Several NHL top prospects snapped slumps on Day 5 of the 2021 World Junior Hockey Championship.
The Czech Republic played the United States very tightly, but once the Americans finally landed on the scoresheet, the game grew quickly out of reach as the USA cruised to a 7-0 win.
After a sluggish performance against Slovakia, Canada woke up a dormant power play to bounce back for a 10-0 trouncing of Switzerland.
Meanwhile, Russia found their offence and jumped out to an early lead for a 7-1 win over Austria, who finally scored their first goal of the tournament.
Here are the three best performances from Day 5 of the 2021 world juniors.
Third Star: Bobby Brink, United States
After the first period of this game ended in a scoreless tie, it seemed as though the Czechs were going to repeat their performance against Russia and ride a tightly-checked game to victory over the United States.
However, American forward Bobby Brink broke the ice in the second period, a goal that would end up opening the floodgates for the U.S. offence.
After Brink’s goal, the rejuvenated Americans continued to circle and hound the Czech defence, forcing most of the play for the rest of the game to be held in the offensive end. Brink would add another goal before the end of the period, and the United States wrapped up this game with another four goals in the third.
The longer USA would have gone without scoring, the more confidence the Czechs would have gained and likely been able to pull off another shocking upset win. After Brink took over in the second period, the rest of the USA’s top forwards picked up the slack in the third en route to a critical win.
It would have been just as easy to give Brink’s teammate Trevor Zegras the honour here with his five-point game, but Brink’s play got the United States rolling and gave them the confidence they desperately needed. The USA would not have won without him.
USA will have one more day off before their last game of the round-robin against Sweden on New Year’s Eve, a game that will very likely decide how both teams finish in Group B.
Second Star: Vasily Podkolzin, Russia
Vasily Podkolzin has been a polarizing prospect for Vancouver Canucks fans, who either seem to love or hate the 10th overall pick from the 2019 NHL Draft.
Podkolzin’s play at last year’s world juniors left much to be desired and heading into Russia’s game against Austria, Podkolzin had yet to register a point against both the Americans and Czechs.
The Russian captain finally stepped into the spotlight Tuesday, scoring two goals in the first period and nearly getting a hat trick on a goal that was last touched by a teammate before crossing the line.
Another view pic.twitter.com/CgIKv3KWa4
— Faber (@ChrisFaber39) December 30, 2020
Though Podkolzin did not open the scoring (that honour went to teammate Rodion Amirov, who scored on a penalty shot), his play Tuesday demonstrated that Russia made the right decision to give him the ‘C’. Podkolzin finished the game with three points and was undoubtedly Russia’s best player in this game.
Russia, who had been reeling after being shut out by the Czech Republic two nights ago, desperately needed a bounce-back game and their big stars to step up. Podkolzin did just that, and the rest of his teammates followed.
With Russia back on track, they still have a chance to finish the round-robin on a high note but won’t have much time to reset. Their final game against Sweden will be the second half of a back-to-back on Wednesday with a big opportunity to end Sweden’s incredible 54-game undefeated round-robin streak.
First Star: Quinton Byfield, Canada
After Canada’s 16-2 rout of Germany, some hockey fans grew frustrated with the play of second overall pick Quinton Byfield. Why had he only had one assist in a game where his team scored 16 goals? Why did he seem unnoticeable on the ice?
Some even went as far as to call him a bust, simply because of his lack of production.
Whether Byfield heard those criticisms or not, he responded in a big way. He was a dominant offensive presence, effective in breaking up neutral zone passes and a huge factor in waking up a struggling Canadian power play.
The Los Angeles Kings’ top prospect lit up the scoresheet in Canada’s third game with two goals and four assists, including two points on the man-advantage.
Byfield’s six-point performance was one that many Canadian hockey fans had been waiting for. He silenced his doubters and detractors with what was undoubtedly his best game at the world Juniors.
With Byfield finally on the scoresheet, Canada will turn its focus to their final round-robin game against Finland on New Year’s Eve, the match that will likely decide who finishes atop Group A.