It’s been happening for so many years that it’s almost become an annual tradition by now: one of the newly promoted countries to the World Junior Hockey Championships witnesses a bizarre upserge of top-end talent and goes on to have a record-setting performance at the tournament, before being relegated back to Division 1 a couple years later when the talent pool runs dry again. This year the non-traditional hockey country who occupies that familiar role of “loveable underdog” appears to be Denmark.
Russia’s enigmatic history at the World Juniors is well documented. It’s been an up-and-down affair for Russia at the World Under-20s dating back to the Soviet era and the infamous ‘Punch Up at Piestany.’ In recent history, the Russians are known concurrently in world junior folklore for both their humiliating loss to Switzerland in what turned into the biggest upset of 2010, and for their miraculous gold-medal comeback victory against the Canadians in 2011. This years team includes NHL draft picks Pavel Buchnevich (NY Rangers, 3rd Round, 2013), Nikolai Goldobin (San Jose, 1st Round, 2014), and Ivan Barbashev (St. Louis Blues, 2nd Round, 2014). The defence, meanwhile, is a similarly unpredictable mixture of KHL-bound talent and CHL young-blood.
Denmark, a country boasting only 25 indoor skating rinks, is riding on the coattails of several key players plying their trade from coast-to-coast in Canada’s major junior circuit—namely, Nikolaj Ehlers (2014, 1st Round, Winnipeg) of the Halifax Mooseheads, the Portland Winterhawks’ Oliver Bjorkstrand (Pittsburgh, 2nd Round, 2013), the Edmonton Oil Kings’ Mads Eller (2013), and the Seattle Thunderbirds’ Alexander True (2015 draft-eligible). A victory would be Denmark’s first win ever at the World Juniors.
The Danes simply outworked the Russians to a two goal lead in the first period. The first goal came off of Oliver Bjorkstrand snipe from above the left-side hashmarks, the second off of a similar shot by Nikolai Ehlers from a similar area just outside the slot. A combination of strong defensive play from Denmark, excellent goaltending from George Sorenson, and a lacklustre effort from the Russians resulted in a scoreless second period outside of a Goldobin power play tally, giving the crowd in the Air Canada Centre exalted expectations of a historic Danish victory.
But the Russians battled back admirably, saving their country from a yet another national embarrassment in this tournament’s recent history. The heroics of George Sorenson could only get the Danes so far, and a late even-strength goal from Maxim Mamin tied the game, taking it to a shootout. In a rather undramatic fashion, a simple wrister from Sergei Tolchinsky (Carolina, FA, 2014) and a fanned shot snuck their way underneath Sorenson and put a rest to Denmark’s lofty aspirations.
Nikolaj Ehlers – Nikolah Ehlers looked like the only NHLer on the ice tonight, winning endless 1-on-1 battles in open-ice, along the boards, and in front of the net. It seemed like he was creating chances everytime he broke across the offensive blueline. His skating, passing, and shooting skills make him dangerous in all areas of the attacking zone.
Oliver Bjorkstrand – Portland’s Oliver Bjorkstrand continues to show why he’s one of the most feared pure snipers in the Dub. His shot is long-range, powerful, and highly accurate, as he gained numerous opportunities tonight from seemingly harmless areas of the ice.
FINAL SCORE: Denmark, 2 – Russia, 3 (Shootout Victory)