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Photo Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Nation Network World Under-18’s Round Robin Recap

What a tournament we’ve had! After the 2020 U18’s in Plymouth, Michigan was canceled, the hockey world found a way to get the 2021 event off the ground despite the global pandemic continuing to present issues. The biggest factor in getting the annual U18 tournament going was the fact that they had the foresight to move the event from Michigan to the state of Texas, where rules are, let’s say, more relaxed surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. So Frisco and Plano, here we come! 

Now that we’ve taken care of the logistics of the event before we dive into the recap we should take a look at why the tournament was so adamantly put on. The IIHF World Under-18 Championship is one of, if not, the premier events for NHL scouts to see draft-eligible talent in a best-on-best competition against their own age group. It is an equalizer of sorts as players in Europe are often playing in men’s leagues such as the SHL and Liiga while most North American players play in junior leagues such as the CHL or USHL. 

With so much uncertainty shrouding this year, the event was even more important as it is the only time that some players will get into game action this year. The OHL has canceled their season, the WHL and QMJHL played abbreviated and altered versions of their typical year and leagues across Europe had stops and starts regularly. Getting some sense of ‘normal’ in this wild year was a priority for NHL clubs and the draft-eligible players as well. 

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We’ve seen a defender pull off ‘The Michigan’ and then a Russian phenom do the same. We’ve seen Canada tested by the underdog amongst underdogs. Team USA has struggled to find consistency. Russia has been outstanding. The Finns keep battling and outperforming expectations. The Swedes have underwhelmed at times but find ways to win. The U18s are just the absolute most underrated hockey of the year, every year, and this year it has been a treat so let’s dig into the teams and how their round robins went. 

 

Group A

 

Canada | 4-0-0-0 | First in Group A | Top Scorer: 

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Always expected to be a medal favorite on the big stage, the Canadians actually haven’t won the U18s since 2013 when a 15-year-old Connor McDavid led the team to the promise land. This year, the crew from the ‘Great White North’ were captained by a player in his 16-year-old season who hadn’t played a game this season in Shane Wright and bolstered by 15-year-old phenom Connor Bedard. With 2021 NHL Draft talent such as Dylan Geunther, Brandt Clarke, Mason McTavish, and Logan Stankoven among others, the Canadians had their best shot at the gold in years because the CHL playoffs had very little impact on their roster with only the QMJHL playing out their postseason. Canada’s roster was loaded! 

 

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After a dominating 12-1 performance against a Swedish team with seemingly no answer for the skilled and heavy offensive onslaught, they went into their second game of the tournament with a ton of confidence. Playing Latvia, they seemed destined for a second straight rout. Latvia had other plans, however. With Shane Wright out, Mason McTavish was given the ‘C’ and put up two goals in a 4-2 nail-bitter that was saved by Ben Gaudreau’s game in net. 

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After the scare from Latvia, the Canadians got their act together and put together a complete game against the Swiss. Led by Francesco Pinelli’s four-point night, the Canadians won convincingly 7-0. They handled the Belarusians as well, although that was a bit closer at 5-2. Canada showed that it was likely the best team in the tournament. 

Heading into the elimination rounds, Canada is poised to challenge for the gold medal. With a roster burgeoning in talent such as Wright, Bedard, Clarke, Mctavish, Pinelli, and the names just go one. Anything less than a gold medal game performance. 

 

First Star: C Mason McTavish

Second Star: C Shane Wright

Third Star: D Brandt Clarke

 

Sweden | 3-0-0-1 | Second in Group A | Top Scorer: 

 

The Swedes came into the tournament as one of the most interesting collections of talent in the group. They brought high-end skill and talent upfront and on the blueline. With Fabian, Lysell, Isak Rosén, Simon Edvinsson, and so many others, the group felt as strong as any in the tournament. The strength of the Swedish draft class was supposed to put this team in a tier with Canada and the other top teams in the tournament. 

The first game on the docket was against the Belarius, a team with lower-end expectations for the event. With a quick goal from Rosén in the first period and a second-period opening goal from Lysell, the Swedes took control early and didn’t let go. The same could not be said for game two as they were facing Canada in their opening game. After a couple of early punches, the Swedes fell apart and they wound up losing 12-1. 

