For a while on Sunday, it appeared as though Kazakhstan’s U20 squad was going to produce another tight outcome against a Group A stalwart.
But the Finns were packing a Puistola.
Carolina Hurricanes prospect Patrik Puistola scored the opening goals of the 1st and 3rd periods and led Finland with 3 points as the Junior Lions clobbered Kazakhstan 7-1 at Werk Arena.
The result all-but guarantees Finland a 1st or 2nd seed in the World Junior Championship quarterfinals, scheduled for Thursday, January 2nd.
Kazakhstan goaltender Vladislav Nurek stopped Finnish forward Eemil Erholtz on a breakaway 3 minutes into the game, but couldn’t stop a nice wrister from Puistola on the power play less than 3 minutes later. Andrei Buyaksli raked-in a man-advantage goal for Kazakhstan halfway through the 1st period, but soon the Hurricanes draft pick had assisted on Kristian Tanus’ winning goal for Finland at just 14:31 of the opening frame.
Finland does not control its own destiny in Group A, having lost in OT to Sweden on Day 1. Tre-Kronor may have an easy path to the #1 seed having already beaten the 2 toughest teams in the pool in Finland and Switzerland.
However, given the chaos in Group B, it is unclear how much advantage a #1 Group A seed actually entails. Canada sits in a glum 4th place following a 6-0 lashing from Russia, but the Junior Red Machine has had a miserable tournament so far and could be an upset loss to Germany away from – gag – a bid in the relegation round. Meanwhile, Team Germany just defeated host Czech Republic 4-3 in the 2020 WJC’s biggest surprise so far.
Kazakhstan’s U20 athletes may not be used to cheering for Russia. But the Kazakhs need to become Red Machine fans quickly, and might even whisper a few prayers for the Czechs and Canadians.
Monday’s match with Sweden is almost certain to produce 0 points in the standings, leaving the Group A underdogs at 0-4 and facing a relegation series. To defeat Germany in a relegation series would be challenging. But playing the Russians or host Czechs might make it too tough, and a surreal Canada vs Kazakhstan relegation playoff would subject both nations to ridicule.
Sweden and Kazakhstan face-off at 9 AM EST on Monday.
Photo ATTN: TSN on Twitter