Finland state

U-18 World Championship roundup: USA, Latvia, Finland and Czech Republic start strong

Howard the star in American Win Over Canada

In what could end up being a battle for a medal later in the tournament, the United States crushed Canada in an 8-3 victory on Saturday.

The Americans were buoyed by a strong performance from forward Isaac Howard, who scored four goals for the victory. His first two goals opened the game in a dominant period for the Americans, starting at 4:20 and again at 18:52 after Canadian keeper Reid Dyck made some big saves.

Matthew Wood and Matthew Ward then scored just over a minute apart for Canada, Ward capitalizing on a penalty shot, to give Canada some life after 25:55 of play, but it was in descent from there. Logan Cooley scored at 29:21 and Cruz Lucius added one less than a minute later to make it 4-2, a deficit Canada couldn’t overturn.

Connor Bedard scored a scoring wrist with very little room to shoot at 31:43, but Ryan Chesley responded three minutes later for the 5-3 goal. Howard completed his hat trick at 38:37 to make it 6-3 and put the game aside. Canada could do nothing to reduce the USA lead, instead allowing Cole Spicer to score on a breakaway and Howard a fourth goal to make it 8-3.

Latvia surprise Sweden to open tournament

After losing all four games last year, Latvia got the U-18 World Championship off to a good start with a 3-2 win over Sweden.

It is Latvia’s first victory against Sweden in this tournament, coming back on a 7-0 loss a year ago. Latvia pushed Sweden into extra time in 2016, the only time they had scored a point against Sweden before.

Special teams were the story of it. Rainers Darzins scored the only goal in the first at 9:47 with Filip Bystedt out for roughing before Noah Ostlund scored six minutes into the second, also on the power play, to even things up. But a minute after that goal, Erasts Nazarenko scored to put Latvia back in front, unleashing a fire that never left the Latvian bench.

Of course, Sweden was not willing to back down. Bystedt, one of Sweden’s top offensive threats, scored at 13:55 on the power play with a perfectly placed shot. Sweden tried to capitalize on this, but a power-play goal from Eriks Mateiko proved to be the dagger as Latvia held on for the 3-2 win.

Finns start strong against Switzerland

It took just 16 seconds for the Finns to capitalize first. Jere Lassila got the ball rolling with a quick shot that Loris Uberti couldn’t stop. The lead lasted until Switzerland’s first power play of the game when Gregory Weber created his own scoring chance by blowing through a pair of Finns before shoveling the disc past Niklas Kokko with four minutes left in the first.

The second period is when things fell apart for the Swiss. Joakim Kemell and Jani Nyman scored a power-play goal each at 3:52 and 6:13, respectively, to take any late-period momentum from Switzerland. Lenni Hameenaho made it 4-1 at 30:58 to put the game out of reach, canceling out Thierry Schild’s late goal that made it 4-2. A pair of empty scorers from Topi Ronni and Tuomas Uronen ended the game in favor of Finland, a competition dominated by power play opportunities.

The Czech Republic stops in Germany

With a full crowd on the home ice, Germany kicked off with a bang seven minutes later. Roman Kechter’s shot from the face-off circle to the left of the German net somehow beat Jan Spunar through the wickets for the 1-1 goal.

Czechia tried to force their way back into the match, and eventually did so with 35 seconds left in the first. Simon Slavicek scored on the break to capitalize on a solid period from the Czech striker.

The teams again exchanged goals in the second, but the Czechs eventually won the match thanks to the middle stanza. Luca Hauf regained the Germany lead at 24:44 after holding the puck long enough to beat two Czech defenders before getting in front of the Czech crease and firing a shot from close range.

Jiri Kulich, a projected 2022 first-round pick, scored on the power play at 11:01 to make it 2-2, only for Adam Bares, another top Czech prospect, to do the same at 36. minutes. Kulich’s goal with 30 seconds remaining in the middle stanza ultimately proved to be all it took to win as Spunar played a perfect game the rest of the way for a Czech victory.