LAKE PLACID, NY - AUGUST 03: Anders Bjork #7 of USA Blue skates against Team Finland during the 2014 USA Hockey Junior Evaluation Camp at the Lake Placid Olympic Center on August 3, 2014 in Lake Placid, New York.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

U.S. thumps Sweden to capture bronze at World Juniors

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America is back in the medals at the World Junior Hockey Championships.

After failing to crack the top-three in consecutive years, Team USA returned on Tuesday with an 8-3 whipping of Sweden in the bronze medal game at the 2016 World Juniors.

As the scoreline suggests, it was a dominant performance. Anders Bjork (Boston), Matthew Tkachuk (’16 draft eligible) and Ryan Donato (Boston) each scored twice for the U.S., while Nick Schmaltz (Chicago) added three assists.

Christian Dvorak (Arizona) and Ryan MacInnis (Arizona) also had a pair of points each.

All told, the Americans’ disappointment in not playing for gold should be mitigated by their overall performance in this tourney.

The team suffered just two losses in Finland, and avenged one of them — a 1-0 defeat to the Swedes in the preliminary round — with a convincing effort today.

The Americans also defeated rival Canada 4-2 in the opening round, and exploded offensively on three occasions: Tuesday’s win over the Swedes, a 7-0 defeat of the Czechs in the quarterfinal and a 10-1 pounding of Switzerland in the prelims.

Report: Virtanen will report to Canucks after world junior loss with Team Canada

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Jake Virtanen is returning to the Vancouver Canucks — at least for right now — after a disappointing showing with Team Canada at the world junior hockey championship.

That’s according to a report from The Province newspaper in Vancouver on Saturday:

Virtanen will be reporting back to the Canucks, initially. Whether or not he lasts the rest of the season with the team is a huge question, and it’s one the Canucks will be discussing for the next few days.

The Canucks have set a deadline of Jan. 10 to reach a decision, which is, interestingly, the trade deadline in the WHL.

There are plenty of good reasons for Virtanen to remain a Canuck. You can probably start at the fact that when his WHL season ended last year, he was near 230 pounds, about 15 pounds more than what the Canucks would consider his playing weight should be.

Canada’s tournament came to a disappointing end with a loss to Finland in the quarter-final earlier the same day.

Virtanen had one assist in five games throughout the tournament, but he also took three penalties versus Finland, including two in the same sequence in the third period.

The Canucks selected Virtanen, a potential power forward, sixth overall in the 2014 NHL Draft.

He’s played 19 games for the Canucks as a 19-year-old rookie this season, scoring once with four points. The organization had been hoping that sending Virtanen to the world juniors would help boost his confidence, especially given he was a returning player for Canada.

 

Goalie nods: Sullivan goes back to Murray

Carolina Hurricanes' Eric Staal (12) collides with Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Matt Murray (30) during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Pittsburgh, Saturday, Dec. 19, 2015. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
AP

Rookie Matt Murray will be back in goal tonight for the reeling Pittsburgh Penguins.

The 21-year-old made his NHL debut Saturday in a 2-1 loss to Carolina.

“I thought he really settled into the game the other night and I really liked what I saw,” Pittsburgh coach Sullivan told the Penguins’ website.

Just barely out of junior, Murray wasn’t expected to be in the NHL this season. But with Marc-Andre Fleury hurt, and after Jeff Zatkoff struggled Friday versus Boston, Murray is suddenly the Penguins’ go-to.

Murray had already gained the trust of Sullivan during their time together this season with AHL Wilkes-Barre.

“He’s a very good goalie. He’s got a calm demeanor,” Sullivan told the Post-Gazette. “I think his demeanor gives confidence to his team in front of him. He’s mature beyond his years as a young player and he’s a very competitive kid.”

Another 21-year-old, Joonas Korpisalo, will be in goal for Columbus. Korpisalo made 30 saves in Saturday’s 3-2 shootout win over the Flyers.

Elsewhere…

— No word yet on a Ducks starter in Brooklyn, but Jaroslav Halak will be in goal for the Islanders.

Jake Allen for the Blues in Philadelphia, versus Steve Mason for the Flyers.

— No word yet on a Capitals starter in Carolina, but Cam Ward will be in goal for the Hurricanes.

— Dustin Tokarski for the Canadiens in Nashville, likely versus Pekka Rinne for Nashville.

Kari Lehtonen for the Stars in Minnesota, versus Devan Dubnyk for the Wild.

— Jonathan Bernier (after getting his first win of the season Saturday) for the Leafs in Colorado, versus Semyon Varlamov (the NHL’s first star of the week) for the Avalanche.

— Connor Hellebuyck for the Jets in Edmonton, versus Cam Talbot for the Oilers.

Boston could release Pastrnak for World Juniors

David Pastrnak
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Sounds like David Pastrnak could participate in his second straight World Junior Hockey Championship.

Per CSNNE, Pastrnak — Boston’s 19-year-old talent that scored scored 10 goals and 27 points in 46 games as a rookie last season — could be loaned out for this year’s tournament, like he was last December.

Pastrnak played exceptionally well for his native Czech Republic at the ’15 tourney, scoring seven points in five games.

Currently sidelined with a fractured left foot — he’s missed the last 20 games, dating back to Oct. 31 — Pastrnak’s recovery could coincide with the start of this year’s World Juniors, which is being held in Helsinki.

“The next part is the conditioning element to this, and what’s best to get him back to full speed,” Bruins GM Don Sweeney explained. “The World Juniors are a component to this, but we’re looking at all options as to what’s available between now and when we would have to make a drop-dead decision based on the holiday roster freeze.

“That will happen over the next day or so.”

Pastrnak has appeared in 10 games for Boston this year, scoring two goals and four points.

Report: Buffalo wins ’18 World Juniors bid

Terry Pegula
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The World Junior Hockey Championships are reportedly coming to Buffalo.

Per the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, USA Hockey will announce that Buffalo has been chosen as the host site for the 2018 Worlds, beating out finalists Pittsburgh and St. Louis in the process.

Update: USA Hockey has all but let the cat out of the bag, announcing a press conference on Friday at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo.

It won’t come as a huge surprise that Buffalo got the nod. Since the Terry Pegula-backed HarborCenter opened last year, the site — along with the connected First Niagara Center, home of the Sabres — has become a hotbed of hockey activity.

Buffalo was host to the 2015 daft combine and will host again in ’16, along with the NHL Entry Draft. It’s also home to NCAA outfit Canisius, the Buffalo Beauts of the National Women’s Hockey League and, this past spring, hosted the ’15 IPC Ice Sledge Hockey World Championships.

As for the World Juniors chronology, the ’16 event will be held in Helsinki, Finland, followed by the ’17 tournament in the shared sites of Montreal and Toronto.

Buffalo last hosted the tournament in 2011, when Evgeny Kuznetsov and Vladimir Tarasenko led the Russians to gold.

Update: 

Pegula, of course, owns both the Sabres and the NFL’s Bills.