Sports folk love to compare teams to The Little Engine That Could. Russia’s national ice hockey team is the Great Big Engine That Can’t.
Yet another stacked, skillful, and souped-up Russian squad lost in the medal round of the IIHF World Championships on Thursday, this time to a Team Canada lineup that wasn’t even supposed to get this far following an 0-3 start.
Russia, or “ROC” looked to dominate in the early going, Vladimir Tarasenko’s line skating circles around an inexperienced group of Hab defensemen. But amazingly, a catch-as-catch-can roster of (mostly) young NHLers wearing the Maple Leaf was able to neutralize and counter-attack the Red Machine as the game went on, even after a Yevgeni Timkin goal made it 1-0 for ROC. Canada’s power play tied the score 1-1 in the 3rd period, which allowed defenseman Troy Stecher and sniper Andrew Mangiapane to notch a 3-on-3 OT winner with the best play of the 2021 World Championship to date.
Canada wins in overtime! 🇨🇦
Troy Stetcher makes a beautiful play and Andrew Mangiapane scores in OT to defeat Russia 2-1. pic.twitter.com/BREwLeywHc
— TSN (@TSN_Sports) June 3, 2021
Not that the “Death on a Stecher” dangle didn’t have bright competition elsewhere in Thursday’s quarterfinals. Team Switzerland, as WagerBop had feared, had its hands full with Germany in another OT game decided with a fantastic goal, just as Team USA was busy whipping Slovakia 6-1 to advance.
Switzerland played its usual impeccable style on Thursday and led 2-1 with less than a minute to go, but Team Germany scored on a 6-on-5 advantage, then weathered a cautious extra period before heading into a penalty-shootout. What happened next? Oh, nothing much, only a Cinderella semifinal berth for Germany…and a new layer of legend added to Peter Forsberg’s “Postage Stamp” goal from the 1994 Olympic Games.
— Marek Novotny (@MarekNovotny96) June 3, 2021
That’s the IIHF Worlds for you – first a sleepy round-robin that makes you think AHL teams could out-skate 3/4 of the dicey rosters on hand. Then the medal round arrives, a handful of extra NHL stars show up, emotions run high, and skaters make phenomenal plays you didn’t know they were capable of.
Of course, it also wouldn’t be an IIHF World Championship without at least 1 clinical, boring victory in the Q-Finals. In 2021, the advance-via-tranquilizer honors go to Finland, which worked ever-so-carefully to beat the Czech Republic 1-0 on a goal by Jere Innala, a Liiga skater with 5 points in the tournament. It’s safe to say that we shouldn’t expect a ton of goals from Team Finland in the medal round, but that doesn’t mean the Lions aren’t always a threat to win.
Team USA and Team Canada will meet on Saturday to decide which North American team will play in Sunday’s gold medal game. It could well be an instant TV classic…coming to a Dunkin Donuts near you.
2021 IIHF Worlds Semifinals: Difficult Like Saturday Morning
The IIHF takes a lot of grief for European-centric rules and scheduling, but there’s nothing that the International Ice Hockey Federation – or the NHL Network – can do about the Earth’s sun only shining over 1 hemisphere at once.
Saturday’s exciting semifinal between Team USA and Team Canada will be played at a miserable hour for North American viewers, approximately 7 AM in New York and 4 AM in the West Coast. Pond-shinny junkies won’t mind staying up all night or waking up at a prizefighter’s hour to watch, but forget about any kind of viral sensation captivating millions of flag-wavers, even if the United States plays for a gold medal this weekend. The time of live broadcast just won’t allow it.
Hopefully the Chinese don’t mind having a Men’s Ice Hockey final at 11 PM Beijing time, since that’s the only way most American fans will see the gold medal game from the 2022 Winter Olympics as it actually happens, not as a delayed, edited, expurgated NBC mini-movie with tinkly piano music.
