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World Juniors: Thomas Chabot helps lead Canada to semifinal

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After a disappointing showing at the 2016 World Junior championships that saw them fail to get out of the quarterfinals, Canada is headed back to the semifinal in 2017 thanks to a 5-3 win over the Czech Republic on Monday night that probably was not as close as it seemed.

Canada will play Sweden on Wednesday in Montreal. The winner of that game will play the winner of the United States-Russia game in the Final. The United States advanced to its semifinal with a close win over Switzerland.

Ottawa Senators prospect Thomas Chabot, a first-round pick in 2015, was probably Canada’s best player on Monday with a goal and an assist, while Julien Gauthier, a first-round pick by the Carolina Hurricanes in 2016, added a pair of goals in the win.

Chabot was especially dominant from the blue line logging a game high 25 minutes and finishing as a plus-three. His assist on Gauthier’s second goal came after he made a fantastic play at the top of the slot to gain control of a loose puck, hop over a sliding Czech Republic defender, then move the puck to Kale Clague.

Chabot started the season with the Senators and appeared in one game before being sent back to the Saint John’s Sea Dogs of the QMJHL in early November. He has 20 points (five goals, 15 assists) in 15 games since returning. If he develops the way the Senators hope they could have one heck of a puck-moving tandem on their blue line with him and Erik Karlsson.

Even though the Czech Republic managed to keep the game close on Monday this still never really felt like one that Canada was in any serious danger of losing.

They dominated the game territorially from the start and more than doubled the Czech Republic on the shot chart, owning a commanding 41-19 advantage by the end of the game.

Canada goalie Connor Ingram had a tough start to the game allowing two goals on the first six shots he faced, including one that was the result of a fortunate bounce for the Czech Republic when the puck hit a referee in front of the net. That, more than anything else, kept the game closer than it probably should have been given the way the two teams played.

Defending champs Finland sent to relegation round of World Junior Tournament

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One year ago Finland took home its second gold medal in three years at the World Junior championships thanks in large part to its incredible trio of Patrik Laine, Jesse Puljujarvi and Sebastian Aho, the top-three scorers in the tournament.

With all three players now in the NHL (Laine and Puljujarvi were two of the top-four picks in the 2016 draft to Winnipeg and Edmonton respectively; Aho, a second-round pick in 2015, is having a wonderful rookie season in Carolina) the roster for the 2017 tournament was obviously not going to be quite as good.

Other than maybe Canada, there probably is not another junior hockey program in the world that can lose a trio like that and come back with a team that is anywhere near as loaded.

But nobody expected Finland to be in the position it finds itself in now.

Thanks to Switzerland’s come-from-behind 5-4 shootout win against Denmark on Friday evening, Finland not only failed to advance to the quaterfinal round of the 2017 tournament, but it now finds itself in the relegation round of the tournament where it will have to play a best-of-three series against Latvia for the right to return to the tournament in 2018.

The loser gets relegated to Division I Group A for next year.

It is a stunning fall for Finland and marks the first time in the history of the tournament that a country has won the gold medal one year, and then had to play in the relegation round in the next tournament (via Mike Morreale of NHL.com).

Again: This is a program that has won this tournament in two of the past three seasons.

To this point Finland has yet to win a game in this year’s tournament, losing a pair of one-goal games to the Czech Republic and a surprising Denmark team, and then losing to Sweden 3-1 on Thursday.

All of that put Finland into a situation on Friday where it needed Denmark to beat Switzerland to set up what would have been a huge game on Saturday against Switzerland that could have helped Finland advance out of the preliminary round and avoid potential relegation.

For a while it seemed as if Finland was going to get that help. Denmark actually held a pair of three-goal leads on Friday evening against Switzerland (3-0 and 4-1) but could not hold on as the Swiss rallied to send the game to a shootout, where it was able to win it 1-0 thanks to a goal from Marco Miranda.

Finland’s preliminary round game against Switzerland on Saturday is now completely meaningless.

The big issue for Finland this year was a stunning lack of offense that saw the team score just four goals in its first three games. Finland scored 18 goals through the first three games a year ago, with 10 of those goals belonging to Laine, Puljujarvi, Aho and Mikko Rantonen.

All four players are currently in the NHL, with Laine currently sitting among the league’s top goal scorers.

Keller’s two goals lead USA over Latvia in World Junior opener

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Team USA’s opener at the 2017 World Junior tournament was a tale of two different games.

For the first 40 minutes of their game against Latvia they looked extremely sloppy and were fortunate to be playing a team that opened as a 250-1 shot to win the tournament.

But once they shook off some rust and found their stride in the third period the talent gap between the two sides started to become apparent as the United States rolled to a 6-1 win.

The United States received a two-goal effort Clayton Keller, as well as goals from Patrick Harper, Colin White, Jeremy Bracco and Jordan Greenway.

