The big-four hockey powers are all in the World Under-18 Championship dance!
USA is attempting to win three U18 gold medals for the first time in history, but it won't be easy. Though Germany pushed Canada to the brink, Soo Greyhounds forward Nick Cousins continued his excellent play in the tourney with a late power play goal with less than five minutes left to propel Canada into the final-four, 4-3.
Russia smoked Finland by a 5-2 score, with defenseman Andrey Pedan getting a pair of assists, while forward Nikita Kucherov continued his tourney-leading points assault with a goal and helper. Kucherov is tremendously talented, but has been graded down for diving and effort concerns this season. We've not seen much of that in the tourney, however. He's been the real straw stirring the drink for the Russians. Pedan is more of a project, a big kid at about 6-5 who can skate and shoot, but played a very conservative game for Guelph of the OHL this season. He's been more active offensively on the bigger ice surfaces of the U18s and is the kind of raw prospect with impressive physical tools who could be worth a look in the third round.
Sweden will take on the Russians, and you have to like the Swedish defensive group. Led by Jonas Brodin, they also boast some studs in Oscar Klefbom and Rasmus Bengtsson and small but skilled Karl Johansson. It will be Russia's high octane offense led by Kucherov and also featuring Nail Yakupov and Maxim Shalunov against Sweden's mobile, heady and dangerous blue line corps. Can't wait!
The Americans have been off since Tuesday when they beat Germany to go 4-0-0-0 in the round robin. This is a tough challenge for them, because like the WJC U20 team who cruised, they have yet to go up against a squad in the tourney with the kind of size and power along with some smaller speed and skill players like Cousins, Daniel Catenacci and high-flying defenseman Ryan Murphy.
USA will need a terrific game from John Gibson to advance to the gold medal game, but they have no shortage of gamers who have managed to alternately grab the ring and be heroes when the team has needed it. One player who has yet to make much of an impact is winger Tyler Biggs. Getting some offense going against Canada would be a good spot for him to start.