Judging by the way Samuel Bucek and his teammates celebrated, it was a goal and a game the members of the Slovakian World Juniors squad won’t be forgetting any time soon.
In the third period of Thursday’s game against Team USA — a contest in which the Slovaks, coming off of a 6-0 loss to the Canadians on Wednesday — were significant underdogs, Bucek made a play that will be remembered for the rest of the tournament. First defending deep in the Slovakian zone, Bucek used his body to rub Brady Tkachuk off the puck and turn play back up ice. Then, crossing the blueline, Bucek slowed up, beat one defender, pulled the puck around another, cut to the net, calmly swung around the backside of the goal and somehow managed to tuck a second effort backhander into the back of the net. As Bucek was mobbed by his linemates, the Slovakian bench celebrated the goal, a marker that put them up 3-2 with little more than two minutes remaining, by leaping into each other’s arms.
To be sure, the goal by Bucek was the capper on a shocking night. Earlier in the outing, with the game still scoreless, Bucek assisted on Filip Krivosik’s first of two goals before picking up the primary assist on Krivosik’s second tally of the evening. Bucek’s three-point night and game-winning goal were only part of the story for Slovakia, though, with netminder Roman Durny as quite possibly the biggest difference-maker on the evening. Tasked with stopping 45 shots, including 18 in each of the final two periods, Durny managed to turn 43 pucks aside, including two shots on a mid-third period American power play.
That USA was able to generate so many shots on goal spoke to their performance, too. The American offense generated a bundle of chances throughout the evening, but Durny refused to be beat, meaning it took near perfection to light the lamp. Case in point, on USA’s first goal of the game, Tkachuk made a gorgeous deke on a 2-on-1 to beat Durny five-hole and even up the contest minutes after Slovakia opened the scoring. Likewise, Casey Mittelstadt’s (BUF) solo effort that erased Slovakia’s second lead of the game was one of the great goals of the tournament and sure to be on highlight reels when the competition concludes.
The biggest challenge for USA now will be finding a way to recover from what is an absolutely shocking defeat. The defending champions now find themselves deadlocked with the Slovaks and Finns in Group A, and with Friday’s matchup — an outdoor affair, no less — with the rival and group-leading Canadians on the docket, USA can ill afford to let the loss linger. Meanwhile, Slovakia has earned themselves a well-deserved day off ahead of Saturday’s meeting with Finland.
SWEDEN SLIPS BY CZECH REPUBLIC
A powerful power play struck twice against the Czech Republic as Sweden stayed perfect and continued their dominance of round robin play. The Swedes struck first in the outing, with Marcus Davidsson (BUF) beating Jakub Skarek with a one-timer to cap off an impressive passing play, and Elias Pettersson (VAN) added to Sweden’s lead when he scored his second of the tournament with a pinpoint-accurate blast on the power play. After Filip Zadina scored to bring the Czechs within one, Alexander Nylander’s (BUF) power play goal gave Sweden the insurance marker in their 3-1 victory. The win marked the 42nd consecutive round robin win for Sweden. As for the Czechs, while the loss drops them to 1-1 in the tournament, their ability to hang in against an impressive Swedish roster bodes well for their chances in Group B. With games coming against the Swiss and Belarus, as well as a win over Russia, the Czechs are looking as threatening, if not more so, than they have in years.
RUSSIA COMES ALIVE LATE TO BEAT SWISS
An upset loss to the Czech Republic on Tuesday had Russia reeling after their opening game, and through 42 minutes of Thursday’s contest against the Swiss, it seemed as though another upset could be in the cards. Despite peppering the Swiss net through 40 minutes, putting 25 shots on Philip Wuthrich, Russia was only able to score twice to hold a 2-1 lead entering the third. Russia’s failure to add to the lead would come back to bite them, too, as 2:10 into the final frame, Switzerland drew level on a Ken Jager tally. But as Russia pressed, Artur Kayumov (CHI), Georgi Ivanov and Vitali Abramov (CBJ) each found twine across the final nine minutes of the contest to avoid a second shocking defeat. Four Russian skaters had two-point games in the victory — Klim Kostin (STL), Dmitri Sokolov (MIN), Vladislav Syomin and 2018 top prospect Andrei Svechnikov — while Vladislav Sukhachyov stopped 11 of the 13 shots he faced for the win.
DENMARK DOMINATED AS FINNS WIN
In what may very well end up being one of the most dominant performances of the tournament, the Finns were rewarded early with two goals in the first seven minutes. The opening goal came when Joona Koppanen (BOS) fired one past Kasper Krog nearly three minutes in and Aapeli Rasanen (EDM) scored three minutes later to pad the Finnish lead. Denmark would strike for the first time in the tournament on an early second period power play, Nikolaj Krag (STL) getting the goal, but from there on out it was almost literally all Finland. Over the final 40 minutes, Finland fired 45 shots and added two goals, while goaltender Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen (BUF) was basically allotted time to order food from the concourse. He faced six shots across the final two frames, with not a single shot coming in the third, as Finland won their first of the tournament. Denmark, meanwhile, dropped its second straight, but the game could have been much worse without Krog, who stopped an incredible 58 of the 62 shots he faced.