All four favorites won their quarterfinal match-up at the World U18 Championships to set up what should be an excellent medal round on Saturday.
Team USA got off to a bit of a slow start, an emerging theme in this tournament for them, playing a scoreless first period against the Czech Republic. But the other emerging theme for the United States has been absolutely blowing the doors off their opposition in the final two periods of their games, and that is just what the US did with a 8-0 victory over the Czechs. The US got goals from all four lines tonight. They've now outscored their opposition 38-4 through five games in this tournament.
Their opponent in the semifinals will be Finland, who survived a tough game against Russia to win 4-3 in the only close game of the day. In his second game of the tournament, Finnish superstar Jesse Puljujarvi made his presence felt with a goal and an assist, but the hero for the Finns was '99 F Eeli Tolvanen, who recorded a hat trick for Finland.
The United States-Finland match-up should be an interesting one. The United States blew out Finland 6-1 in pre-tournament action, but this is an extremely different Finland team than the one the US saw two weeks ago in Blaine. For starters, Finland had just two practices under their belt prior to that exhibition game, whereas the US had mostly played together all season. Finland has really started to gel together as a team since then. Finland has also added Jesse Puljujarvi, the projected third overall pick in the Draft, and Kristian Vesalainen, possibly a top-5 pick in next year's Draft. Finland now has a true first line that could be a game-changer against the United States.
In the bottom half of the draw, Sweden cruised over Slovakia with a 7-2 win, with seven different Swedes scoring a goal. Canada blew out Switzerland 9-1.
The Canada-Sweden semifinal should be an interesting one. The stereotype of Sweden has a smaller, faster, more skilled team vs. the strong, physical tough Canadian team is probably true. I haven't been overly impressed with the Canadians, despite their impressive results, outside of the play of goalie Evan Fitzpatrick. .It probably wouldn't have made a difference today against an overmatched Switzerland team, but Fitzpatrick made some big saves early that turned this game into a laugher much quicker than it could have been.
The US will play Finland at 3pm at Ralph Engelstad Arena on Saturday, with Canada and Sweden to follow at 7pm. I'll be at both games for live coverage.