The final score looks lopsided, but Latvia put up a pretty good fight through the first two periods as the United States stumbled out of the gate and seemed to be doing everything it could to allow Latvia to hang around. During one particularly ugly stretch early in the second period (with the game still tied at one) the United States allowed a breakaway, a 2-on-1 rush, and then a 3-on-1 rush in less than five minutes.

That sequence came after Renars Krastenbergs converted on a breakaway of his own late in the first period to even the score.

Had Latvia been able to convert on any of those chances early in the second period it could have sent the game in an entirely different direction. But they didn’t, and the United States was able to put it all in the rear view mirror and capitalize on Latvia’s missed opportunities.

Once they avoided that early second period scare, White scored his first goal of the tournament for what would go on to be the game-winning goal.

Have a look at it.

Keller scored his first of the tournament 12 minutes later to help put the game out of reach before adding a second goal in the third period.

Keller, the No. 7 overall pick by the Arizona Coyotes in 2016, is one of the top players for Team USA and should be one of the top scorers in the tournament. Keller has 15 points in 10 games for Boston University this season.

Aside from the odd-man rushes and chances the United States kept allowing through the first half of the game, their other big issue on the Monday that has to be corrected was their inability to stay out of the penalty box, taking seven minor penalties and giving Latvia several chances to get back into the game when it was still close.

That level of play will almost certainly not be enough against powerhouse teams like Russia or Canada.

The United States returns to action on Wednesday against Slovakia, before finishing the opening round against Russia on Thursday and then Canada on Saturday.

In other tournament action on Monday, Sweden was a 6-1 winner over Denmark.

DeBrincat, Brown cut from U.S. World Juniors roster

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Alex DeBrincat and Logan Brown, two forwards who’ve put up big numbers in the OHL, have been cut from the United States’ World Juniors roster.

A second-round draft pick of the Blackhawks, DeBrincat, 19, has 30 goals and 30 assists in 28 games for the Erie Otters. He was on the team last year and was expected to be a big part of this year’s squad.

Brown, the 11th overall pick in 2016 (Senators), has 21 points (8G, 13A) in 15 games for Windsor. The 18-year-old has been battling a wrist injury, which may have hindered his chances of making the team.

“We knew coming into the camp that decisions would be difficult and that is a testament to these quality players and the talent pool available to us in the United States,” said USA GM Jim Johannson. “There are still some decisions to be made, but as a staff we are pleased by the team’s continued chemistry and unity that head coach Bob Motzko first started back in August.”

From the USA Hockey press release:

The 24-player roster includes three returnees from the bronze medal-winning 2016 U.S. National Junior Team, including defensemen Chad Krys (Ridgefield, Conn./Boston University) and Charlie McAvoy (Long Beach, N.Y./Boston University and forward Colin White (Hanover, Mass./Boston College).

Of the original 27 camp invitees (three goalies, eight d-men, and 16 forwards), only 23 will make the cut.

Brock Boeser, a forward, has already been ruled out after undergoing wrist surgery.

Canucks prospect Juolevi to captain Finland’s world junior team

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In just a few days, Finland will begin its defense of world junior hockey gold — and it will have a returning champion, Olli Juolevi, as its captain.

The official announcement came Monday.

The Vancouver Canucks selected Juolevi with the fifth overall pick in this year’s NHL Draft, bolstering the depth among their defensive prospects. Juolevi, 18, saw some playing time during the pre-season in Vancouver, but he was sent back to his junior team in London.

At last year’s tournament, Juolevi had nine assists in seven games. His performance there left an impression on Canucks management ahead of the draft.

“We thought he had an exceptional tournament for a 17-year-old kid,” Jim Benning told Sportsnet earlier this year. “To step in and help lead his team to a championship… In all my years of scouting, I don’t think I remember a 17-year-old who did what he did this year.

“We just felt of all the defensemen, we liked his all-around game the best.”

On Monday, USA Hockey named Minnesota Wild first-round pick Luke Kunin as its captain for the upcoming tournament.

Kunin, a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin, was taken 15th overall in this year’s draft. This season, he has 11 goals and 17 points in 16 games.

Colin White, an Ottawa Senators first-round pick in 2015, and Charlie McAvoy, taken in the first round of this year’s draft by Boston, were named alternate captains.

“I couldn’t be happier to have these three quality guys leading this locker room,” said U.S. junior head coach Bob Motzko in a statement.

“We’ve been saying it every day that there’s a pulse with this group. We know Luke, Charlie and Colin are at the center of that through their style of play and their tremendous amount of heart. We’re fortunate to have them leading this team.”

Wild prospect Joel Eriksson-Ek was named captain of Sweden’s team.

Eriksson-Ek already has experience in the NHL regular season, playing nine games in Minnesota, scoring twice with five points, before he was sent back to Sweden.

Related: Coyotes prospect Strome to captain Canada at World Juniors