Archive for the ‘2012 World Juniors’ Category

It’s been a long and enjoyable World Juniors, featuring plenty of upsets – from the absence of Canada in the tournament’s final game, to the failure of the United States to overcome Czech and Finnish rivals, resulting in their humiliating assignment to the relegation round.  Russia shocked many with their win over Canada, and while Sweden was picked by many to compete few had them as the favourites for gold.

We saw spirited performances from underdog teams representing Finland and the Czech Republic, and we saw the resiliency of overwhelmed teams like Latvia and Denmark.  The World Juniors are a flawed tournament, to be sure, but even so there are moments of greatness to be found in both winning and losing efforts.  The importance to Sweden of the win is difficult to understate, but I actually came away most impressed by the emotional young men representing the Czech Republic – they showed their mettle in defeating the Americans and then again in taking Russia to the limit.  It was an inspired performance from a team that started and ended the tournament well under the radar of the average fan. 

Sweden Gold, Russia Silver, Canada Bronze

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Every year, people look into the half-dozen or so games that each team plays in the World Juniors and walk away with important lessons.  Draft rankings are realigned, coaches are heralded or maligned, and the character and abilities of scores of teenagers are judged for good or ill.

If the impact wasn’t so serious, it would almost be funny.

The reality is that this is a very narrow window.  While various talking heads will prattle on about how the pressure of this tournament separates winners from losers, the fact of the matter is that six or seven games is simply not a good way to judge a hockey player or a hockey team – particularly when a bunch of those games feature juggernauts taking on the little people.

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It was one of the greatest comebacks ever attempted.  And the Canadians nearly pulled it off.

Down 6-1 with just a little over 10 minutes in the game, many had written the team off.  The lower bowl in the Saddledome was still mostly full, but telltale gaps in the crowd amply demonstrated the level of confidence certain fans had in the ability of the Canadian team to come back and win the game.

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With the quarterfinals now played out, the semi-final matchups are clear, and as expected both games will feature strong traditional rivalries.

On one side, the Canadians will battle an old foe, a Russian team boasting tremendous talent at all positions.  It will be a repeat of last year’s gold medal match, and should be well worth the price of admission.  On the other side, Nordic neighbors Sweden and Finland will fight for the right to advance.  The winners of these two contests will meet for gold; the losers for bronze.

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On the standings board, they were two very different games.  In one, a dominant Canadian squad would face off against a suddenly irrelevant American team, a team already consigned to the relegation round while the Canadians were assured of a berth in the semi-finals.  In the other, the two most potent teams in the ‘A’ pool would play for the chance to win their side of the round robin.

As it turned out, they weren’t so very different in the end.

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Friday was a crazy day at the 2012 World Juniors.  Almost a surreal day.

After Canada destroyed Finland in their opening game, the conventional wisdom repeated virtually everywhere was that the Americans were their only real competition in the pool.  All week, the media has kept an eye on the pending Canada/USA showdown, with Canadian players answering multiple questions about their memories of games against the U.S., their thoughts on playing them and the like.

Now, the outcome of that game is all but meaningless; regardless of winner Canada will advance to the semi-finals, and the United States will be forced to play in the relegation round.

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Pic from www.theglobeandmail.com

For the first time in the tournament, the iron grip of the favoured teams looked a little weaker.  Canada played as strongly as ever, but Slovakia played well against Russia, the Swiss forced Sweden to a shootout, and the Finns stunned the United States with a 4-1 win.

Along the way, we got injury updates on Olli Maatta, Tomas Myka and Tomas Nosek, some input from top undrafted prospects like Radek Faksa, Aleksander Barkov, and Jacob Trouba, as well as insight on drafted players like Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle and Miikka Salomaki.  There was also the coach’s take on what appears to be a brewing goaltending controversy for Finland.

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