The GIFies: World Juniors Day 1
Boxing Day! Happy shopping – or just sit on your couch and do it online to avoid all the hassle. However, if you weren’t up at the crack of dawn or were shopping all day, you may have missed the opening day of the IIHF World Junior Championship. Usually, the games at the beginning of the tournament are not the cream of the crop – but there were some really good ones today. Here’s everything you need to know after Day 1 in GIFs & tweets!
Slovakia: The Dark Horse
It would seem that the Slovaks are the dark horse in this tournament after a really good performance against the Czechs on Day 1. A dominant 6-2 win where they controlled the entire game and while Adam Gajan was goodie goal, he didn’t have to stand on his head. This is a strong age group from the Slovaks who are without Juraj Slafkovsky and Simon Nemec.
— Mackenzie Grafton (@mgrafton37) December 26, 2023
Contributions from Filip Mesar, Servac Petrovsky and Samuel Honzek got the Slovaks started on the right foot. Those three, along with Adam Gajan are capable of leading the Slovakians on a deep run in this tournament, specifically with it being a down year by Finnish and Czech standards.
These Slovaks are legit, even without the two best players in their 2004 age group. Four legitimate lines at forward and a goaltender who can steal a game. If they finish second behind USA in Group B, you don’t want to be the team that finishes third in Group A. #WorldJuniors
— Scott Wheeler (@scottcwheeler) December 26, 2023
Early Injury Concerns
Injuries are always a concern in short tournaments because if a player goes down, they are unlikely to return. The United States got Rutger McGroarty back, but there is little chance that he’s fully healthy. He looked a little laboured in his skating and was forgivably rusty in the opener. However, he’s the heart and soul of the 2004-born Americans and a major part of what makes the team tick. If he can’t impose his will on the ice, his leadership will likely be a major factor in any American success.
Michigan's Rutger McGroarty, who has been out injured almost two months, is playing in today's Team USA opener, on a line with BC's Cutter Gauthier and Minnesota's Jimmy Snuggerud
— College Hockey News (@chnews) December 26, 2023
In the first game of the tournament, Adam Jiricek went down twice with a lower-body injury and after a brief return, missed the rest of the game. He’s a key piece of Czechia and has struggled with lower-body injuries of late. Czechia’s medal chances would take a significant hit if he were to miss the rest of the tournament.
— TSN (@TSN_Sports) December 26, 2023
Canada Wins Pivotal Game
Nate Danielson was named Player of the Game for Canada, which should be automatic if you score a goal with your butt. Canada beat Finland 5-2 in the opener. Canada outplayed Finland, but took a few too many penalties – an area that will need to be cleaned up if they want to win gold.
— Staff & Graph Podcast (@StaffGraph) December 26, 2023
Given how good the Slovakians looked, any Group A team should want to avoid them in the quarterfinals. It is likely that Canada and Finland will battle it out for second and third place, with the lower seed likely to face Slovakia in the QF. Sweden is the favourite to win Group A, meaning that the win against Finland this morning sets Canada up nicely. There is a possibility Canada finishes atop the group, but given the strength of the home Swedes, they aren’t the favourite to do so.
Tougher Than Expected
The United States beat Norway 4-1 in their opener. Given all the talk about the competitiveness of some games in the past few years, and the Americans being a contender for gold, the Norwegians deserve a lot of credit. The game was much closer than most people, including oddsmakers who set the line at -5.5, expected it to be.
— Mike Meyer (@M_Meyer3) December 26, 2023
No goals until the midway point of the game and the Norwegians had quite a few chances to score themselves. They held star defenceman Lane Hutson to a single point. For a guy that is expected to challenge the points record in this tournament, Norway did a great job limiting his ability to impact the scoreboard. Underdog teams in this tournament are always fun because they lay everything on the line against the traditional powers. You can see it in their play how badly they want to beat these teams. That leads to some really competitive matchups, as we saw between USA and Norway today.
Norway not backing down from anything USA throws in their way. Very aggressive in all aspects; on the attack, having numbers on the backcheck and speed to disrupt plays. This is a team that’s showing they belong. #WorldJuniors
— Peter B (@PBaracchini) December 26, 2023
The Swedes were the favourite coming into the tournament on home soil and looked every bit the part in their opening game. They are overloaded with talent all the way through the lineup and it showed. Three power play goals in the game including this beautiful one-timer by Filip Bystedt. The backhand sauce combined with great movement makes this look easy, but that’s a high degree of difficulty executed perfectly.
