The four teams who were expected to win on Day One of the 2013 World Junior Championships - Finland, Canada, Sweden, and Russia - ultimately got victories in their opening games. But not everything went according to plan.
The host Russians, boasting 11 players who ply their trade in the KHL and backed by a boisterous home crowd complete with cheerleaders, a drum section leading chants, and a creepy bear mascot, were expected to wipe the floor with Slovakia in their opener this morning. But a power play goal by the Slovaks with less than a minute remaining in the third period pushed the game to overtime, where Russia's Albert Yarullin blasted home a power play tally of his own to give Russia the narrow 3-2 win with just 9 seconds remaining in the game. Slovak goalie Adam Nagy made 34 saves, including many outstanding ones, to keep his team in the game and earn a point in the Pool B standings.
It's hard to say whether this is good or bad news for the US. Theoretically, the US is supposed to be locked in a battle with Canada and Russia for the top spot in Group B, so Russia earning 2 points instead of the full 3 is good in that sense. But Slovakia showed themselves to be a contender rather than a doormat, and will hope to make it a 4 team race for the group's 3 spots in the playoff rounds. (The group winners advance directly to the semifinals, while the 2nd and 3rd place teams go to the quarterfinals.)
In the early Group B game, Canada celebrated its annual Boxing Day tradition of bludgeoning an inferior opponent in World Juniors, smacking Germany 9-3. It wasn't quite the bloodletting we've seen in some Boxing Day openers (such as Canada beating Latvia 16-0 in the 2010 tournament), but it was a strong opening for the favored Canadians.
In Group A, Finland suffered a major blow, as in their 5-1 win over Latvia, they lost one of their best players to injury. Miro Aaltonen scored two goals for the Finns, but broke his ankle in the game, ending his tournament. It's a big loss for a Finland team that was emerging as a darkhorse threat to the major powers.
In the day's most uneventful game, Sweden opened its title defense with a comfortable 4-1 win over the Czech Republic.
The stage is now set for the US's first game, Thursday at 9 am against Germany. Here's hoping the forecasts are wrong and Boston gets a blizzard tonight, so that I get work off and can watch it live. If not, expect my reactions to Gaudreau and the team's performance tomorrow night after the re-run - and if you want more intelligent and timely information about World Juniors, check out the outstanding United States of Hockey.
Group A Standings
Record indicated as: Wins, losses, OT wins, OT losses. Regular wins are worth 3 points, OT wins worth 2, OT losses worth 1.
Finland - 1-0-0-0, 3 points, +4 GD
Sweden - 1-0-0-0, 3 points, +3 GD
Switzerland - 0-0-0-0
Czech Republic - 0-1-0-0, 0 points, -3 GD
Latvia - 0-1-0-0, 0 points, -4 GD
Group B Standings
Canada - 1-0-0-0, 3 points, +6 GD
Russia - 0-0-1-0, 2 points, +1 GD
Slovakia - 0-0-0-1, 1 point, -1 GD
USA - 0-0-0-0
Germany - 0-1-0-0, 0 points, -6 GD
Latvia vs. Switzerland, 7 am
USA vs. Germany, 9 am (live on NHL Network and NHL.com)