The first stage of the 2022 World Juniors is complete and boy, was it filled with excitement. We saw history made for one small country, a player etch himself into the Canadian record books, a sensational Michigan goal and much, much more.
The preliminary round is always exciting and the one in August was no exception. It took a bit longer for teams to get their feet under them given the unusual time of year for the tournament, but after getting four games under their belts, it’s time for the knockout stage.
The quarterfinals start on Wednesday as eight teams have their eyes set on gold. It should be filled with more exciting moments to add to the summer competition.
Before the knockout stage begins, let’s take a look at some of the biggest takeaways from the preliminary round of the 2022 World Juniors.
The Mason McTavish takeover
By the time we get set to start up the 2023 World Juniors in December, Mason McTavish should be nowhere near the Canada roster. Because he should be playing regular minutes with the Ducks in the NHL.
The Canada captain has been flat-out dominant so far for the host country. His 13 points lead all players so far at the World Juniors, finishing the preliminary round with seven goals and six assists. After starting the games with two assists against Latvia, McTavish found the back of the net at least once each of the last three contests.
He etched himself into Canadian World Juniors history as well, as he became just the seventh player from Canada to score four goals in a single game at the U20 tournament. The historic feat came during the 11-1 thumping of Slovakia.
It’s not just his offensive game. McTavish’s physicality and penalty-killing abilities make him the most well-rounded player on the Canada roster. While other top-level talent like Owen power and Shane Wright elected to skip the summer games, McTavish came back with one goal in mind — a gold medal. He’s doing everything he can early on to put Canada in a great position to do so.
USA’s dominant top-six forward group
Team USA entered the tournament without a clear, bonafide goal scorer like a McTavish or Connor Bedard that could take over a game with ease. Turns out, you don’t need one when you have two lines that roll the way the USA’s do.
The Thomas Bordeleau-Landon Slaggert-Carter Mazur line and Matt Coronato-Logan Cooley-Matt Knies combination have been sensational so far at the tournament. It seemed like each game, both of these lines were stepping up and creating multiple chances for the Americans.
In the opener against Germany, both sides were buzzing, responsible for the first three goals in the 5-1 win. Against Switzerland, the first line dominated, as all three members of the first line had a goal and multiple points.
Mazur added two goals against Austria for the top line, while Coronato had a goal and an assist for the second unit. Finally, against Sweden, it was Coronato again, who scored the second and third goal for the Americans in the tight 3-2 victory.
For the Americans, it was key to get depth scoring out of the group, and Nate Leaman’s crew has delivered so far. With two essentially No. 1 forward lines at his disposal, he’ll have the ability to create mismatches against opponents.
Finland’s top line of Hirvonen, Räty and Kemell
In December, it was a short showing, but Finland’s line of Brad Lambert, Ville Koivunen and Samuel Helenius carried the team in its two teams. Now, at the summer edition of the tournament, it’s been Roni Hirvonen, Aatu Räty and Joakim Kemell that have been rolling for the Finns.
Kemell and Räty each finished the prelims with nine points, tied for the second-most points so far at the tournament, only trailing McTavish. They have identical stat lines, with three goals and six assists. Hirvonen is third on the team with six points.
The trio have been particularly lethal on the power play. Finland heads into the quarterfinals with the second-highest success rate on the power play so far, scoring nine goals on 16 opportunities. Much of that is due to the precision passing/shooting of Hirvonen, Räty and Kemell. Hirvonen has two power play goals, while Räty and Kemell have each dished out three helpers on the man advantage.
Latvia’s historic preliminary round
Latvia surprised some with their competitive showing against Canada to open its 2022 World Juniors. While many chalked it up to Canada’s rust and getting back into the swing of things, more credit should have gone to Latvia and their resilience.
After suffering three straight losses at the 2022 World Juniors, Latvia upset Czechia in its final preliminary round matchup, not only securing a spot in the quarterfinals, but getting the country its first-ever win during the preliminary round at the World Juniors.
— IIHF (@IIHFHockey) August 15, 2022
Ralfs Bergmanis had a hat trick for the team while Rainers Rullers and Martins Lavins each found the back of the net. Bruno Bruveris stopped 33 shots en route to the historic victory.
“It’s a dream come true,” Lavins said post-game. “We knew we just did something special, and it’s an amazing feeling to share something like that … We’re not done yet, there’s a lot of fight left in us.”
Latvia wasn’t supposed to be competing in Edmonton. With Russia losing its spot due to the ban from the IIHF and Belarus unable to move up after finishing first in Division IA tournament because of its ban, it opened the door for Latvia to compete in the top tournament.
Now, Latvia heads to the quarterfinals for the first time ever, looking to continue their Cinderella story.