— Spoked Z (@SpokedZ) December 26, 2023
They may be without Elias Salomonsson for a game or two after he was assessed a major 25 seconds into the first period.
#NHLJets prospect Elias Salomonsson has been given a 5-minute major penalty and a game misconduct for this hit.
— Connor Hrabchak (@ConnorHrabchak1) December 26, 2023
You simply cannot do that. The Latvian player has his back to him the entire time and Salomonsson needs to take a different path to the puck or not make the hit. That kind of hit is frowned upon by the IIHF and Salomonsson is lucky there was no serious injury on the play.
If there is one GIF that sums up the Sweden-Latvia game today, it is this one.
— Daniel Wagner (@passittobulis) December 26, 2023
After killing off the 5-minute major in the early going, the Swedes imposed their will in all three zones. Whether it was scoring, taking the puck to the net or simply, throwing a guy off the puck, it was an utterly dominant performance for the Swedes in the opener against Latvia.
The Swedes did a few pre-tournament videos and they have some pretty fun personalities. But, in case you wanted to feel old…here is a video of the Swedish players talking about the Sedin twins.
d-petey thought that the sedins were old enough to play in the 1981 world juniors, then says “they’re gonna butcher me” lmfao pic.twitter.com/AmjDeUlFQ4
— bbzzzzzz 🐝 (@b33mo17) December 26, 2023
It didn’t end there, either…
If you want to feel old, there were multiple Team Canada players that said watching Alexis Lafreniere at the #WorldJuniors was one of their favorite tournament memories growing up.
— Steven Ellis (@SEllisHockey) December 20, 2023
I would say Jordan Eberle tying the game or Toews’ shootout performance, but apparently we’re ALREADY at the Alexis Lafreniere memories. I’m going to go yell at a cloud after I finish knitting, I guess.
Best Ref Moment
Macklin Celebrini appeared to score for Canada and after review…
This goal call is all-time pic.twitter.com/hUGNhxMDfk
— TSN (@TSN_Sports) December 26, 2023
Who doesn’t love a little drama? Wes McCauley is the most well-known NHL ref largely because of his calls on the mic. Swedish ref Daniel Eriksson gave us his best Wes and I, for one, appreciated it.
Play of the Day
Here is Mathis Rousseau’s massive save from the first period!
— Tony Ferrari (@theTonyFerrari) December 26, 2023
This might be the save of the tournament when all is said and done. The Canadian defence committed a really sloppy turnover leading to a 2v0. Mathis Rousseau stole a goal like the Grinch stole presents and Canada would score moments later. A sprawling glove save that he had no business making. Usually, goalies from Slovakia, Czechia make this a tough choice with all of their highlight reel saves. Today’s Save of the Day, a no brainer.
Watching Norway hang with the U.S. seems like a good time to remind everyone that the quality of hockey programs and player development is improving ALL OVER Europe, not just in places like Sweden and Finland
The talent gap between countries will keep shortening#WorldJuniors
— Derek Neumeier (@Derek_N_NHL) December 26, 2023
This is a great point by Derek. North Americans, particularly Canadians are accustomed to dominating the tournament. That is not the reality anymore. The Swedish development programs has allowed them to produce elite skill and one of the best defensive lineups in the history of the tournament on paper. The Slovaks continue to develop their hockey program, allowing them to produce the likes of Slafkovsky, Nemec, Mesar and Petrovsky. The Czechs, without icing their strongest group have produced Sale, the Jiricek brothers and Matyas Sapovaliv. While Canada does have the likes of Connor Bedard and Adam Fantilli unavailable, this is a great reminder that other countries are developing their hockey programs which bodes well for the growth of the sport.
Fun (but uninteresting) fact:
All four goaltenders that have played so far today have worn #30. #WorldJuniors
— Steven Ellis (@SEllisHockey) December 26, 2023
Rachel Doerrie is a sports media personality, businesswoman, and former NHL front office member. Doerrie began her career as a consultant for several teams before joining the New Jersey Devils and, later, joining the Vancouver Canucks as an analyst and video coach. In media, Doerrie has written for some of the top outlets in the industry such as The Athletic, EP Rinkside, and The Hockey News. She created the hit Staff & Graph podcast that has grown into the streaming and video spaces and continues to consult with professional sports teams on data analysis and communications.