It was a successful 2020 World Junior Championship for the four participating Colorado Avalanche prospects though one would have to look deeper than the boxscore for evidence since none of them scored a goal. However each of them advanced to the medal rounds and were important parts of their teams in different ways.
The Finns will be disappointed to walk away empty handed but faced tough tests from Canada and Sweden in the semi-finals and fell 3-2 to the latter in the bronze medal game.
The highlight of their week no doubt was the 1-0 shutout and elimination of the United States team in the quarterfinals. Justus Annunen was at the forefront of that shutout stopping all 30 shots he faced and smothered the fancy attack of the Americans with help of the team in front of him buying in defensively. Annunen’s other memorable performance was his 45 save effort against Sweden in the opening game of the tournament in which Finland lost in overtime 3-2 with copious amount of highlight reel saves seen below. Annunen showed why he’s had so much success in the Liiga with Kärpät by using his size and great down low play blocking rebounds and directing loose pucks smartly with his stick.
— Jokke Nevalainen (@JokkeNevalainen) December 29, 2019
Unfortunately some inconsistent play undermined the sparking games Annunen put up with disappointing games against Switzerland in the round-robin, giving up three goals in as many minutes against Canada and then falling to Sweden again all with some funny bounces and sharpe angles which thwarted him. Annunen finished fourth among qualified goaltenders with a .916 save percentage and a 2.65 goals against average in six games including the aforementioned shutout.
The other story of team Finland was their lack of offense from leaning on a perimeter system as well as giving conservative forwards too much ice time. Sampo Ranta played on a skill energy type line with the Raty brothers and provided an offensive thrust when called on but it wasn’t nearly enough. Also curious was the lack of special teams play when Ranta was used fairly consistently at even strength. Helping a power play that went fifth in the tournament at 22% might have been a good idea. But Ranta’s breakaway ability such as seen below was used occasionally on the penalty kill.
— Here's Your Replay ⬇️ (@HeresYourReplay) January 2, 2020
Ranta was named player of the game in the bronze medal game as he had numerous scoring chances and was one of the few still giving the team a spark. All told he finished the tournament with two assists in seven games and averaged just over 14 minutes per game. Below is one of the great scoring chances Ranta had against Canada.
— Here's Your Replay ⬇️ (@HeresYourReplay) January 4, 2020
This the silver medal team always walks away disappointed after coming so close to the glory and will need time to find the perspective of what an accomplishment a World Junior medal is. Russia will feel especially bummed because they gave up a 3-1 third period lead in that gold medal game to Canada.
Danila Zhuravlyov had a solid tournament as a steady and dependable stalwart on the backend. He didn’t end up as the yin to top prospect Alexander Romanov’s yang as expected and played more a support role but with time on both special teams and chipped in two assists in 16:29 minutes per game which was fourth among defensemen. Perhaps the highlight moment for Zhuravlyov was saving a sure goal in the semi-final game against Sweden as seen below.
— Here's Your Replay ⬇️ (@HeresYourReplay) January 4, 2020
On occasion Zhuravlyov does pull some skill out and creates a gorgeous chance such as this below. In the gold medal game Zhuravlyov experienced some uneven moments as the rest of team Russia did but still adds a silver medal to his collection along with a bronze medal from last year’s tournament.
— Josh Tessler (@JoshTessler_) January 4, 2020
The champions return to the top podium after a one year absence but it was their first gold outside of North America since 2008, which was also in the Czech Republic. Their biggest disappointment was a 6-0 embarrassment to Russia in the round-robin. Canada clearly got it together and never lost a game after that defeat and then culminated with the revenge 4-3 win over Russia in the finals.
Bowen Byram was expected to be an important piece for Canada on the backend although didn’t seem like it when in the first game and was more in a third pairing offensive role with Calen Addison. After the disaster against Russia defensive pairings were shuffled and Byram was then elevated to the top pair along side Jacob Bernard-Docker. Perhaps more importantly Byram was put on the first unit penalty kill in addition to his second unit power play duties which produced this grade A chance against Germany seen below. Byram drew several penalties as well and didn’t take any of his own.
— Here's Your Replay ⬇️ (@HeresYourReplay) December 30, 2019
From there Byram continued to play major minutes and became one of the most trusted defenders for team Canada. He ended up with the most minutes per game of any Canadian player with 19:37 minutes on average and was only on the ice for two goals against including perfect on the penalty kill. Despite missing the semi-final game against Finland with a stomach bug he was leaned on to bring the team to the gold. First reunited with Addison when the team needed a goal where he chipped in an assist during the comeback and then never leaving the ice during late game penalty kill and 6-on-4 with the empty net plus the last 30 seconds of the game. All in all Byram played 9:17 in the third period and just over 22 minutes overall in the way to the gold.
While Byram only scored two assists and many were expecting him to show his dynamic skating and offensive abilities rushing the puck and roaming around the offensive zone instead Byram played the game called upon him and perhaps was most questioned. For an 18-year old to get those defensive minutes over five older players including two returning defensemen speaks to where his defensive game has grown and the type of game he can play in the future.
He’s a pretty fun character. And now has a World Junior gold medal, too.
“Life’s serious. Hockey’s serious. But if you’re not having fun, you’re not going to be successful…”
— TSN Hockey (@TSNHockey) January 4, 2020