Finland vs Germany will meet 4 hours after Canada vs USA, bringing the “disparity” we hoped for to the IIHF medal round, along with a fresh dose of handicapping intrigue. Betting odds and a smart wager can brighten any sunrise and sweeten emergency cups of coffee. (Just ask any English Premier League supporter from California.) Let’s speculate on the likely outcomes of Saturday’s 2 semifinal games, and find the best betting market on each IIHF Worlds faceoff.
IIHF World Championship Semifinal: Team USA vs Team Canada
(Saturday – Early AM U.S. Time)
Those just now tuning-in to the 2021 IIHF Worlds might imagine United States and Canada teams of NHL scrubs and has-beens, but under the circumstances, the 2 programs have done a good job of recruiting point-producers from ordinary NHL teams. They might not be as big, strong, or experienced as your favorite National Hockey League roster, but they can skate well and move the puck around. That’s good news when 2 federations are trying to get some supporters up and around at 3 AM to get the potato chips ready, or at least the bagels.
Mangiapane, for instance, scored nearly 20 goals in less than 60 games in Calgary this season. That’s not easy to do given a dull supporting cast and atmosphere. Nick Paul sounds like a YouTube reality star, but he does bring size, and some passing touch, to the Canada forward lines.
Team USA has its own batch of handy snipers rolling. Conor Garland of the Arizona Coyotes, who scored nearly a point per-game for a mediocre club in 2020-21, has 10 points at the 2021 Worlds and added another pair of goals against Slovakia.
Everything looks optimistic enough for the Yanks, until you peek at Bovada Sportsbook’s odds on Saturday’s semifinal. The United States is a (-120) moneyline favorite, based on the USA’s impressive 5-1 pounding of Canada in Group Stage. But that was when the Canucks were struggling just to piece a team together, in midst of losing 3 straight times to begin the Worlds. An entirely different Team Canada beat Russia on Thursday.
Pick: Canada (+100)
IIHF World Championship Semifinal #2: Team Finland vs Team Germany
(Saturday – Mid-AM U.S. Time)
Team Germany is a live underdog in big international games, nearly stealing the gold medals from Olympic Athletes of Russia at the 2018 Winter Olympics. More evidence of same can be found by simply watching the highlight reel from Thursday in Latvia, the latest locale for an IIHF aristocrat (Switzerland in this case) to fall to the blue-collar Germans.
Finland’s game plans are always conservative, and the perception that a long-odds bid like Germany (+195) will follow suit, play for a 0-0 or 1-1 scoreboard, and try to sneak another win in OT or in a shoot-out has the O/U total for Saturday’s latter semifinal plunging into subterranean realms at (4) goals.
That’s an opportunity to win bigly on the Finland-Germany contest without having to predict a winner. In fact, the high side of the (4) O/U total could look shiny after just 10:00 of play.
While missing superstar roster additions (who hasn’t in 2021?) Germany’s top lines are NHL-quality. Dominic Kahun would have scored double-digit goals for a 3rd straight season were it not for the shortened slate of 2020-21. 19 y/o Lucas Reichel is the type of player who’s too slight and immature to last 50+ games in North America at this juncture, but he’s perfect for a freewheeling large-ice event. Tobias Rieder’s offense has diminished with Buffalo, but the veteran forward makes plays every time Träger der Adler calls on him.
The Lions can defend as well as any skaters in the world, but Finland’s roster of European club goalies isn’t used to facing the NHL-style attack Team Germany will present with its top 6. Czech Republic forwards pass carefully from point A, to B, to C, and then finally to the attempting shooter. Germany’s forwards just try to get into the slot or speed deeply down the wing and fire slap-shots before crashing the net.
So if Germany’s top 6 is poised to give the methodical Finns trouble, why not simply pick Germany’s moneyline? Because the bottom 6 of the underdog forward corps, along with reserve German defense pairings, will be overwhelmed by the superior KHL and Liiga skaters on Finland’s 3rd and 4th lines.
We could see a scenario where the advantage swings wildly from shift to shift, and that means a ragged game with scoring chances galore, not the snooze-fest Finland played in Thursday. Styles make fights in the IIHF, and styles (and depth issues) could create “surprise” goals in an expected deadlock.
