Semifinal day is in the books and it’s time to hand out some medals!
With Canada taking down Russia and the United States edging Finland with a late goal, it sets up this bronze medal affair between Russia and Finland.
This is always one of the more difficult things to do at this tournament. Hopes are so high just 24 hours earlier, only to lose and be forced to come back and play for third place, which for some nations is a major accomplishment.
For these two, gold is always at the top of mind throughout this tournament as Russia began the tournament with the second-best odds to win it behind Canada while Finland came in at fifth. That said, Finland has also won three of the last seven gold medals and lost on a goal with just over a minute to go in last night’s semi against the heavily-favored U.S.
Nonetheless, we should certainly still expect a competitive tilt in this one between a couple of proud hockey nations that would love to salvage a medal in the most unique World Junior Championship of all-time given the circumstances.
So, let’s get to our Russia vs. Finland World Junior pick from the Edmonton bubble!
Russia vs. Finland Betting Odds
- Russia (-125)
- Finland (+105)
- Russia -1.5 (+240)
- Finland +1.5 (-300)
- Over 5.5 (+120)
- Under 5.5 (-145)
Russia vs. Finland World Junior Pick Breakdown
After a lackluster 3-0 win over the Czechs to set up a semifinal showdown with Russia, Canada jumped all over Russia early and often in last night’s semifinal.
While Russia’s offense failed to score a goal against the Canadians, the most disappointing aspect of their 5-0 defeat was the play of netminder Yaroslav Askarov.
Askarov has to have lost his stick a half-dozen times in that one, being scored on without his stick in his hands on two occasions while he looked mostly uncomfortable and very beatable in the Russian crease.
Given the effort, the back-to-back situation this evening and the fact Askarov has played five of the six Russian games to this point — only resting in the round robin affair with Austria — don’t be surprised to see Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Artur Akhtyamov get the starting nod in this one.
Akhtyamov started the game against Austria, allowing one goal on 18 shots on goal. With AK Bars Kazan of the KHL this season, the Maple Leafs 2020 fourth-rounder has posted a 2.90 GAA and .904 Sv% in three games, but also worked to a 1.58 GAA and .935 Sv% in eight games with the Bars Kazan junior club.
It’s one thing not to score in a semifinal matchup, however the Russians were just the latest victims of a Canadian defense that been impenetrable to this point in the tournament. Russia could only muster chances when on the the power play, but Russia had one of the better power plays in the tournament before being blanked last night.
Columbus Blue Jackets first round pick Yegor Chinakhov returned to the lineup for last night’s contest, but wasn’t noticeable in the defeat. You wonder if Chinakhov will sit this one out as well given his importance to Avangard Omsk of the KHL. If the nature of the injury is even close to significant, word will come in to proceed with caution and have him sit this one out.
— Here's Your Replay ⬇️ (@HeresYourReplay) November 1, 2020
After allowing three first-period tallies, the Russian blueline settled in some, allowing just two goals over the last two periods, although they were under a ton of pressure all night long. It could be a worn down group, albeit a talented one that sports five NHL-drafted prospects.
It was a long semifinal for the Russians, and it’s certainly going to be a tough turnaround against a Finland team looking to once again surprise their way to a medal.
Of the two semifinal matchups, the Finns’ loss to the U.S. was far more heartbreaking.
After trailing 3-1 into the third period, Finland scored twice in the final half of the third, only to have L.A. Kings prospect Alex Turcotte score the game winner with 1:16 left in regulation to punch the States’ ticket into the gold medal game and the Finns into this bronze medal affair with Russia.
That said, many didn’t have Finland winning a medal at this year’s event. Anton Lundell — a 2020 Florida Panthers first-round pick — has been excellent in this tournament, but the general sense was that Finland lacked high-end talent throughout their forward group.
— IIHF (@IIHFHockey) December 30, 2020
While Maple Leafs prospect Roni Hirvonen has been excellent, the Finnish blueline has been wildly impressive with the likes of Ville Heinola and Topi Niemela turning some major heads at this year’s event. Heinola could very well get into the Winnipeg Jets’ lineup this season and played eight games with the big club last season, but Niemela — yet another Maple Leafs prospect showing out at this tournament — ranks second on the team with seven points behind Lundell’s eight.
We’ll see what the plans are for Finland in goal, but I think there is far greater chance of Kari Piiroinen starting again in this one than Askarov for Russia. Piiroinen has been good in this tournament, posting a 2.42 GAA and .902 Sv% after allowing the four goals last night. He was sporting a 2.01 GAA and .918 Sv% heading into last nights affair but ran into a high-octane American offensive attack in that one.
The undrafted netminder remains eligible to be taken in the 2021 draft and I believe he’ll get an opportunity to enhance his stock in this one.
I believe the Finns will be ready to go for this one despite swallowing a tough pill in last night’s contest.
Russia vs. Finland World Junior Pick
By all means, I expect both of these clubs to come out and play hard in this one.
I just think the Finns want it more.
Russia certainly boasted gold medal aspirations heading into this tournament, and bronze isn’t a significant accomplishment despite having not won this event since 2011. They won silver last year and bronze in two of the last four tournaments.
As noted, Finland has won gold at three of the last seven tournaments, which just so happens to be their only three medals in that time.
Still, players on this team have plenty to play for. Niemela and Heinola want to keep strong tournaments going and boost their growing stocks with the Leafs and Jets, respectively, while Lundell will be in the mix for a first-team nod given he’s largely led this Finnish attack from up front.
Russia has NHL teams to impress as much of their roster has been drafted, but I just don’t think they’ll bring the same hunger and intensity to this one that Finland will.
As a result, chalk me up for a minor upset in this one as I’ll take the Finns on the moneyline to take home bronze.