MONTREAL, CANADA - JANUARY 2: Sweden's Joel Eriksson Ek #20 celebrates a first period goal against Slovakia's Adam Huska #30 with teammates Alexander Nylander #19 and Jonathan Dahlen #27 while Michal Roman #5 looks on during quarterfinal round action at the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship. (Photo by Andre Ringuette/HHOF-IIHF Images)
Sweden makes semis, Asplund gets four assists
Sweden took a 3-0 first-period lead and pounded Slovakia 8-3 in the early Montreal quarter-final. Captain Joel Eriksson Ek and Tim Soderlund each scored twice.
On Wednesday, the Swedes will battle the Canada-Czech Republic winner in the semi-finals.
Swedish scoring leader Alexander Nylander and Fredrik Karlstrom chipped in a goal and an assist apiece. Carl Grundstrom and Lias Andersson also scored for Sweden. Rasmus Asplund had four assists and Oliver Kylington had two helpers. The Swedish power play clicked three times.
Except when coach Tomas Monten's team let its guard down at the end of the second period and the start of the third, Swedish goalie Felix Sandstrom had a quiet afternoon compared to Slovakia's Adam Huska. Shots favored Sweden 50-18.
"We got the start we really wanted," said Monten. "It was a similar start like in the last game against the Czechs. We wanted to get the speed going, create pressure and chances. We played a great first period."
Martin Bodak, Miroslav Struska, and Adam Ruzicka scored for Slovakia.
"We just couldn’t keep up with the Swedes," said Slovak coach Ernest Bokros. "They skated better and were better one on one. The shot advantage speaks for the Swedish team."
The Swedes, who came fourth the last two years, are hoping to top the podium for the first time since 2012 in Calgary. Their only other gold medal came in 1981 in West Germany. They haven’t medaled since settling for silver at home in Malmo in 2014.
"I remember the feeling last year," said Eriksson Ek."I don’t want to have that feeling again. I hope we can step up a little bit more and win the hockey games."
At the 2015 World Juniors in Toronto, the Slovaks earned a surprising bronze thanks to Best Goaltender and tournament MVP Denis Godla. It was their second World Junior medal of all time, following 1999’s bronze in Winnipeg. However, they’ll head home empty-handed in 2017.
"I think this year was pretty hard for Team Slovakia because we had a really hard group with Canada, the USA, Russia and Latvia," said Slovak captain Erik Cernak. "But we’re staying in the [top] division, and we beat Latvia. I think that was really important for Team Slovakia."
Sweden took just 1:08 to strike first with the man advantage. After a faceoff win in the Slovak end, Eriksson Ek accepted a pass from Asplund and snapped it from the right circle over Huska’s glove.
The Juniorkronorna kept coming. Huska foiled Jonathan Dahlen, who had a hat trick versus the Czechs, on his backhanded breakaway attempt. Eriksson Ek picked off Cernak’s pass up the middle and zinged one off both posts. Gabriel Carlsson also tasted iron with a point shot.
Soderlund, an 18-year-old from Skelleftea, gave Sweden a 2-0 lead at 16:28 with blazing right-wing speed, beating Slovak defenceman Martin Fehervary wide and cutting in to fire it home. It was the World Junior rookie's first goal at this level.
"I got a pass from Andreas Wingerli from the middle, and I broke in and shot," said Soderlund.
Just 33 seconds later, Grundstrom made it 3-0 when the Swedes won an offensive-zone faceoff and he roofed one from the right faceoff dot. When the horn sounded, Sweden was outshooting Slovakia 20-5.
Sweden got an early second-period power play when Struska hit Asplund from behind into the boards. Asplund was shaken up, but kept on plugging.
Nylander put Sweden up 4-0 at 7:13, taking Dahlen's cross-ice pass from below the goal line and squeezing the rebound past Huska's right skate. At 13:07, Filip Ahl took an open-ice hit to make a play, finding Karlstrom unguarded in front of the Slovak goal, and his high backhand gave Sweden a five-goal edge.
The Slovaks woke up with a pair of late second-period goals. Bodak spoiled Sandstrom's shutout bid on the power play at 15:48. At 16:54, Struska, standing in front, deflected in Cernak's point shot. Sandstrom barely denied a fired-up Struska and Ruzicka on a flurry of chances just before the buzzer.
"We played really well in the second period," said Cernak. "We scored two goals. If we played the same game all game, that would have been good."
At 1:53 of the third, Ruzicka eluded Andersson's checking as he swung out in front of the Swedish net and wrapped the puck through Sandstrom's pads to cut the deficit to 5-3.
But that was as good as it would get for the Central European underdogs, who will finish eighth for the third time in six tries under Bokros.
"It was a bit shaky when they scored their goal there, but we’re a really calm group," Kylington said. "We talked a lot in the bench. There wasn’t any panic. I think we handled it pretty good."
In the third period, Soderlund ended Slovakia's comeback hopes at 2:24, stickhandling in the slot before zipping a wrister past Huska's blocker to make it 6-3.
"It was an important goal for us," said Asplund. "We got back the energy and they got a little bit low after that."
Andersson scored Sweden's seventh goal from behind the net on the power play at 4:27. Eriksson Ek rounded out the scoring with the man advantage, converting a rebound with 2:56 left.
For Slovakia, at least the final score was an improvement on last year's 6-0 quarter-final loss to Sweden in Helsinki. The Swedes have won 11 straight World Junior quarter-finals. Their last quarter-final loss was 1-0 to Finland with Tuukka Rask in goal on 2 January, 2006 in Vancouver.
Slovakia's three best players of the tournament were honoured post-game: Adam Huska, Erik Cernak, and Martin Fehervary.