Provisional Leans and Betting Advice for the 2021 IIHF Worlds Gold Medal Game
I used to think blogging the NHL playoffs was hectic. But since I’ve been assigned to handicap world hockey too, the Stanley Cup playoffs seem like an afternoon tea interval compared to the break-neck pace of an IIHF tournament.
Canada, for instance, just turned its entire IIHF cycle around in less time than it takes an NHL team to sweep a playoff rival.
In fact, it’s useless to try for a stand-alone preview of the IIHF World Championship gold medal game because of the sub-24 hour interval between Worlds semifinals and the GMG. There’s simply no time to handicap, write, edit, publish, and promote a tout of the final 2 games by the time odds are released 5-10 hours prior to faceoff. Federations are run by tradition and that’s great, but someone should consider giving the media a chance to hype-up the gold-medal and bronze-medal games each spring. It could help the Worlds grow as a brand.
Anyway, since the schedule dictates that this is our last 2021 IIHF Men’s Worlds preview, here are “provisional” thoughts and (extremely) tentative line-forecasts for all 4 of Sunday’s possible GMG match-ups at the IIHF World Championship. Perhaps WagerBop‘s advance input will help speculators make crucial pass-or-wager choices during Sunday morning’s very narrow window between opening odds and games.
Possible Worlds Gold Medal Game #1: Team USA vs Team Finland
Believe it or not, this isn’t the more-dangerous of 2 potential match-ups on which to wager the United States to win its first World Championship gold since 1960. Finland-USA would come with a cautious moneyline on the Yanks, since the Finns are the defending champs after all. But the Americans would have a puncher’s chance to win against a Lions squad that’s missing the great goaltending a clutch offense of ’19.
Possible Worlds Gold Medal Game #2: Team USA vs Team Germany
Not the scenario in which to bet on Team USA. The western media, for a start, would pick up the “First Gold Since 1960!” story and dive-in gleefully with hours to go. Serious, frowning NHL pundits like Barry Melrose would say logical things like, “Well, we have 12 established NHL players and Germany has 4, so obviously, the final score will be 12 to 4.”
At what would likely be 3/1 or 4/1 odds, the Germans would become a great ML bet to break Red, White, and Blue hearts in what only European writers would know not to call an upset.
Overconfidence is fatal for a young squad, and Team USA would be surrounded by its stench if not matched vs Finland. The Germans would play like fanatics with a realistic chance to win the IIHF Worlds, possibly the only such chance that comes along in 20-30 years’ time for a national team ranked just inside the IIHF World Ranking top 10.
Possible Worlds Gold Medal Game #3: Team Canada vs Team Finland
The best possible match-up for Finland, given that a stronger, faster, physically tougher version of Team Canada couldn’t crack the Lions’ left-wing lock in 2019, and wouldn’t be likely to do so in 2021. Finland could simply hang tight and wait for the winning goal to score itself, or for Marco Anttila to score it.
Canada would be favored, too, unless the win over Team USA in the semifinals was an absolutely lucky fluke. That means Finland’s odds will be valuable in a Canada-Finland gold medal game…if you can bring yourself to bet against the NHL.
Possible Worlds Gold Medal Game #4: Team Canada vs Team Germany
Canada’s media, coaches, and support system would know to temper any talk of an “automatic” win over Germany, especially since the Habs have fallen heartbreakingly short in the IIHF Worlds so often since 2016.
Hockey Canada has been through the pressure-filled end of David vs Goliath pairings 100s of times over the years thanks to Canadians’ consistent and enduring excellence on the pond.
All due respect to Team USA’s overachievement, but I’d feel a lot better about Canada’s chances to shut down and stamp-out a tough underdog with gold medals at stake on Sunday.
Kurt has authored close to 1000 stories covering football, soccer, basketball, baseball, ice hockey, prize-fighting and the Olympic Games. Kurt posted a 61% win rate on 200+ college and NFL gridiron picks last season. He muses about High School football on social media as The Gridiron Geek.