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Five things learned from Day 4 of World Juniors

by Tim Wharnsby / NHL.com

The Canadian junior team escaped a monumental upset Tuesday with a 3-2 shootout win against Switzerland at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship.

In 20 previous games, the Swiss had never defeated Canada at the WJC and the point that accompanied this gutsy effort kept alive their slim hopes of advancing to the quarterfinals. They need a three-point regulation victory against the United States on Wednesday and Denmark to lose its final two games against Sweden and the U.S.

The two-point victory hurts the Canadians (five points) in the Group A standings, but they avoided disaster when captain Brayden Point (Tampa Bay Lightning) and Matthew Barzal (New York Islanders) scored in the shootout.

Canadian goalie Mackenzie Blackwood (New Jersey Devils) stopped Pius Suter and Timo Meier (San Jose Sharks) in the two attempts Blackwood faced.

The Canada goaltender was under siege early as Switzerland exhibited urgency in building a 2-0 lead and registering the first five shots on goal before Canada put a puck on Joren van Pottelberghe (Detroit Red Wings).

As Canada got its legs, the Swiss collapsed around van Pottelberghe. They blocked a lot of shots around their goalie and he was brilliant when called upon. Canada outshot the Swiss 35-25.

"It was a real stiff challenge for us," Canadian coach Dave Lowry told TSN. "I think we now have an understanding of how we have to prepare in these short-term events. I give the Swiss a lot of credit. They came out and played a real hard game and got an early lead. They made it tough for us to generate any offense.

"But we showed our resiliency and found a way in the end."

With two days left in the preliminary round, Canada appears destined to finish third and that could mean a quarterfinal game against Finland on Saturday.

Canada center Dylan Strome (Arizona Coyotes) made it 2-1 late in the first period and defenseman Joe Hicketts (Detroit Red Wings) tied the game with a wrist shot midway through the second period.

Hicketts and van Pottelberghe were named players of the game for their respective teams.

Here are five things we learned on the fourth day of action in the World Junior Championship:

Shaking off the rust: Blackwood started in goal after a lengthy layoff. He made 23 saves.

The 19-year-old member of the Barrie Colts received a match penalty and subsequent eight-game suspension for slashing Sudbury Wolves forward Danny Desrochers in an Ontario Hockey League game on Dec. 4.

He did register a 1-0 shutout against the Czech Republic in a pre-tournament game Dec. 20, but this was his first meaningful game in 25 days.

"It was good to get back, get some game action in," Blackwood told TSN. "I was a little rusty."

Lowry has not made a decision on his starting goalie for Sweden on Thursday, but he was pleased with Blackwood's performance.

"I thought he was outstanding and gave us a chance to win," Lowry said. "That is what you need in these tournaments. You need good goaltending and we were fortunate tonight that we did have it."

Lightning Rod: Noah Rod (San Jose Sharks) and the Swiss junior team nearly erased a disappointing start to this tournament in Helsinki, Finland.

The Swiss national and junior team programs have been on the rise since winning bronze at the 1998 WJC and pulling a shocker at the 2013 IIHF World Championship, when Switzerland broke through for a silver-medal finish.

But a 2-1 loss to Denmark on Sunday put the Swiss (0-2-1) back on their heels at the 2016 WJC. Their hopes took a hit at this tournament when the Nashville Predators refused to loan forward Kevin Fiala, a 19-year-old center who plays for the Milwaukee Admirals of the American Hockey League.

Secret agent man: Princeton University hockey fans may remember Swiss coach John Fust. He played three years for the New Jersey school before he embarked on a 12-year pro career in Switzerland.

The Montreal-raised Fust, 43, had returned to Canada with his family after his playing career concluded. He was training to become a Canadian Security Intelligence Service undercover agent in Ottawa.

But one day while having lunch with then Ottawa Senators goalie Martin Gerber (they were teammates in Langnau, Switzerland), Gerber's agent happened to call looking for a lead on a coach for back in Switzerland.

Gerber encouraged his friend to take the job and the next thing Fust knew he was back in Switzerland coaching Visp in 2007.

He's in his second year at the helm of the Swiss junior team.

DeBrincat's injury: The United States junior team did not practice Tuesday, instead enjoying a team dinner in downtown Helsinki. As a result, there was no update provided on forward Alex DeBrincat's shoulder injury.

The 5-foot-7, 160-pound forward was listed as day-to-day and TSN reported he was seen at the rink wearing a sling. The U.S. completes preliminary-round play in Group A with games against Switzerland on Wednesday and Denmark on Thursday.

The 2016 NHL Draft-eligible DeBrincat has yet to make it out of the first period in the opening two games for the U.S. In the tournament opener, he was given a game misconduct for spearing Canadian forward Travis Konecny (Philadelphia Flyers) and DeBrincat suffered his shoulder injury when taken into the end boards by Sweden defenseman Adam Ollas-Mattsson (Calgary Flames).

Big Red Machine: Russia has taken care of business in Group B by collecting eight out of a possible nine points in their first three games, including a 4-1 win against Belarus on Tuesday.

Slovakia will be Russia's final opponent in the preliminary round Thursday, and if there has been a lesson to be learned from the first three games it is Russia's explosiveness and depth on special teams.

The Russians have scored 12 goals in three games, with five coming on the power play and one shorthanded.

Against Belarus, undrafted Russian forward Alexander Polunin, 18, led the way with two goals, including the game-winner on the power play.

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