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World Juniors

5 things to watch at World Juniors semifinals

U.S. led by Mittelstadt; Sweden seeks first medal since 2014; Canada scoring in bunches; Czech linemates clicking

by Mike G. Morreale @mikemorrealeNHL / Staff Writer

The 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship resumes with semifinal-round games at KeyBank Center in Buffalo on Thursday.

The gold medal and bronze medal games will be held at KeyBank Center on Friday.

Semifinal round 

Sweden vs. United States (4 p.m. ET; KeyBank Center, NHLN, TSN, RDS)

Canada vs. Czech Republic (8 p.m. ET; KeyBank Center, NHLN, TSN, RDS2)


5 Things to watch
American made

The United States, which defeated Sweden 5-2 in in the semifinals of the 2010 WJC, has 19 players with at least one point in the '18 tournament.

"This team has to play a little old-fashioned; we have to be a fundamentally sound team," U.S. coach Bob Motzko said. "We have to be good on face-offs, on retrieving pucks and not turning the puck over. When we've been doing that and playing those stretches of minutes, holding teams to low shots, that's when we're at our best and when our top guys can get us going." 

The United States and Sweden have each won 15 of the 32 games played against each other at the tournament, and have tied twice. The U.S. won 8-3 during the bronze medal game of the 2016 WJC on Jan. 5, 2016. Sweden's last win was also at the 2016 WJC, a 1-0 preliminary round victory on Dec. 28, 2015.

Center Casey Mittelstadt (Buffalo Sabres) leads the U.S. with 10 points (four goals, six assists). Brady Tkachuk, a potential top-5 selection in the 2018 NHL Draft, has seven points (two goals, five assists) and Kieffer Bellows (New York Islanders) has scored six goals, including the shootout winner in a 4-3 victory against Canada on Friday. Bellows also leads the U.S. with three power-play goals and 28 shots on goal.

Adam Fox (Calgary Flames) has five points (goal, four assists) to lead all U.S. defensemen in scoring. The United States defeated Sweden 3-1 in a pretournament exhibition game on Dec. 22.

Video: Breaking down the USA-Sweden Semifinal tomorrow


Stellar Sweden

Sweden, the only unbeaten of the four remaining countries, has outscored the opposition 23-9 in five straight victories. It defeated Slovakia 3-2 in the quarterfinal round and is in the hunt for its third gold medal (1981, 2012) and first of any kind since winning silver in 2014.

Sweden has been sparked by the play of its top line featuring Lias Andersson (New York Rangers), Elias Pettersson (Vancouver Canucks) and Alexander Nylander (Sabres), who have combined for 18 points (10 goals, eight assists). Andersson leads Sweden with five goals, including two power-play goals, Pettersson has four goals (two power-play goals) and Nylander has five assists.

Defensively, Rasmus Dahlin, the projected No. 1 pick in the 2018 NHL Draft, hasn't disappointed. Dahlin has six points (all assists) 21 shots on goal and a plus-7 rating while averaging more than 23 minutes each game. 

Dahlin played a personal-high 28:07 in a 4-3 shootout win against Russia in the final preliminary-round game on New Year's Eve. He's been partnered with offensive-defenseman Erik Brannstrom (Vegas Golden Knights) for every game of the tournament.

"They are both skilled, good skaters, and they play a good defensive game," Sweden coach Tomas Monten. "Both get a lot of attention so our thought is if teams want to pressure and forecheck one of them, it'll open up for the other."


Scoring in bunches

Canada has received goals from 14 different players through five games. 

Forward Drake Batherson (Ottawa Senators) leads Canada with four goals and forward Jordan Kyrou (St. Louis Blues) leads it with seven points (two goals, five assists).

"We're happy with (balanced scoring)," Canada coach Dominique Ducharme said. "That's what we thought we had at first and that's the way it goes right now, and we're happy with that because we need everyone to be chipping in and coming from every line."

Canada continues to lead the tournament with a 56.63 power-play efficiency (10-for-19). The Czech Republic, its semifinal-round opponent, is second with a 50 percent efficiency (7-for-14) on the man-advantage. Canada defeated the Czech Republic 9-0 in a pretournament game on Dec. 20.

"They've added their best players into the lineup since our exhibition game so it's going to be a really good game," Canada captain Dillon Dube (Calgary Flames) said. "I think with the team they have, it'll push us to be at our best."


Czech-ing in

The Czech Republic, which advanced to the semifinal round for the first time since 2005, is led by forwards Martin Necas (Carolina Hurricanes) with nine points (three goals, six assists) and Filip Zadina (2018 eligible) with six points (five goals, one assist). Zadina also leads it with 31 shots on goal.

The chemistry between WJC linemates Necas and Zadina has been evident. Along with Filip Chytil (Rangers) and Ostap Safin (Edmonton Oilers), that foursome played a big part in helping the Czech Republic to the championship of the 2016 Ivan Hlinka tournament for the first time. They are obviously playing at another level when with each other on the ice.

Necas, the captain of the Ivan Hlinka team, had six points (two goals, four assists), Zadina had seven points (five goals, two assists), Chytil had four points (three goals, one assist) and Safin had four points (three goals, one assist) on the way to the Hlinka title.

Libor Hajek (Tampa Bay Lightning) has been the defensive lynchpin for the Czech Republic. He leads all defensemen in the tournament with seven points (goal, six assists). 

"I'm glad all these guys are working hard and having success," Czech Republic coach Filip Pesan said. "I'm glad we moved on and made the semifinals (after a 4-3 shootout win against Finland on Tuesday). We were definitely not the better team (against Finland) but we had a bigger heart."


The walking wounded

Andersson, United States forward Logan Brown (Ottawa Senators) and Canada defenseman Victor Mete (Montreal Canadiens) are each dealing with injuries entering the semifinal round.

Brown has missed the past three games after sustaining a lower-body injury in a 3-2 loss against Slovakia on Thursday. He was the only player wearing a yellow jersey at practice Wednesday but coach Bob Motzko seemed optimistic.

"He's close; he's knocking on the door," Motzko said. "It's not up to me though, it's the medical staff. If it were up to me he would have been playing Tuesday (in a 4-2 win against Russia in the quarterfinal round)."

Mete has a lower-body injury and did not play in an 8-2 win against Switzerland in the quarterfinal round Tuesday.

"We know he's going to be 100 percent for the semifinal round so we didn't want to take a chance and him having a setback and not being 100 percent for that," Ducharme said. 

Andersson (upper body) played against Slovakia but was limited to 53 seconds during the third period (12:01 total). He's expected to play against the United States.

"I'm not 100 percent but feeling OK and excited for [Thursday]," Andersson said. "You're not going to feel fresh every night and that's how it is right now. You just have to battle through it and keep grinding."

Video: Mike Morreale on Team USA's path to the semis

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