An action-packed Boxing Day offered a full slate of excellent World Junior Championship games. For many fans in North America, it marks the arrival of elite-quality televised hockey for the first time since the Los Angeles Kings hoisted the Stanley Cup on June 11.
On Day 1 of the tournament, the favorites had their way, winning each of the four games. Here's a look at each tilt:
Finland 5 - Latvia 1
A strong Finnish squad got off to a strong start beating Group A cupcake Latvia 5-1. Artturi Lehkonen opened the scoring for Finland just 1:54 into the first period. Latvia would equalize six and a half minutes later with a Nikolajs Jelisejevs goal.
Latvia would not score again, as four unanswered goals gave Finland their first three points in Group A. Miro Aaltonen led the way for the Finns with two goals and an assist. Unfortunately, Aaltonen left the game with an ankle injury, and the IIHF has announced via Twitter that his tournament is done.
Markus Granlund and Rasmus Ristolainen provided Finland's other goals, as the Finns out-shot the Latvians 44 to 12.
Up next for Finland is a date with the Czech Republic on Friday, while Latvia will face Switzerland tomorrow.
Canada 9 - Germany 3
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins exploded for five points as he led Team Canada to a blowout victory over Germany. Canada's top line looked unstoppable as Nugent-Hopkins, Jonathan Huberdeau and Mark Scheifele produced a combined total of 11 points.
Eight different players scored for Canada, with five players posting multiple points. With the exception of a few defensive miscues, Canada looked as advertised, and they should be fully prepared for a run at the gold medal.
Canadian goaltender Malcolm Subban was excellent, making 28 saves after winning the battle for the starting job against Jordan Binnington. Subban will be in net for Canada's next game against Slovakia on Friday.
Germany will take on Team USA tomorrow.
Sweden 4 - Czech Republic 1
Despite being forced to cut 2012 sixth-overall pick Hampus Lindholm from their roster due to a concussion, Sweden began the defense of its 2012 gold medal with a 4-1 triumph over the Czech Republic to keep pace with Finland atop Group A.
Montreal Canadiens prospect Sebastian Collberg drew first blood for the Swedes after just two minutes and 16 seconds. Elias Lindholm, considered one of the top European prospects eligible for the 2013 draft, doubled the Swedish lead just over a minute later.
Filip Sandberg added insurance in the second period before captain Filip Forsberg sealed the game with his first goal of the tournament midway through the third. Swedish goalie Joel Lassinatti was perfect until the final six seconds of the game when he finally conceded a goal to Lukas Sedlak.
The Czech Republic will look to rebound against Finland on Friday, while Sweden faces a favorable matchup with Switzerland.
Russia 3 - Slovakia 2 (OT)
Team Russia endured the scare of the day, as they needed overtime to beat Slovakia in Ufa.
The game began with controversy, as Russia's Nikita Kucherov scored on a beautiful give-and-go with Mikhail Grigorenko that ought to have been whistled dead for offsides.
Russia expanded their lead when Alexander Khokhlachev beat Slovakian goalie Adam Nagy one-on-one after a gorgeous feed from Andrei Sigaryov. For much of the game, Nagy bailed out the anemic Slovakian offense with huge saves that allowed them to hang around with the heavily favored Russians.
Matus Matis' goal late in the second period pulled Slovakia within one, heaping pressure upon the Russian hosts. Despite a disappointing effort in a game they expected to dominate, the Russians should have been able to easily close out the contest in the third period.
Cue Russia's Maxim Shalunov, who revived the game's excitement by taking a horrible penalty with just two and half minutes remaining. Shalunov was sentenced to four minutes in the sin bin for pointlessly cross-checking a Slovakian skater in the face.
Andrei Vasilevski did his best to rebuff the ensuing barrage until Richard Mraz forced through the tying goal with just 36 seconds remaining.
With one point guaranteed, Slovakia went for the victory in overtime but could not complete the upset. Russia was reprieved by Albert Yarulin, who ripped a laser beam from the point to win the game with just 10 seconds remaining in overtime.
Despite opening the tournament with a win, the hosts will be devastated due to the fact that overtime wins are only rewarded with two points in the group standings, putting Russia one point behind Canada in Group B following the first day of play.
1. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins - Canada
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins played a nearly perfect game for Canada. He scored the team's second goal and assisted on four others. He contributed on Canada's first four goals and looked right at home between wingers Jonathan Huberdeau and Mark Scheifele.
2. Adam Nagy - Slovakia
Adam Nagy allowed three goals on 27 shots against Russia, but the numbers do not fairly represent his superb effort. Nagy's saves earned the Slovakians a crucial point against a Russian team projected to coast to an easy win.
3. Miro Aaltonen - Finland
Miro Aaltonen scored twice and added an assist in Finland's 5-1 victory over Latvia, tying him with Canadians Jonathan Huberdeau and Ryan Strome for the second-highest point total on the day. Unfortunately, Aaltonen will not be seen for the remainder of the tournament as he suffered an ankle injury that will sideline him for quite a while.
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