On Boxing Day afternoon, the IIHF World Junior Championships started in Montreal and Toronto with eight teams facing off on day one. The United States, Canada, Czech Republic and Sweden were all winners, while Latvia, Russia, Finland and Denmark all started their tournament off on the wrong foot.
Finland was the biggest upset of the day, falling to the Czech team 2-1 after Michael Spacek’s late winner. The defending champions were overwhelmed by the upstart Czechs, losing several key puck battles and being dominated in the shot totals.
Among the teams there were several standout performances:
Mathew Barzal, Canada: The New York Islanders prospect Barzal had the puck basically all game for the Canadian squad, quarterbacking their powerplay and dominating 5-on-5 play. His three points lead the tournament so far, and gives him an early lead in the tournament MVP race.
Carl Grundstrom, Sweden: A selection of the Toronto Maple Leafs this summer, Grundstrom has already been playing in the Swedish professional ranks and it showed in his tournament opener. Not expected to be an elite offensive option in the NHL, he carried the puck a ton for the Swedish team against Denmark and had two points in a team leading 15+ minutes.
Tage Thompson, USA: While teammate Clayton Keller was the big story with two goals for Team USA, Thompson deserves a lot of credit himself. With two primary assists and a team-leading +3 rating, Thompson continued what has been an outstanding year for him. After being selected 26th overall by St. Louis, Thompson has scored 20 points in 18 games at the University of Connecticut.
As for notes from the tournament, Team Canada has announced that Connor Ingram will start in net tonight instead of Carter Hart, who looked shaky at times against the skilled Russians. Ingram is a prospect in the Tampa Bay Lightning system and has dominated the WHL as a member of the Kamloops Blazers this year.
Mathieu Joseph, who is playing for Canada at the tournament, signed his entry-level contract with the Lightning yesterday with details coming down today courtesy of Cap Friendly. It’s a three-year deal that contains some solid bonuses. Not bad for a fourth-round pick.
Day two has just gotten underway with Switzerland facing off against the Czechs and three games to follow. The full preliminary round schedule can be found here.