These two teams have punched their quarterfinal tickets and this is simply for positioning. Switzerland would need a blowout win to have a chance to avoid Canada in the quarterfinal, but the Czech Republic could finish in second or third in the group. Both of these teams had trouble against Belarus, and the Czech’s tournament-opening win against Russia is the difference between the two teams. The game will be on TSN 1/3 and RDS2 in Canada. NHL Network in the US will also show the game.
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After three years spent barely hanging on to their place in the Top Division among the world’s elite, Switzerland was finally able to make the playoff round in the 2017 World Junior Hockey Championship. They fared well in their quarter-final matchup, outshooting Team USA, but ultimately fell to the eventual champions by a 3-2 scoreline.
They won’t have last year’s team-leading scorer, Nico Hischier, on the roster this time around as he has found a home in the NHL after being selected first overall in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft by the New Jersey Devils. It was his play in the tournament versus his peers that really boosted his stock among scouts, and helped make him the most enticing prospect of the draft class.
The national team will also be without Jonas Siegenthaler, their most productive blue-liner last year, as well as goaltender Joren van Pottelberghe, who played all five games for Switzerland in 2017.
The team does have its two backup netminders from last year on the preliminary roster, as Matteo Ritz and Philip Wüthrich are still with the team in Buffalo. But their experience at the World Juniors has been limited to practice sessions and spectating the games from the bench.
It has been a third goalie, Andrin Seifert, who received the most starts in the preparatory games leading up to the flight to North America. Despite a poor showing in Switzerland’s National League B so far this season, allowing an average of five-and-a-half goals in eight games played, he has taken the crease for four tuneup games and posted a .921 save percentage in those contests. Wüthrich had a .933 save percentage in three pre-tournament matches before facing Canada in the final pre-tournament game.
Switzerland has named 17-year-old goaltender Akira Schmid to their final roster in place of Seifert. The 6’4” teenager has played 17 games in Elite Junior A this season, and had a .901 save percentage in three contests at last season’s U18 world championship.
Whoever ends up getting the role, or if head coach Christian Wohlwend decides to opt for the tandem approach, the team will be relying on an untested goalie to help them repeat last year’s medal-round appearance.
One of the most exciting things about Team Denmark is that every time they play in the tournament, they've hit some new high. They are a perennial Cinderella story that started in Montreal in 2015, and although they still haven't made it past the quarter-finals, they have improved every year.
In 2017, they picked up five points, including their first ever regulation win, and finished fifth in the tournament — also a new high. Not bad at all for a country housing 26 rinks.
They're in a new group this year, so there’s no Russian squad to scare, and no Switzerland to battle to an extra-time result. In Group A the team faces Slovakia, two juggernauts in Team USA and Team Canada, and a Finnish squad with the determination — and the talent — to have a bounce-back year.
Slovakia presents the best opportunity for Denmark to pick up a win and avoid a relegation meeting, but in 2017 they also beat Finland (admittedly in a weirdly off year for the perennial super power), so it is not entirely out of the question that they might pick up a point or two elsewhere. It's never a good idea to underestimate Denmark.
Traditionally, Denmark has played a very strong defensive team game. In fact, last year, their defensive play was so good that their penalty kill went 15 for 16, allowing only one goal in the quarter-final meeting with Russia, and was a big part of their success.
The other piece in that puzzle was terrific goaltending. While Lasse Petersen is too old to play in the tournament this year, Kasper Krog is returning. Krog backstopped Denmark to both their shootout loss against Switzerland and their regulation win against Finland, putting up a 2.88 goals-against average and a .921 save percentage in those two games by making 34/36 saves and 48/53 saves, respectively.
He will likely be called upon to be at least that good this year as well. Gransøe didn't play at all last year, but will likely be Krog's backup, and will also have to be excellent. Fortunately, Denmark's goalies tend to play lights out when it matters most.