A year ago, Sweden won its group at the World Junior Championship and used the resulting pass into the semifinal round as the foundation for the nation's first WJC gold medal in 31 years.
Will history repeat itself?
Sweden defeated arch rival Finland, 7-4, on Monday to win out in the preliminary round and earn first place in Group A at the 2013 IIHF World Junior Championship. Now, it is off until the semifinal round on Thursday, when the Swedes will play the winner of the quarterfinal game on Wednesday between Russia and Switzerland (8 a.m. ET, NHLN-US).
On the other side of the bracket, Canada finished atop Group B after its 4-1 win against Russia on Monday. Canada gets an extra day of rest and will face the winner of the quarterfinal Wednesday between the United States and the Czech Republic.
"It's been a long haul to this point," Canada coach Steve Spott told reporter. "We haven't had a day off, so with a lot of travel and a lot of time zones, we'll enjoy [Tuesday] as a team and then we'll move forward from there."
Canada won't have to move as fast as some other teams.
The puck will drop for the United States and the Czech Republic at 4 a.m. ET (NHL.com, NHLN-US) on Wednesday.
"I'm excited to move forward," American coach Phil Housley told NHL.com. "We'll take next game as it comes."
That next game comes against a squad that aided in the downfall of the Americans at last year's tournament. The Czechs delivered a surprising 5-2 loss to the Americans in preliminary round play, part of a string of results that forced the United States into the relegation round and a s seventh-place finish.
Only three players from that American team return, so that page has been turned. Instead, the focus is on improving what this year's team is doing. That includes an offense that has come in fits and starts -- 17 goals total in wins against Germany and Slovakia, two goals in losses to Russia and Canada.
American forward Vincent Trocheck, who had two goals and an assist in the 9-3 defeat on Monday of Slovakia that clinched the medal-round spot for the United States, said now that his team has advanced, what happened in the preliminary round doesn't matter.
"To go into the medal round … it's a clean slate," he told NHL.com. "I'm not worried about the record in the first few games. It's just a new slate and we're going to start 1-0 hopefully against the Czechs in a couple days."
The Czechs finished second in Group A following their 4-3 overtime win against Switzerland on Monday. They're hoping to build off last year's fifth-place finish, which came after two straight years in the relegation pool. The Czech Republic hasn't won a medal since the 2005 tournament.
However, the Czechs aren't getting too far ahead of themselves.
"I try not to think about how deep [we can go]," Czech defenseman David Musil told IIHF.com. "We just have to focus on the game in the quarterfinals."
The second game Wednesday will see host Russia facing the surprise of the tournament, Switzerland (8 a.m. ET, NHLN-US).
It was expected to be a down year for Switzerland, which was deemed to be lacking an explosive offense presence. Instead, coach Sean Simpson has built a team which finished fourth in scoring in the preliminary round with 16 goals, led by three from Mike Kunzle. The Swiss only won once in the preliminary round, a 7-2 opening-game victory against Latvia, but picked up single points in shootout losses to Sweden and Finland and an overtime loss to the Czech Republic. Those points were the difference between them and Finland for the last medal-round spot in Group A.
"I’m very proud that we could take all three of those teams [Sweden, Finland, and the Czech Republic] to overtime," Simpson told the IIHF website. "There was a little bit of bad luck. How often does a team play three games in a row, go to overtime three times, and lose three times?"
For Russia, which won the silver medal last year, the loss to Canada was a tough one, but it'll have the obvious home-ice advantage. The Russian games have been the best-attended of the tournament, and the fans were loud all game long Monday. It should be more of the same against Switzerland.
Russia was only sixth in scoring in the preliminary round with 13 goals, but it had the best goaltending, as it tied the United States with just seven goals allowed in four games. However, Russia allowed 164 shots on goal, the second-most in the first round, making the efforts of goalies Andrey Makarov and Andrey Vasilevskiy that much more impressive.
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
Author: Adam Kimelman | NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor
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