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World Juniors

5 things to watch in quarterfinals of World Juniors

Hughes possible return for U.S., Canada rematch with Finland among storylines

by Mike G. Morreale @mikemorrealeNHL / Staff Writer

The 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship resumes with the quarterfinals in Victoria and Vancouver, British Columbia, on Wednesday.

The semifinals will be held at Rogers Centre in Vancouver on Friday, along with the gold and bronze medal games on Saturday.


Quarterfinals schedule

Sweden vs. Switzerland in Victoria (4 p.m. ET; NHLN, TSN3)

Canada vs. Finland in Vancouver (6:30 p.m. ET; TSN)

United States vs. Czech Republic in Victoria (8 p.m. ET; NHLN, TSN2)

Russia vs. Slovakia in Vancouver (10:30 p.m. ET; NHLN, TSN3)


5 Things to watch


The Hughes factor

Jack Hughes, who has missed the past three games with an undisclosed injury, participated in an optional skate for the United States on Tuesday afternoon but remains questionable to return for its quarterfinals game against Czech Republic.

The return of Hughes, the projected No. 1 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, to the United States lineup would certainly be a boost for a team which already ranks second among 10 teams with 18 goals scored. 

Coach Mike Hastings smiled when asked if his star player is champing at the bit to return to the lineup.

"It's our job to try and put all our players in a position to succeed and there are certain parameters that come with that and that's what we're doing right now," Hastings said. "Jack's doing everything that he's supposed to be doing within his control to give himself an opportunity to get better every day. Sometimes that's hard to get through to a young man, but he's been great about it."


[RELATED: 3 keys to success for U.S. against Czech Republic in World Juniors]


Canada gets another shot at Finland

Canada coach Tim Hunter is less concerned about his opponent than getting his team ready to play its style in its game against Finland in the quarterfinals.

The preparation, however, will include footage of a 5-2 loss to Finland in a pretournament exhibition at Rogers Arena on Dec. 23.

Despite the loss, Canada dominated at times, including a six-minute stretch in the second period.

"That was a great example of how well we can play," Hunter said. "But that was more just to show them what they can do. It wasn't about [Finland], it was about how well we can play."

Canada captain Max Comtois, the only returning player from the gold-medal winning team last year, said his team should benefit after facing adversity against Russia (2-1 loss).

"We were playing the Canadian way: we were skating hard, we were good on the forecheck, we made fast changes to keep the pressure on them and we moved the puck around and crashed the net," Comtois said. "That's the type of game we want to bring and we're going to need for 60 minutes."


Talvitie leading Finland

Aarne Talvitie, selected by the New Jersey Devils in the sixth round (No. 160) in the 2017 NHL Draft, has been a driving force for Finland in his first appearance at the WJC.

"We're here to win," Talvitie said. "I think the quarterfinal (against Canada) is going to be an awesome chance for us. We have the talent and ability to beat them. We just need to play our own game, relax and trust in ourselves."

The Finland captain has four points (two goals, two assists), is plus-5 and has six shots on goal in four games for Finland (2-0-0-2). The center is tied with forward Jesse Ylonen (Montreal Canadiens) for the team lead in points and has also been a physical force.

"I haven't met too many young guys at his age (19) who can be such a big leader and show the way on and off the ice," Finland assistant coach Tuomo Ruutu said. "Watching him close, his shot is amazing. He's stronger than I was at his age. I don't think there are too many guys as strong as him at his age, or even the men's teams."


Czechs need more

Czech Republic coach Vaclav Varada knows where his team stands going into the quarterfinals against the United States after struggling for goals and finishing third in Group A.

"Obviously, we are going to be underdogs," Varada said. "We will fight through it."

Czech Republic scored four goals in its first three games before beating Denmark (0-0-0-4) in its final preliminary-round game on Monday. Its top players, including Filip Zadina (Detroit Red Wings), Martin Necas (Carolina Hurricanes) and Martin Kaut (Colorado Avalanche) have combined for seven points (three goals, four assists).

The trio, all playing in the American Hockey League this season, combined for 26 points (12 goals, 14 assists) in seven games at the 2018 WJC in Buffalo. Zadina scored seven goals last year but has one assist in this tournament.

"Our team needs them," Varada said. "Who else should lead than your key players?"


Hoping for health 

Sweden coach Tomas Monten is hopeful all five players who missed a 4-1 win against Kazakhstan on Monday because of a stomach virus will return to the lineup for the quarterfinals against Switzerland.

Monten said forward Rickard Hugg is now healthy and expected to return. Additionally, forwards Johan Sodergran (Los Angeles Kings) and Filip Sveningsson (Calgary Flames), and defensemen Adam Ginning (Philadelphia Flyers) and Philip Broberg (2019 NHL Draft eligible) are feeling better. 

"It will come down to how strong they are, how much will they be able to refuel," Monten said. "Switzerland has played really well and they have a lot of players back and a lot of experience from last year. If we played eight games against them, we'd probably win four and lose four, so I think it's a 50/50 draw. They have a good first line and they work hard, so we have to play our best game." correspondent Kevin Woodley contributed to this story.

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