The 2018 IIHF World Junior Ice Hockey Championship has been narrowed down to four countries, as the United States, Sweden, Canada and Czech Republic are set to play in the semifinals in Buffalo on Thursday night.
The first semifinal, which pits the USA vs Sweden, is scheduled to start at 4 p.m. ET, while the second matchup between Canada and Czech Republic will see the puck drop at about 8 p.m. ET. In the United, both games will be broadcast on NHL Network. And if you can’t get to a TV or don’t have cable, you can still watch a live stream of the NHL Network by signing up for one of the following cable-free, live-TV services. They cost a monthly fee but all come with a free trial, allowing you to watch both of Thursday’s games, as well as the bronze medal game and championship, at no cost:
DirecTV Now: While DirecTV Now has four main channel packages, NHL Network is included in just the “Go Big” and “Gotta Have It” packages. It comes with a free 7-day trial no matter what package you choose, plus you can get $25 off your first month if you enter promo code “BDAY2017”. You can watch on your computer via your browser, or on your phone, tablet or streaming device via the DirecTV Now app
Sling TV: To get access to NHL Network, you’ll need to select either the “Sling Orange” or “Sling Blue” base package plus the “Sports Extra” add-on. A free seven-day trial is offered, and you can watch on your computer via your browser, or on your phone, tablet or streaming device via the Sling TV app
The hosts and defending world junior champions, the United States, enter their semifinal matchup against Sweden on an impressive run of performances. Since a 3-2 loss to Slovakia early in the tournament, the Red, White and Blue have reeled off three wins in a row, beating powerhouses Canada, Finland and Russia in the process. New York Islanders prospect Kieffer Bellows scored twice in the 4-2 quarterfinal win over Russia to run his tournament goal total to six, while 2017 No. 8 pick Casey Mittelstadt leads the tournament with 10 points. With those two leading the way, the Americans look like the favorites on their home ice.
But to return to the championship, Team USA will first have to get past Sweden, the only team in the tournament yet to be defeated. After three straight fourth-place finishes in this tournament, the Swedes have out-scored their opponents 23-9 this year behind a trio of Top-10 NHL picks in Alexander Nylander (eighth overall in 2016), Elias Pettersson (fifth overall in 2017) and Lias Andersson (seventh overall in 2017).
Whoever wins that one is expected to see Canada in the final. That’s no disrespect to Czech Republic, who certainly have their share of firepower behind Martin Necas, Libor Hajek and Filip Zadina, but more a nod to Canada’s dominance this tournament. Despite a loss to the United States, the Candaians had the best goal differential during group play (plus-15) and followed that with an 8-2 thrashing of Switzerland in the quarters. They have excellent balance, with seven different players having tallied at least five points this tournament, and they’ve been to the final two of the last three years.
Oddsmakers say it will be a rematch between USA and Canada, but no matter what happens, it should ultimately be a thrilling pair of semifinal matchups on Thursday night.