a NHL team this season.
Detroit Red Wings forward Justin Abdelkader also saw the World Championship as a showcase opportunity after playing in Switzerland last season. The 34-year-old was first named captain of the United States team but was sidelined with a lower-body injury in Game 6 of the round robin. With a pair of crutches under his arms, Abdelkader has now moved behind the bench, ready to offer any help he can to American coach Dave Capuano as the Americans try to win World Championship gold for the first time since 1960.
Offensively, the United States is led by Conor Garland of the Arizona Coyotes, who is tied for third in tournament scoring at 5-5-10 in eight games. Los Angeles Kings’ Trevor Moore has eight points and Dallas Stars rookie Jason Robertson has seven. This is the first time Garland and Moore have teamed up for Team USA at any level. . Robertson won a silver medal with the U20 team at the 2019 World Junior Championship.
After starting 0-3, the Canadian team formed by rookie GM Roberto Luongo risked missing the playoff round for the first time in tournament history. Canada’s fortunes started to turn when forward Andrew Mangiapane joined the squad in Game 4 after serving his quarantine. Although his Calgary Flames regular season did not end until May 19, three days before the tournament began, the 25-year-old forward jumped at his very first opportunity to adjust for his national team.
Sitting on a line with Canadian captain Adam Henrique and Ottawa Senators forward Connor Brown, Mangiapane made an immediate difference. In five games, he scored five goals and nine points, including the winning strike on an incredible pass from Troy Stecher as Canada erased a 1-0 deficit to eliminate Russia in overtime 3v3 in the quarterfinals. from Thursday.
The coach of Canada also takes advantage of the tournament to showcase himself. This is the first time Gerard Gallant has returned behind a bench since being let go by the Vegas Golden Knights in January 2020. He is looking to return to the NHL and was interviewed last month for the vacant position of New York Rangers head coach.
While Team USA has been virtually unstoppable so far, expect a much more determined Canadian squad to show up on Saturday (7 a.m. ET).
The second semi-final pits Finland against Germany (11 a.m. ET). Unlikely to be silver medalists at the 2018 Winter Olympics, the Germans reached the last four of the World Championship on Thursday for the first time since 2011, coming back from a 2-0 deficit to beat Switzerland 3-2 in shootouts.
The Arena Riga gold medal game is Sunday at 1 p.m. ET on the NHL network.