The player of the game awards handed out to a player on each team after every game at the World Junior Championship are harmless and meaningless. At most, they’re the shining moment in a player’s otherwise quiet career. At the very least, they’re a token of respect.
But I’d love to be that proverbial fly on the wall when after Canada’s 10-1 win over Norway–the drubbing we all expected–the decision was made to hand the award to defenceman Erik Gudbranson instead of Brayden Schenn. Not to downgrade the contribution of Gudbranson, who was Canada’s heaviest hitter and scored twice. All Schenn did was score four goals, tying Mario Lemieux and Simon Gagne for the most goals in a single game at the World Junior tournament by a Canadian.
If an arbitrary award is our greatest complaint–indeed, Canadian fans in Buffalo booed–then it was probably a good night. So good, that Ryan Ellis is now the all-time leader in tournament scoring for a defenceman.
And so good that mid-way through the second period, Norway’s goalies had a combined save percentage of .588.
A little more of this, please
Sure, it was Norway, and anything less than a massive dismantling by Canada would have been a disappointment. Actually, considering last year Canada played Latvia and Switzerland in its first two games and outscored them 22-0, this was tame. But even if Canada was playing the reincarnation of my Pee Wee team (I proudly played for Beaver Lumber), a fast start still would have been an accomplishment.
Canada entered this game having sputtered in the opening minutes twice, the first because of over aggressiveness against Russia, and then the exact opposite last night against the Czech Republic. With Calvin de Haan and Jaden Schwartz out with injuries, Cody Eakin a late scratch, and Zack Kassian suspended two games, the towers on the back end knew their role: to set the tone early physically, but do it cleanly. Gudbranson went to work with a board rattling hit seconds into the game, and promptly the kind of sweet chin music Canadian fans know well was playing.
By the five minute mark, Canada was up 2-0 on a goal by Casey Cizikas, and the first of Schenn’s four. Then it was just a matter of keeping the trigger finger pinned down.
A little less of this, please
The question of playing down to an opponent is asked repeatedly by those annoying sideline reporter types throughout the course of a long, 82-game NHL season. But it’s dwelled on for a reason, as the mental game of the schedule is often just as difficult as the physical grind.
The same concept is applied to the short World Junior Championship schedule, but it’s magnified because of the high intensity. The coaches and players will say all the right things to the media in those classic hockey clichés, but reality dictates that it’s far too easy to look past the weak sisters like Norway.
Canada definitely didn’t treat this as a trap game. Maybe the 10-1 score gave that away. But it’s cute and fun to revel in Canada’s steamrolling of an interior opponent. When a game like this gets out of hand fast, there’s an even more challenging mental game to be played as the analyzing audience. Take some of the little ninja turtle band-aids from the cupboard, and place them over the score on your TV. Now, open your eyes to an all new world, one that wasn’t a pretty picture defensively.
Dylan Olsen was likely playing hurt, and briefly walked down the hallway towards the Canadian dressing room in the first period. Regardless, Olsen was out of position often and was beat badly on Norway’s goal by Rasmus Juell, and he had a handful of giveaways that led to scoring chances.
The play of goaltender Mark Visentin was also discouraging, as he showed why he’s the backup to Olivier Roy in this tournament.
His whiff with the glove hand on Juell’s goal was the result of poor positioning and mechanics. Prior to that Visentin also made several routine saves look complicated and difficult, including a harmless backhander that trickled between his legs, and rolled towards the goal line.
Random facts about…Norway
Win or lose, each game we do our part as a well established source of cultural education, and provide some random fun facts about Canada’s opponent.
Boring but important vitals
Largest export: Oil and gas
Best place to enjoy a romantic Norwegian evening without spending the equivalent of your student loan: Nobils
Most attractive female export
Her status as an export is debatable, because although Raven’s awful music may be a smash hit in her native land and throughout Europe, she hasn’t quite crossed the pond yet. Or maybe she has, and I’m just not up on my generic emo music that’s branded to teeny boppers with Lizzie McGuire posters, and hourly Facebook status updates on their boyfriend problems.
- There are nearly five million people of Norwegian descent currently living in the United States according to America’s most recent census. That’s more Norwegians than there are in Norway. That’s right, those crazy Scandinavians beat Columbus to North America, and now they’re slowly taking back what’s rightfully theirs.
- Knute Rockne, the legendary Notre Dame football coach, is the most famous name in North American sports of Norwegian descent. That’s quite exciting for the two college football fans reading a hockey blog.
- With the exception of a few specialized, unique programs, all college and university education in Norway is free. Kind of makes you re-evaluate that time you scoffed at the idea of studying abroad, doesn’t it?
- Here’s some essential information for Norwegian travel: whereas here in North America wine is sold in a variety of locations, in Norway it’s only sold through a “Vinmonopolet,” which means “wine monopoly.”
- Thankfully, there was only one edition of “World Idol,” in which the winners of that painful reality TV singing contest from around the world were pitted against each other. The finale was on New Year’s Day in 2004, and like the rest of us, the world had seen enough of Kelly Clarkson. She finished second, and was knocked off of her throne by Norway’s Kurt Nilson.