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Credit: SB Nation

It’s World Junior time. Hooray for semi-relevant hockey. This year, we have some prelim tune-up games in which two teams play for absolutely nothing. Except for a spot on the team. So, I guess that’s something.

After Canada’s no show this morning against Finland, the United States and Sweden took to the ice to see if they could blow a game and then blame it on the refs. Sorry, I didn’t enjoy Canada’s game this morning and I’m still bitter.

Anyway, hockey! Actual, live hockey. (Yes, I’m aware that still exists during the lockout but whatever).

Some primers on our competitors this afternoon, here’s a look at the United States squad and defending champion Sweden.

So, yeah. Here we go:

***

*Duthie’s intro is hilarious. Sweden! United States! A game that means utterly nothing! Cue dramatic music. The opening montage could have used some Inception “bwaaaams” though. Man, I missed TSN’s over-the-top intro bullshit. The casualty of the lockout I didn’t know I needed.

*Bob Mackenzie looks so happy to be actually talking about hockey and not relegated to listening to Darren Dreger drone on about how the owners are just really giving a lot to the players in lockout negotiations

*I got excited by Sweden’s starting goalie, and Blues 6th round pick, Niklas Lundstrom because I thought it said Niklas Lidstrom and that maybe there was some cyclical rule in the World Juniors where if you’re old enough you’re allowed to play again but you have to play a different position but then I realized his last name was Lundstrom and my theory made no sense.

*As Bob Gibson, the top US goalie and owner of a fantastic old school hockey name, is not playing today, a Leafs prospect appears! Starting in goal for the United States is the Leafs 7th round pick in 2011, Garret Sparks. It’s all but guaranteed Sweden will win now.

***

*I feel like I am really going to enjoy watching Filip Forsberg in this tournament. His line seems incredibly fast and his linemate Rickard Rakell (great name) just put a sweet move on the States that almost led to a goal. Forsberg has a really smooth skating motion and I’m starting to think that the idea of him playing on a line with Alex Ovechkin is pretty terrifying.

*A weak shot from the far, outside circle finds its way through Sparks because of course it did. That was Toskala-esque. I think Sparks could have a bright future ahead of him of getting shredded by the Toronto media. Get out while you can, Garret.

*The Swedes get called for too many men on the ice. Great penalty to take in the first five minutes of your first game in the preliminary game of a tournament. Good start.

*The US tie it up on a rocket of a shot from Connor Murphy, the son of Gord Murphy. Ferraro tells us he is a “carbon copy” of his father, who I never saw play so I can’t vouch for this statement. Gonna go with Ray on this one, though.

*Gord Miller’s voice perks up whenever he sees Galchenyuk touch the puck and I hate it.

*Sparks makes a nice save on a screened shot from the point and Brian Burke is immediately all like “trade this man!”

*I like the Swedes’ power play unit a lot. They haven’t scored yet but they’ve made a couple Sedin-like passes where they just seem to know where the next guy is going to be. A little more time together and this team could be absolutely deadly with the man advantage.

*Sparks has some nice lateral movement in net. He doesn’t have the best awareness of where he is (though, small sample size, I’ve watched him for less than a period so far) but I like the way he moves post to post.

*The theme of the first two games of this little pre-tournament seems to be penalties. The Swedes go to a 5-on-3 which the States kill off and then, not long after, Sweden takes a penalty of their own and go into the break down a man.

***

*The States have some really good defensive forwards. I’m not convinced any of them are great scorers outside of Galchenyuk (again, small sample size) but the two way play of these kids is pretty damn impressive. As a Canadian, this worries me.

*Mario Lucia completely outworks his man and flips a gorgeous pass back to Ryan Hartman who buries the go ahead goal for the states.

*Sparks is just flopping all over the place but not in a smooth, Dominik Hasek kind of way, more of a messy James Reimer kind of way. It’s working for him, though. At least in as much that he’s only let in one goal.

*The Americans continue to impress me with their ability to shut down the rush. Every time the Swedes break into the zone, the Americans just collapse on them and force them to the boards or to the corners.

*Rakell, who is fast becoming my favourite player in this game, protects the puck in the American zone and rifles a shot to the opposite side of the cage to tie this game up right before the break. I have to say, both these teams look a lot better than Canada did in their tune-up game. Just a lot more put together and a little less chaotic. Bourne, quite rightly, pointed out earlier in the day that Canada was stricken by the “too cool” bug and weren’t fighting hard enough. Every player on Sweden and the United States does not have this problem.

***

*According to Gord Miller, these pre-tournament games are acting as the determinant in final cuts for the Americans and the Swedes. Some kids are going to have to fly to Russia with the team only to be told on Christmas Eve that they didn’t make the team. Brutal.

*Garret Sparks has been pulled to give John Gillies some playing time which makes me sad because now I have to think of less obvious jokes to make about this team.

*This is the first time in months that the hockey world has been focused on something that’s not the lockout (at least, judging by Twitter). If Bettman and Fehr wanted to meet in secret, the next few weeks would be the time.

*Good God, penalties. Sweden’s going back to another 5-on-3 because that seems to be the theme of today. Gillies makes a couple of nice saves to keep the game even but Rakell is just fucking everywhere. It’s really awesome. I had never heard of him before today and now I want to know everything about him. The World Juniors need Little League World Series-style graphics. Who’s Rakell’s favourite player? What’s his favourite food? These are things I need to know. You’re going to enjoy this guy, Anaheim.

*Tyler Biggs is playing? I feel like I probably should have known that. Please be good, Tyler Biggs.

*Tyler Biggs goes to the box for tripping. Awesome.

*These teams are literally just exchanging power plays. Now it’s 4-on-4 and soon, it’ll be the States’ turn to have an extra guy. I’m sensing a pattern here.

*You know that line in the final game of D2: The Mighty Ducks where the announcer goes “Ducks all…over the ice,” while Iceland is just manhandling the Ducks? Right now, everyone is all…over the ice. Like a game full of Luis Mendoza’s.

*Oh, hey, another power play, whaddya know? But that doesn’t last long as the States get called for too many men and we’re back to 4-on-4.

*Oh, holy fuck, Sweden doesn’t even get to their powerplay before they take a tripping penalty. 4-on-4 continues. This is ridiculous.

*The third period ends tied at 2 because it’s hard to score when you’re always in the goddamn penalty box.  14 combined penalties so far. I actually thought it was be a lot more.

*And the game that means nothing heads to overtime. Fantastic. TSN is definitely all “oh my God, live hockey! Go as long as possible, please.” If this thing goes to a shootout they can re-air this as part of their “Classic World Juniors” series in three weeks.

*The guy with the best name ever, Shayne Gotisbehere, ends this thing in a hurry with a rocket that beats Lundstrom over the shoulder. Might’ve been tipped. Shockingly, it did not come on the power play.

 

Well, despite the penalties, that was actually kind of fun. It was nice to somewhat care about a live hockey game again but, man, I am really going to miss games that start at 12:30 come Boxing Day.