 

 

Looking to bounce back against the Swiss, the Swedes looked sloppy for the most part with the typical cast of characters – Lysell and Rosén – who looked to be the only players playing to their level. Lysell wound up with two beautiful primary assists on the powerplay and the Swedes took a hard-fought game 3-1. Saving their best performance for last, the Swede took care of Latvia in fairly easy fashion with a 7-0 win to cap the round-robin. 

With the inconsistencies in their play throughout the round-robin, the Swede will need to continue to lean on their top players. Lysell and Rosén will need to continue to show that they are top half of the first-round talents. They will need some timely goaltending from Carl Lindbom and they will need to recapture the shine they had coming into the event. 

 

First Star: W Fabian Lysell

Second Star: W Isak Rosén

Third Star: G Carl Lindbom

 

Belarus | 2-0-0-2 | Third in Group A | Top Scorer: 

 

The Belarusian team was a team that many had wondered what they would be capable of and what they’ve shown is that they are competitive against just about any team in the division. Players like defenseman Dmitri Kuzmin and forward Danila Klimovich have put their names on the map as draft prospects and the Belarusian team played their way to a third place finish. 

 

 

They opened against the aforementioned Swedes and the 5-1 score didn’t do them justice. They were in every battle pushing the pace and finding ways to get involved. They were never out of the game as it remained within two goals until the final two minutes where the Swedes added two late markers. With a 7-1 beat down of Switzerland on the slate next, Kuzmin decided it was an appropriate time for a lacrosse goal and Klimovich added a pair of goals. The Belarusians were rolling. 

Playing Latvia next, Klimovich added another pair and the Belarusian team had proven their worth at the tournament securing their second victory, this time by a 6-2 score, and all but securing the third spot in the group. What happened against Canada was almost inconsequential. They battled hard and they did a good job of staying in the game to an extent. The final score was 5-2 but the Belarusians hung in there with the superpower and now they’ll head into the quarters with a bit of confidence as a sneaky spoiler. 

 

First Star: W Danila Klimovich

Second Star: D Dmitri Kuzmin 

Third Star: G Tikhon Chaika

 

Switzerland | 1-0-0-3 | Fourth in Group A | Top Scorer: 

 

Coming into the U18s with hopes of finishing third and avoiding the top team in the quarters, the Swiss were underwhelming for much of the tournament. Players such as defenseman Dario Sidler and forward Attilio Biasca stood out at times but the tournament was a bit of a disappointment with a fourth-place finish in the group. 

Opening the tournament strong with a 4-2 win over cellar-dweller Latvia, the Swiss looked poised to do what they always seem to do at these tournaments and play a feisty brand of hockey that allows them to punch above their weight class. They had contributions from depth players in the lineup, ready to take advantage of anything the top teams give them. 

Then they played everyone else in the division. A 7-1 loss to Belarus followed by a 3-1 loss to Sweden, the Swiss would need to beat Canada for any hopes of finishing above fourth but a 7-0 loss to the canucks would end all hopes of finishing the group stage strong. 

All in all, the Swiss were what they were. A team lacking star power and true emerging stars. They were good enough to beat Latvia but despite a solid effort against Sweden, they couldn’t muster a victory in any of their remaining games. I don’t think they last through the quarter-finals. 

 

First Star: D Dario Sidler

Second Star: G Kevin Pasche 

Third Star: F Attilio Biasca

 

Latvia | 0-0-0-4 | Fifth in Group A | Top Scorer: 

 

They came. They saw. They were conquered. That was the routine for the Latvians at the U18s. With few bright spots or standout players, the losses in the group stage, all in regulation, felt disheartening. That is with the exception of when they played Canada. 

The Latvians, who have a history of being tough-outs for Canada, put up a battle Canada likely never saw coming. They stayed within one goal for the vast majority of the game, clawing back any time a two-goal lead would be established. From 2-0 to 2-1. From 3-1 to 3-2. The Latvians, unfortunately, had nothing left in the tank and began to falter at the end of the game allowing Canada to pull ahead 4-2 late in the game and they had their fates sealed. A valiant effort for a struggling team. 

With four losses in the group stage, the lone bright spot was that loss to Canada. A hollow victory for a club finishing last in the division. 

