Czechia's Roman Cervenka and USA’s Jeremy Swayman are among the players to watch during the final weekend.
photo: Andre Ringuette / HHOF-IIHF Images
Four teams are left in this 85th edition of the World Championship. They will all be playing for medals this Sunday, colour depending on how they perform on Saturday. And key to those games will be certain players who have either played well so far or who know how to play well the bigger the moment gets. Here are four players to watch this weekend. They can’t win a game on their own, but their best play can certainly drive their team to victory.
Marko Anttila (FIN)
The big man is not the most graceful skater, but when the going gets big, the big gets going. Call him Mister May, because time and again over the last several years he has played his best in the most important games. This year is no different. The statistics show he has two goals and three assists so far this year, not spectacular numbers. But both goals and one of those helpers came in the quarter-finals after the team found itself down 2-0 to Slovakia. He literally carried the team to victory. He was captain in '18 and '19, and he truly made a name for himself in 2019, leading Finland to gold. In the quarter-finals, he scored a late goal to tie the game with Sweden, 4-4. In the semi-finals, he scored the only goal in a 1-0 win over Russia. And then in the gold-medal game against Canada, he scored the tying goal and winning goal in a 3-1 victory. Chances are, if Finland beats the U.S., Anttila’s name will figure in the victory.
Roman Cervenka (CZE)
Who could have predicted the 36-year-old Cervenka would be having the best tournament of his career so late in life, as it were? Cervenka helped the Czechs win bronze at the 2005 World Junior Championship, their last medal in that event from that day to this. Since then he has played in three Olympics and now nine World Championships, winning gold in 2010 and bronze a year later. But here he is in the oldest player on the team, and he leads Czechia with four goals and 14 points. The team has scored only 23 times, and he’s been in on 61 per cent of those. Pretty amazing. His previous high for points in one tournament was ten back in 2011. Of course, it helps that he’s now playing on a line with David Krejci and David Pastrnak, but although they might be a one-line team, it’s been quite a line. They combined for three of the four gaols in a 4-1 win over Germany in the quarter-finals, and if they hope to beat Canada on Saturday, Cervenka is going to have to continue his offensive brilliance.
Pierre-Luc Dubois (CAN)
Dubois looks and plays like an older player, so it’s hard to remember that he’s still only 23 years old. Indeed, he played at the U18 in 2015 and the World Juniors in 2017, and then at the 2018 and 2019 senior World Championships, winning a silver in the latter when Anttila was dominant for the Finns in victory. Dubois is a bit of everything. He’s big enough to create his own space. He has a great shot and knows how to pass, but perhaps most of all he can influence a game when he gets going. He’s second in tournament scoring with seven goals and 12 points, but he came up huge in the stunning rally against Sweden in the quarters, scoring the late goal to make it 3-2, and then assisting on the winner in overtime. He also scored twice in Canada’s opening game 5-3 win over Germany and twice again in the 5-1 win over Slovakia.
Jeremy Swayman (USA)
While it’s often easy to look to a forward as a team’s dominant player, it’s just as easy to look at Swayman and understand his importance to the fate of the Americans. Yes, all goalies are important, but some are more important than others. Swayman didn't play in the team's first three games but has appeared in all five of the team’s eight games since. In that stretch, he has recorded two shutouts and allowed a mere three goals. The 23-year-old from Alaska has shown poise beyond his years, and his positioning is rock solid. He’s more Ed Belfour than Dominik Hasek, anticipating plays and making tough saves look easy. He is why they beat the Swiss in the quarters, and against the sizeable favourites in the Finns he’s going to have to be at his very best.