BASEL, Switzerland — We finally had a good game in Basel.
After lopsided business dominated the action in Pool B, Finland and USA had a heated affair to close out the evening. USA ended up winning 8-4, with both teams playing slicker than we’ve seen at any point in the tournament. It was a big change from earlier in the day when Switzerland beat Latvia 5-1 to take second place in Group B, a huge confidence boost ahead of the team’s final game against the Americans.
In Ajoie, where the action was excellent all week, the matches once again remained intense. Sweden scored twice in the bottom of the third to win 2-0 in one of the tournament’s tightest games. Canada also improved to 2-1, but Slovakia overcame a 3-0 deficit to make it 4-3. They will be a pain for anyone who lines up against them in the quarter-finals.
USA beat Finland in Group B thriller
- Will Smith, male. That fifth American goal looked as much like Connor McDavid as we’ve seen. And then he made another spectacular play to set up the sixth goal. From a pure takeover standpoint, it was the best game I’ve seen Smith play this season. I’d be shocked if he wasn’t selected in the top six this year, and this tournament helps him.
- Minnetian Aram was a human wrecking ball there. He blocked shots, landed big crushers and also helped bolster the offense. There aren’t many American defensemen I like in this tournament, but Minnetian has stood out for most of the season. It has been a treat to focus on him more closely this week.
- Kasper Haltunen was in the head of the United States today. He scored a nice goal and immediately yelled something at Trey Augustine. The mix of skill and size was on point, and it was his best match of the tournament. It’s been an up and down season for him, but he’s been enjoying it tonight.
- After a pair of great games, it was nice to see Konsta Helenius promoted to Finland’s second line. They could hang out with anyone the Americans sent there. For a 2024 draft prospect, there’s so much to like there.
- With a goal and an assist, James Hagens‘ strong play continues. The 2025 NHL Draft prospect showed his skill as he dangled a defenseman to create the fourth goal, just five minutes after helping set up Cole Eiserman on the power play. Their incredible chemistry continues.
- Gabriel Perreault slowed since their five-point game against Norway, scoring just four tonight. Shame on him. All kidding aside, he’s been very much in contention for tournament MVP early on.
Canada narrowly beat Slovakia 4-3
- THE Porter Martone show must go on. Ineligible until 2025, Martone hasn’t let being the youngest skater in Canada slow him down. He scored three points against Germany and then scored a wonderful goal between the legs on a breakaway to make it 3-0. That’s the type of creativity we’re used to watching with Mississauga, and he’s making the case for him leaving early in 25.
- Considering Slovakia’s play in the first two games, it’s surprising that it took so long to Dalibor Dvorsky to mark his first. It’s especially surprising because it looks good too. A projected top-15 pick for 2023, Dvorsky looked solid defensively, but it was his second-half goal when he escaped trouble and used his patience to make it 3-1 that really stood out. No one questioned Dvorsky’s talent – showing it every night is the challenge. So far, so good.
- Another multipoint effort to Matthew Wood, the only NCAAer in the tournament. He’s shown this year that he’s more than just a big body – he’s a tremendous preparer.
- Lukas Fursten made his tournament debut and was outstanding for the Slovaks, keeping them in a game that probably should have been a lot more lopsided. The 5-foot-10 goaltender made 38 saves against arguably the toughest opponent he’s ever faced. The scouts noticed it.
- Another good release for Macklin Celebrinithe projected top prospect for 2024. He scored and added an assist while finishing at a 61.11 faceoff percentage on a hungry second line from Canada.
- Here is the opposite of a star: André Cristall. After starting the tournament on Canada’s top line, he was the 13th forward after Riley Heidtarrived and played just over seven minutes. He also wasn’t very effective during his ice time. I’m a big fan of high-end scoring threat, but with just one assist there hasn’t been much to see from him this week.
Switzerland beat Latvia 5-1
- Jamiro Reber, one of Switzerland’s top prospects for the 2024 NHL Draft scored one of the best goals of the tournament when he passed a defenseman before beating the Latvian goaltender Aksels Ozols for the 1-0 goal at 2:06. He showed glimpses of talent like that this week, but it helped spark a Swiss side that showed great promise in this tournament. He also prepared the fourth Swiss goal on the power play.
- Leo Braillard continues to succeed. The quick and aggressive forward was flying all over the ice and scored the shorthanded 2-1 goal late in the first and added another near the end. He has his faults, and if he is drafted, it will not be in the first half. But he has been Switzerland’s best striker so far.
- Daniil Ustinkov has been Switzerland’s best player, playing more than 20 minutes a night so far. The 16-year-old already looks like one of Europe’s top defenders heading into the 2024 draft thanks to his high hockey IQ and, as he showed today, his quick and accurate exit. Prepare to hear his name a lot over the next few years.
Sweden beat Czech Republic 2-0
- Ok, this will sound like a broken record: Michael Hrabal is excellent. Again another great performance in the Czech net. It ended in a loss, but the 6ft 6in keeper was the main reason the Czechs remained relevant today. He’s one of the best goaltenders in the NHL Draft for a reason.
- At the other end, Noah Erliden picked up his second shutout of the tournament to help the Swedes clinch first place in the group.
- His goal came on a 5 against 3, but Tom Willanderhis patience will take him far in the NHL. He never seems bothered by the puck and his patience allowed him to avoid a block and score the winning goal. It is well illustrated in Ajoie.
- David Jiricek of the Columbus Blue Jackets is quite a crafty defenseman. His younger brother, Adam Jiricekhas some of the same qualities. He made a great pass late in the game which almost resulted in the equalizer but it came to nothing. The more I watch him, the more I like him for the 2024 draft.
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