The 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship in Helsinki, Finland is down to the final four teams as we head into the medal round with two huge rivalry games on tap.
Russia defeated Denmark, 4-3, in overtime and will face USA, who shutout Czech Republic, 7-0, at 10am PT on Monday. Sweden defeated Slovakia, 6-0, and will face Finland, who defeated Canada, 6-5, and sent the defending champs home before the semifinals for the first time since 1998. The Nordic rivals will drop the puck at 6 a.m. PT and both semifinal games will air live on NHL Network.
Ducks fans might want to set their alarms and DVRs for the early game, which features three Anaheim prospects - Finnish forward Julius Nattinen and Swedish defensemen Jacob Larsson and Marcus Pettersson.
Nattinen (taken by the Ducks with the 59th overall pick of the 2015 NHL Draft) has a goal and two assists through five games, but it's his ability to play on both ends of the ice that make him so valuable for the hometown team. He's not a flashy player, but he is effective.
"I am good in our own zone on defense and I like to make good passes in the offensive end and create chances to score goals. I am also very good on faceoffs," he said.
At 6-2, 195 pounds, Nattinen is a strong two-way forward that can play up and down the lineup and in all situations. For Finland, he is expected to contribute secondary scoring and help shut down the opposition's top lines.
Pettersson (taken by Anaheim with the 38th pick of the 2014 Draft) has four assists in five games and is relied upon for a good first pass out of the zone to get the offense moving up ice.
"I like to think a lot out there and I think I'm good at making smart plays and good passes and helping the team offensively," said the 6-4, 175-pound defenseman. "I still want to work on my skating and my strength, but I think I'm making quicker and better decisions out there than I was last year. I try not to throw the puck away. I always want to make a play."
His vision and ability to see what options are available is a definite strength to his game, but he's also very responsible in his own end and positionally sound. Sweden will continue to rely on his strong play on both ends of the ice as they look to defeat their biggest rival in the semifinal on Monday.
Larsson (selected in the first round, 27th overall in 2015) has a goal and an assist through four games and is a puck-moving defenseman with a good offensive upside thanks in part to a great shot from the point.
"It has been our goal from the beginning to win a gold medal. It's our goal every year, but, especially this year, to have the chance to do it in Finland, it would be great and I want to be a big part of it. I want to score goals and help the team win. It's fun," he said with a smile.
Larsson hopes to help Sweden reach the gold medal game by getting pucks to the net from the blueline and force Finland to play deep in their own zone. The Finns have the most productive line in the tournament, but as Larsson says, "It's much harder to score from your own end."
No matter the result in Monday's semifinal games, all three Ducks' prospects participating in the tournament will play for a medal on Tuesday. Both the bronze medal (6am PT) and gold medal games (10:30am PT) will air live on NHL Network.