 

First Star: W Sandis Vilmanis 

Second Star: C Martins Lavins

Third Star: W Arvi Ravinskis

 

Group B

 

Finland | 0-0-0-0 | First in Group B | Top Scorer:

 

The Finnish roster was littered with talent but as usual, they felt like the bottom-end of the ‘Big Five’ hockey nations but as usual, they’ve outperformed their talent level. Names like Samu Tuomaala, Samu Salminen, and Aleksi Heimosalmi were looked to be relied upon and they also had 2022 top-three prospect Brad Lambert. They looked they were a roster without much hype at the end of the day with Canada’s loaded roster, the hometown U.S. garnering attention, and the Russian scoring the lights out. 

 

 

They opened the tournament as the only team to beat Russia by the end of the group stage. It took a big comeback from down 3-1 with Tuomaala leading the way as he does what he does best, scores when they need it. The comeback against the Russians was an impressive performance to start the tournament and they looked to be ready to take on the world. The ‘Tuomaala playing hero’ storyline continued into the next game against the Czech squad. With three points in the third period, two goals, and a beautiful primary assist, Tuomaala continued to show why there is so much intrigue as he scored the game-winner with under 20 seconds to go in regulation.

Handling Germany handily with a 10-0 blowout, the Finns seemed ready to roll and take the top spot in Group B. They headed into their game against the United States, the last of the tournament, with the knowledge that they need at least two points to take the group from Russia. 

 

First Star: W Samu Tuomaala 

Second Star: W Ville Koivunen

Third Star: D Aleksi Heimosalmi

 

Russia | 2-1-1-0 | Second in Group B | Top Scorer: 

 

Well, Russia certainly came to play. They brought a roster that included two first-round ranking players for the 2021 NHL Draft in Nikita Chibrikov and Fyodor Svechkov, a super prospect in Matvei Michkov, and numerous other dangerous offensive players such as Danila Yurov and Prokhor Poltapov. The Russians were also fortunate enough to have 2022 top-10 prospect Ivan Miroshnichenko in the lineup after visa issue almost kept him out of the tournament. 

Drama was at its highest it seemed when Russia was on the ice. From an opening game comeback against the U.S. where they were down 5-1 and wound up winning in overtime 7-6 on an end to end Chibrikov goal to Matvei Michkov’s nightly theatrics on the ice, this team was high-level entertainment. The 5-1 comeback was an exhilarating game with the Americans control the first 25 minutes and then allowing a Russian takeover.

 

 

Following their opening night monster comeback, the Russians decided that the drama never has to stop, even when they have the lead. Going up 3-1 thanks to a two-goal game from Fyodor Svechkov, the center and defensive specialist with some offensive flair, they proceeded to allow Finland’s Samu Tuomaala to take over in the third period, coming back in the final frame to tie it up with under two minutes to go before the Russian suffered their only loss of the round-robin. 

With a convincing 6-1 victory of Germany and an 11-1 throttling of the Czech squad, the Russian collected nine points in the round-robin. The story of the tournament for the Russian squad wasn’t their draft-eligible studs in Chribkov and Svechkov, as great as they were. The player that captivated the hockey world was Matvei Michkov, a 2023 draft-eligible prospect. Against Germany, the 16-year-old scored four goals including lacrosse and between the legs goal. He was the best player on any team in the tournament and lead the event with nine goals in just four games. The kid is legit. 

 

First Star: W Matvei Michkov

Second Star: W Nikita Chibrikov

Third Star: C Fyodor Svechkov and W Danila Yurov

 

USA | 0-0-0-0 | Third in Group B | Top Scorer: 

 

The U.S. squad was without their best defender in Luke Hughes and their best goal scorer in Chaz Lucius, but with the reinforcements from the U17 squad such as Isaac Howard, Rutger McGroarty, and Lane Hutson, they seemed able to overcome much of the loss of their top players. The offensive game struggled at times and there were stretches of just underwhelming play in all facets. It started with a collapse against the Russians. 

Up 5-1, the Americans blew the lead and eventually lost 7-6 in overtime. A demoralizing loss that just seemed to put the Americans in a funk going forward. With seemingly no ability to push back at times and that dynamic offensive talent lacking a bit at times, they just allowed the Russians to dominate the game in all facets. 

 

 

They played a tighter game against the Germans in game two than they would have expected. With the Germans continuously in the game, rarely seemingly not at least winning every other shift, the U.S. squad seemed a bit flustered. With no real start on the team, they seemed to lack ‘The Guy’. Without Lucius or Hughes, they seemed to be looking for an offensive catalyst. The tight games didn’t end there either. With a hard-fought shootout win over the Czech squad, the Americans seemed to struggle in net for most of the tournament until they turned to Kaidan Mbereko, their third option of the tournament. He won them the game against the Czechs, even coming back from an injury after missing 10 minutes of action and still winding up with 30 saves on 31 shots. 

