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World Juniors 2016: Slovakia/Czech Republic, Sweden/USA, Russia/Finland previews, schedules, & game thread

Day Three of the 2016 World Junior Hockey Championship kicks off with a great neighbourly rivalry, followed by two matches that could end up deciding the round-robin winners of Groups A and B.

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

With the top eight teams all in action, Day Three promises some intense hockey across the board.

(In-depth previews of each team can be viewed by clicking on the links in the headings below)

Slovakia vs Czech Republic

7:00 AM EST / 4:00 AM PST
TSN2 / RDS2 / TSN Go

In case Slovakia versus Czech Republic weren't enough of a rivalry, this match will have some added animosity as the Czechs look to avenge the quarter-final loss suffered at the hands of their neighbours during the 2015 tournament.

Czech Republic put up a great fight in their opening game against Russia, holding a 1-0 lead before surrendering a late goal and succumbing in a shootout. While the Czechs have a massive offensive boost on the way in the capable form of David Pastrnak. Unfortunately, Pavel Zacha wll be out with an injury for the game, and the Czechs simply trade one skilled forward for another. Czech Republic will need to employ the stingy defensive game that got them a point on Saturday.

Slovakia already has an all-important three-point regulation victory under its belt from yesterday's game versus Belarus. The team will enter the game with that added confidence, though perhaps with more fatigue than the rested Czechs. Slovakia had four goals from four different goal-scorers versus Belarus, and will hope for another balanced offensive performance later today.

Sweden vs USA

9:00 AM EST / 6:00 AM PST
TSN1 / TSN3 / RDS / NHL Network / TSN Go

Sweden opened their tournament against a vicious Swiss club. Three of Switzerland's players were suspended in a vicious game that saw several Swedes leave the ice with injuries. One of those players — Adrian Kempe, a top forward — will be back for Sweden today. William Nylander, perhaps the most skilled player registered for the tournament, will not, however, after a blind-side hit to the head forced him out of the last game. The loss of Nylander is a major one for Sweden, though they still have a very deep offensive base to draw upon while their star forward is out.

Their defensive game should see an improvement with Gustav Forsling making his first start with the team after missing out on the first contest.

The United States are coming off a big win over Canada on Saturday, and can virtually wrap up the group with a regulation victory over Sweden today. That would grant a favourable matchup in the quarter-finals, where they would have less chance of repeating last year's result of losing their first playoff game.

The goaltending provided by Alex Nedeljkovic was a major factor in USA's opening win, and another excellent performance will be required to contain Sweden's potent offence.

Russia vs Finland

11:00 AM EST / 8:00 AM PST
TSN2 / RDS2 / TSN Go

Russia was the team that knocked USA out of medal contention last year on their path to the gold-medal game, where they came up just short of the championship win. Russia came from behind to overcome the stifling play of the Czechs in the tournament's opening game, but will need to generate more offence against their opponent today.

Finland experienced a veritable goal explosion in the third period of their first game versus Belarus, scoring five times in the last frame; the amount of tallies they managed through four complete games in the group stage at last year's tournament. Jesse Puljujärvi, a top prospect for the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, led the way with two goals and one assist. If the Finns can add a newly-discovered scoring touch to their signature top-to-bottom defensive style, they will be a good candidate to claim the gold medal on home soil when the tournament wraps up on January 5th.