Last week, 10 teams started the International Ice Hockey Federation U18 World Championships in Texas fighting for gold while showcasing the world's best players under the age of 18. The tournament has not disappointed. The talent on display has been impressive and the games, dramatic.
The heat cranks up Monday as two countries have been eliminated and four more will pack up and head home at the finish of the day and night quarterfinals.
Canada and Finland are the top seeds as group winners in the opening round. Both clubs have players who are projected to be top NHL Draft picks in July. Every quarterfinal squad has a least one player with first-round credentials.
The IIHF U18 semifinals are Wednesday with gold- and bronze-medal faceoffs slated for Thursday. There's added motivation to tune into NHL Network or HockeyTV.com: Some of these players might don a Kraken jersey if selected at the July 23 and 24 NHL Draft for amateurs. Here's a breakdown of Monday's matchups and predictions in Frisco, TX, outside Dallas.
Canada (4-0 in prelims) vs. Czech Republic (1-2-1), 1 p.m., NHL Network or HockeyTV.com
The Czech Republic has tough luck drawing Canada in the round of eight. Canada is loaded and flexed their muscle during the preliminary rounds by going undefeated and outscoring their four opponents by a 28-5 margin.
The Canadians feature a roster stocked with draft prospects and should breeze through a Czech squad that only mustered one win during the opening rounds. Two top-ten prospects, Dylan Guenther and Brandt Clarke, lead the way for the Canadians but if you manage to contain them, the rest of the team is more than capable of beating you.
There is talent on the Czech roster, such as Stanislav Svozil, who could sneak into July's first round, but the depth doesn't measure up to Monday's foe. Canada wins here and moves on into the semifinals.
Sweden (3-1) vs. United States (3-1), 6 p.m., NHL Network or HockeyTV.com
The U.S. scraped their way into the quarterfinals with two overtime wins in the tournament's most entertaining games. The Americans qualified to move on with a thrilling overtime win against Finland, scoring late to tie the game. Those experiences could pay off against a tough Swedish team. Sasha Pastujov, Dylan Duke and Sean Behrens are all NHL Draft prospects who lead the way for Team USA. To counter, the Swedes have top prospects too, featuring big defenseman Simon Edvinsson and speedy forward Fabian Lysell.
This has the makings for a great game as the two clubs are evenly matched. During group play, the two squads posted similar marks on special teams and goal differentials.
Finland (2-1-1) vs. Switzerland (1-3), 3:30 p.m., NHL Network or HockeyTV.com
This matchup has the potential to be a blowout win for the Finns. They won Group B, which was the deeper of the two preliminary rounds, despite losing a tough overtime game to the U.S. The Finns are loaded and have excelled on special teams. Case in point: The Finns lead the tournament on the penalty kill. Finland is led by two NHL prospects in good-size power forward Samu Salminen and a pure scorer Samu Tuomaala. Both turned in strong opening rounds.
Switzerland doesn't have the depth or high-end prospects to compete here. They finished the first round last in both power-play percentage and on the penalty kill. That's going to be tough to overcome.
Russia (2-1-1) vs. Belarus (2-2), 10:30 a.m., NHL Network or HockeyTV.com
The Russians tied Finland with nine points in the preliminary rounds but lost out on the top spot thanks to a head-to-head shootout loss. They advance to take on a Belarus squad that has been tougher than anticipated. Russia features the tournaments top two scorers in Matvei Michkov and first-round draft prospect Nikita Chibrikov. Belarus has been scrappy and managed to win two games despite a roster without NHL prospects.
It's hard to see Belarus advancing any further against a Russian team that is at a higher talent level. Chibrikov and Michkov will be too much in this game.