Going into their game against Finland, it would decide where they finish in the standings. With the likelihood that the third-place finish would be a reality, they went into this game wanting to prove that they were better than that. They fought and battled in their final game. They had some big saves by Mbereko yet again. Isaac Howard scored a key goal that swung momentum. Then the Finns took the lead back. With time winding down and the score 4-3, U.S. defenseman Ty Gallagher scored with 3.2 seconds left and the U.S. forced overtime. Less than a minute in, Pastujov was able to carry the puck the length of the ice, evading a couple of hooks and grabs, cut to the front of the net, and slide it five-hole for the overtime winner! The game went to overtime which automatically secured the Americans’ third-place finish but the momentum and confidence built from the end of this game is a reason to believe this team can go all the way.

 

First Star: W Sasha Pastujov

Second Star: G Kaidan Mbereko

Third Star: D Lane Hutson

 

Czech Republic | 1-0-1-2 | Fourth in Group B | Top Scorer: W Martin Rysavy

 

Much like the Swiss in group A, the Czech squad is making the quarter-final because of their lone game against the group’s basement team, the Germans. The difference however is that outside of the blowout loss against Russia to cap group play, they were competitive in all of their games. Stanislav Svozil, their top-rated player and number one defender, has had a bit of a lackluster tournament, and forwards Martin Rysavy and Jakub Brabenec could only muster so much offense. 

Opening with a win against the Germans, they never really seemed to be in donut when it came to winning this game. They were up 3-0 and relented a late goal to break the shutout but the Czech squad was clearly the better team. Players like Rysavy led the way in this one as it would be the only team in the event where their talent favorably stacked up. They got their win, now it was about seeing how high they could get in the group.

The answer was fourth thanks to the ‘Group of Death’ that they were in with Finland, Russia, and the U.S. claiming the top-three spots and victories over the Czechs en route. Against the Finns, they were able to fight back and forth for the game, going toe-to-toe with one of the best teams in the tournament. They seemed to have an answer for everything that the Finns had. They led the Finns until the final couple of minutes when Samu Tuomaala made another statement, putting up three points in the third period including a goal to win the game with under 20 seconds. 

They battled hard against the Americans as well in one of the less exciting games of the tournament but ran into Kaidan Mbereko, the hot U.S. goaltender. WIth a 2-0 shootout loss, they secured fourth in the division. A thumping from Russia to end the round-robin wasn’t likely a confidence booster either. Playing Canada in the quarterfinal may inspire some adrenaline but at the end of the day, the feisty Czech roster should give Canada a good game. 

 

First Star: W Martin Rysavy

Second Star: D David Moravec

Third Star: W Jakub Brabenec

 

Germany | 0-0-0-4 | Fifth in Group B | Top Scorer: 

 

Germany was in this tournament because of recent birth years with a ton of talent from Moritz Seider to Tim Stuzle, but they lacked that player at this event. With Bennet Rossmy as their top player and not much competition elsewhere on the roster, the Germans predictably struggled. They did have one really solid game, however. Putting up a hell of a fight against the Americans. 

In the U.S. game, the Germans seemed to push the Americans back on their heels at times and controlling the pace of play. They didn’t have one standout player as they seemed able to just play their system and control the puck for stretches of time. The U.S. did manage to pull out a 5-3 win but they showed that they had some talent on their roster. 

Without those top players from yesteryear, the Germans struggled and it wasn’t all that much of a shock. Coming into the event, they didn’t have a star or focal point player. They had good players but no one that was truly great. 

 

First Star: W Bennet Rossmy

Second Star: C Nikolaus Heigl

Third Star: G Nikita Quapp

 

I hope you enjoy the elimination rounds at the U18s! There will undoubtedly be drama and suspense. There will be an upset or two along the way. This tournament is going to be a fun one right to the finish so be sure to check it out if you can! In Canada, all elimination games will be broadcast on TSN so check your local listings! As for a prediction, I’ll call Russia over Canada in the gold medal game with the Swedes figuring things out and winning silver over their rival Finns.