finland wins

Below are some scattered thoughts from Canada’s semi-final loss to Finland, in which they got their backside handed to them 5-1. Once again, these “thoughts” are predominantly Canada-centric.

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Blunt assessment

Before we get too into it, the blunt assessment: that was a Bad Hockey Game. Not in a “Canada lost, Canadian writer is upset about it” way, but in a “that was seriously a Bad Hockey Game” sort of way. I thought for sure when Finland went up 2-0 the game would end up being a thrill ride. Canada would feverishly press, Finland would valiantly defend, and desperation would turn the game into something like the frenzied, thrilling Sweden/Russia semi-final.

Yeah no.

Canada mustered three shots on goal in the third period – can we call a timeout here, and let that sink in – Canada mustered three shots on goal in the third period despite being down a couple goals the entire time. The Finns played their system to a T, blocked a ton of shots, and held on. You can call that “good” hockey if you like, and for Finland, it was, but it made for a Bad Hockey Game when it came to the viewing experience.

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Matt Dumba’s struggles

I know Matt Dumba is not a bad hockey player. He’s an extremely good one, in fact – he made the Minnesota Wild as a 19-year-old for crying out loud. But he has been, in my eyes, Canada’s least impressive defenseman at the World Juniors (okay, Bigras, but I had no expectations for him and he barely played). Even expectations aside I’d think that.

I give him a lot of credit for persevering. He had the flu, and that can leave you lifeless on the ice. He got hurt, and he’s playing through it. These are likely contributing factors to his play so far. But he’s slow reacting to pucks, he seems to hate the simple play (so he puts the puck in risky places), and he’s taking penalties like it’s his job (six).

Earlier in the tournament I wrote about Jonathan Drouin and “playing tough” when you think you’re above the level:

Personally, I think a lot of that comes from A) confidence and B) pressure. It’s not uncommon to see guys get sent down a level and step up their physical game because they feel above the level and want to establish that they will be respected (while they have less for those they’re playing). When Tim Connolly got sent from the Leafs to the Marlies, he was an absolute menace when people tried to hit/hurt him, which isn’t how he played in the bigs. I felt it myself between leagues, and I’m sure Drouin feels like he’s better than junior hockey at this point, especially seeing all the players that got drafted around him in the NHL.

And that could be one of the reasons Dumba has been more physical, and has been taken more penalties. It could also be that the force he’s had to apply to stop men in the NHL is taking down less-sturdy teenagers at the World Juniors. But for all this effort to find reasons to excuse him, it doesn’t change the simple fact that he hasn’t been very good.

One more thing: here’s some context on guys playing poorly in the World Juniors. All I can do is comment on the play I see, and I don’t see much junior, so…yeah. Context.

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Zach Fucale’s night

Fucale never looked particularly comfortable in net in the first couple periods, and didn’t have much to do in the third. That said, none of the goals were particularly egregious, he stopped a clean breakaway, AND he made what might be one of the greatest saves I’ve ever seen…seconds before being scored on. Really, the Finns third goal was a nifty little top-shelf tuck, it’s just a shame it had to come so close to the huge save, because now it won’t get the credit it deserves. But man…man was it something:

Thank you for the GIF, @hockeywebcast.

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Pressing from behind

I tweeted about it during the game, as a response to a Gus Katsaros tweet: Ray Ferraro pointed out that Canada was down 3-1 with ample time left on the clock, and needed to not shift things into individualism mode…but they sort of did, and holy bananas was it ineffective.

The hunger is there to help your team win. You’re desperate, you’re behind. You want to be the guy to drag the team to the mountaintop. Sooo, you start trying to do too much yourself, you stop looking around so much and just mindlessly drive your legs at the net, and it’s counterproductive. When the going gets tough, you’re best to get smarter. 20 minutes in junior hockey is an eternity. No need for desperation that early.

It’s most noticeable when guys become hesitant to move the puck before they have to. When things are clicking, you wing it around like the globetrotters. When they’re not, you only move it when you’re finally forced to, and by then the defense has no trouble shifting and your teammate has no time.

