It just wouldn’t be the IIHF World Junior Championship without Canada vs. Russia in the medal round, would it? Another chapter in hockey’s most enduring rivalry will be written when the Canadians and Russians face off in Edmonton with a spot in the gold medal game on the line.
Canada didn’t have its best game and finished on the wrong end of a 29-25 shot count, but it booked its spot in the final four with a 3-0 win over the Czech Republic in the quarterfinals on Saturday night. Devon Levi continued his brick-wall impression with a 29-save shutout, and three players who won gold last year – Dylan Cozens, Bowen Byram and Connor McMichael – did the scoring.
The Russians survived a scare in their Saturday quarterfinal, getting 18 saves from Yaroslav Askarov to secure a narrow 2-1 win over Germany. Vasili Ponomaryov scored shorthanded in the first period and Danil Bashkirov added the game-winner in the second to put Russia in the semifinals for the 10th time in 11 years.
Canada earned a 1-0 pre-tournament win over the Russians on Dec. 23, getting 23 saves from Levi and a third-period goal from Jamie Drysdale. But the last meeting that counted came 364 days ago, when the Canadians erased a two-goal deficit in the final 11 minutes and Akil Thomas scored with 3:58 left to for a 4-3 win and an 18th World Juniors gold medal.
WHAT TO WATCH
It has to be Levi, right? What the Canadian goaltender is doing in Edmonton is other-worldly. His shutout of the Czechs was just the latest lights-out performance from the Dollard-des-Ormeaux native, who leads the tournament with five wins, a miniscule 0.64 goals-against average and a .967 save percentage. Levi has played 280 minutes thus far, more than any other goaltender, and has given up only three goals. And how many of those have come at five-on-five? That would be zero. Canada has seen some amazing puck-stopping performance at the World Juniors (Waite, Legace, Pogge, Price, Hart, Hofer … the list goes on), but this might be the best.
The Russians have leaned heavily on their top six forwards – Ponomaryov, Yegor Afanasyev, Rodion Amirov, Arseni Gritsyuk, Marat Khusnutdinov and Vasili Podkolzin have combined for 12 goals and 27 points through five games, while the other eight forwards on the roster have put up just four goals and eight points. And then there’s Askarov, who stopped all 22 shots he faced in two periods of work in the pre-tournament game, and has a history of playing well against Canada on the international stage.
NEXT STOP, NHL?
This game will be littered with NHL prospects. The Canadians will ice a roster that includes a record-setting 19 first-round picks, including all 13 forwards. Quinton Byfield, who went No. 2 to the Los Angeles Kings in October, is the highest-drafted Canadian, followed closely by Byram (fourth overall, Colorado, 2019).
The Russians have four first-round selections from the 2020 draft – Askarov (11th overall, Nashville), Amirov (15th overall, Toronto), Shakhir Mukhamadullin (20th overall, New Jersey) and Yegor Chinakhov (21st overall, Columbus) – plus Podkolzin, who went to the Vancouver Canucks with the 10th pick in 2019.
A LOOK BACK
Is there a more historic rivalry at the World Juniors than this one? This will be game No. 28 between Canada and Russia since the 1993 tournament, which was the first for Russia after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The first 27 have been pretty darn even – Canada has 14 wins compared to 12 for the Russians, with one tie.
Canada has had a narrow edge in semifinal showdowns, winning three of the five (in 1996, 1997 and 2009).
Counting the Soviet Union years (and one match-up as the Commonwealth of Independent States in 1992), the Canadians and Russians have met 41 times since the first World Juniors in 1977, with the results split almost right down the middle – 20 wins for Canada, 19 for Russia and two ties.
All-time record: Canada leads 14-12-1 (Russia leads 3-1 in OT/SO)
Canada goals: 104
Russia goals: 84