And on that note…

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Passing the hockey puck

Great Scott, the Canadians passed the puck like it was a reaction ball today. A tennis ball at best. That’s not a “you can fix this by…” piece of advice, cause you just have to trust at some time that you’ve taken a roster of guys who can make plays. That’s just an observation. Canada’s passing was pee-wee level – the pass selection, the pass accuracy, the pass collection… Charles-Barkley-style-turrible, it was.

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Savvy “injury,” dawg

It had nothing-to-very-little to do with the game outcome, but full marks to the Finnish player who got hauled down on a breakaway (on the powerplay? after the Finns tried to just chill in their own zone?), got a penalty shot, and immediately went into “I’m hurt” mode so the Finns offensive star Teuvo Teravinen could take the shot. I’d have wanted it all for myself.

Oh, and if the kid was really hurt, which I give about a 4% chance of being the case, then sorry, hope you get well soon, chum.

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Canada: settle down

As wise colleague Drew Fariservice said yesterday, when you take a new group of players that possess a somewhat equal talent-level to that of a half-dozen other nations, these tournaments are more-or-less a crapshoot (Olympics included). All you can do is take your best players, throw the puck out there, and hope it’s your team that has a good week-plus and gets some bounces. There’s no higher message here (hockey summit!). The Canadian players are still pretty damn good, and I’d like their odds in a best-of-seven against most teams most years.

And finally…

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Both medal games are going to be fantastic

Canada/Russia, after the Russians just went all hulk-smash on the Swedes? Sweden/Finland in Malmo?

The World Juniors are a lot of fun. I’m glad there’s another day left.

Comments (9)

  1. Sigh… that was a tough game to watch, for exactly the reasons you’ve mentioned. It seems to be a common problem with Canada’s world junior squads in the last few years. When teams play defensive, disciplined hockey against them, it quickly becomes clear that the players either don’t trust each other or don’t think they need each other. The Canadians looked like they’d never had a PP together before, and their passing (as you mentioned) was unbelievably bad considering the caliber of the players and the coaching. The Fins must have been thrilled to go up two goals against a much faster, more skilled (individually) team, and have them try to bash 1-on-3′s down the middle all night in response.

    Good on Finland, it’s nice to see a group of such young players stick together and stick to a system in the face of a game like this. As a Canadian fan it’s a bummer to lose, but as a sports fan you gotta love a game where the underdog plays smart and takes it to the over-confident favourite.

  2. Question – Why after Fucale”s brilliant save and Finland player ending up in the crease, was the play not blown dead? Saw this in Russia/Sweden game and play was blown dead for crease violation.

  3. I think plenty of the ‘blame’ can be put on coach Sutter. He didn’t handle the big rink and star players well enough. Finland has a specific game plan they play with and it worked.

  4. They were soft in ALL aspects of the game and didn’t show urgency at any point (I guess that’s untrue if you look at all the individual efforts late…). The urgency thing was surprising as all the talk after the preliminary round was that every game was now a game 7. To me it really felt like they came our and just expected to advance to the Finals…there was almost a sense of arrogance to their game…

    • I agree 100%…glad someone else saw the same…like they just expected their system and home country to win them games, kept trying the same stupid stick handle through the neutral zone tactic which never worked…

  5. canadian hockey….what a joke.

    Seriously.

    This country prides itself on this one dumb sport and isn’t competitive on any level except the senior men’s team. This country is supposed to ‘live & die’ by hockey, supposed to be to hockey what Brazil is to football.

    It’s pathetic. hockey only has like 3-4 competitive teams IN THE ENTIRE WORLD, & canada couldn’t do shit.

    • Aww did someone not have a very successful amateur career. There kids, they played there hearts, had a bad game and lost. Pretty sure the sun will be up tomorrow and life will go on. Its a game, not life, keep calm and carry on!!

  6. YOu’re right, Kate. When do we go for pizza pops and cocao?

  7. They looked terrible this year, way too much individual effort trying to carry the puck through the neutral zone….awful passing…bad discipline…lack of creativity…It’s tough watching the boys get 3 shots on net in an entire period and look deflated the whole time…honourably crappy mentions go to Griffin Reinhart and Josh Morrisey (so overrated) along with Frederik Gauthier, Rychel, Leier and Josh Anderson….we need new eyes looking at the best players in junior hockey, our formula the last half decade is obviously garbage…

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