Archive for the ‘World Juniors’ Category

(Andre Ringuette, hockeycanada.ca)

8 years after winning the MVP award for his phenomenal performance in the World Junior Hockey Championship, Patrice Bergeron once again led Team Canada to a championship, this time in the Spengler Cup. Bergeron scored the opening goal in the final and added 3 assists as Canada went on to win 7-2 over the tournament’s hosts, HC Davos.

Meanwhile, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is looking to duplicate Bergeron’s success from 2004-05: leading the World Juniors in scoring while leading Team Canada to the gold medal.

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The selection camp roster for Canada’s 2013 World Junior team was announced on Monday, kicking off a fresh round of comparisons to the 2005 team that saw a number of NHL-ready players on the team due to the 2004-05 lockout. While there is still no guarantee that the lockout will continue through all of December, it feels like a safe bet to assume that Canada’s World Junior team will once again reap the benefit.

As I was looking through the World Junior rosters of the last eight years, however, I noticed something interesting. Despite icing one of the youngest teams with the fewest high draft picks, the 2008 team was one of the best teams with just as much future NHL talent as the 2005 team. What they didn’t have was players ready to step into the NHL immediately, but that didn’t prevent them from winning gold.

The 2008 team illustrates that even if the lockout ends, Team Canada will likely be just fine.

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Somehow, I got overlooked. Bummer.

Teams are allowed to take 20 skaters and three goalies (up from two previously, thanks to an IIHF rule change), so this list will have to be pared down significantly. But still! Here’s our first glance at the potential Team Canada has at the World Juniors this year.

As a head’s up, Backhand Shelf will be quite involved with the tournament, providing team previews starting mid-December, and offering analysis in video form every day throughout the competition (brought to you courtesy Bacardi, so y’know, go drink a delicious rum and coke as a thank you).

It’s been a few years since Canada took home gold, but first glance at the potential roster certainly provides a lot of hope. Read the rest of this entry »

Personally, I don't think it's fair that they wouldn't allow Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to use a stick at the 2012 World Championships. (Alexander Nemenov, Getty Images)

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has never played a game for Team Canada at the World Junior Championships. At 17, he was one of the final cuts for the 2011 team that lost to Russia in the gold medal final. At 18, he was tearing it up for the Edmonton Oilers, scoring 52 points in 62 games, so he simply wasn’t available for the team that only managed a bronze medal. Now, Nugent-Hopkins is 19 and he might finally get his chance.

It is seeming more and more likely that there will be at least a partial lockout of the 2012-13 NHL season. If this lockout extends into January, players under 20 who might otherwise be making the jump to the NHL will be available for the World Junior Championship, taking place from December 26th to January 5th. Even if the lockout doesn’t last for that long, there could still potentially be players who might have made their NHL team with a full training camp, but won’t get the chance.

While almost every nation would potentially receive the benefit of a player or two being available who would otherwise be with their NHL team, Team Canada would likely be the biggest beneficiary. The same thing happened during the 2004-05 lockout, as Team Canada iced one of the most dominant teams in the tournament’s history.

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I believe we have the newest Russian tourist video. I’ve always wanted to indulge in the finest Russian lagers and vodka, and if a group of underagers can have this much fun with that wimpy American beer, their native land must be one wild ride.

Hate to rain on this glorious Russian parade, but I seem to recall a certain celebration at last year’s Olympics drawing the ire of the IOC. Meanwhile, we refer to this tournament as the “World Juniors” colloquially, but officially it was the 2011 IIHF World U20 Championship. So it’s kind of in the name that an entire team was drinking illegally in Buffalo.

There, that’s my moralist rant for the week. We all would have done the same, and here’s to hoping they get home in one piece. Hangovers come in many different varieties, but airport hangovers are by far the killer beast of the jungle.

The only thing worse than waking up with a hangover and bad face paint, is waking up with a hangover and bad face paint after witnessing a historic collapse.

The beauty of wisdom is that it can be found in simplicity. On this historic night, a night marred with failure and a quick, excruciating third period spiral for Team Canada, let’s reflect back on the immortal words of Frank the Tank.

Mental moxie is a prized commodity at the World Junior Championship, and it was in short supply for Canada when it mattered most. The result was a stunning, five-goal deflation in the final period, and a 5-3 loss in a tournament and game where Canada seemed assured of gold.

“These are kids, they make mistakes,” was Pierre McGuire’s assessment after Russia scored three unanswered goals in the third period to stun Canada and tie the game. These mistakes weren’t exactly like learning that stoves are hot, or that green means go. These kids were committing crucial errors in what to this point was the pinnacle of their hockey careers.

A mistake is a mental error, a gaffe that leads to an unwanted result. This was about much more than mere mistakes by Canada; it was amnesia in its harshest state. It was foolish. It was embarrassing. It was pathetic, and it was painful.

It was a choke job in its finest form.

All the hard work Dave Cameron and his staff did to build these 22 young men was shattered in eight short minutes. That’s how long it took for Russia to score those three unanswered goals, taking the lead shortly after and then adding a fifth for good measure in the closing minutes. Canada’s positive energy evaporated, their outlook going from sure gold, to utter desperation and despair.

As those wearing goofy hats and sunglasses that made HSBC Arena look like a sea of trolls chugged their last lager and headed for the exits, the realization sunk in: this team simply checked out. It’s as though the real team already left the building, crossed the Peace Bridge, and was eating a celebratory meal while slamming down bills at the Fallsview craps tables. In the third period that wasn’t the Team Canada we saw through six games. It was a group of fragile, skittish young men, fumbling their way to the finish line. And failing epically.

At least they made history, giving Canada its worst and most rapid collapse in the tournament.

It all started with Russia’s two goals that were 13 seconds apart in the third period’s opening minutes. On the second goal, Dylan Olsen showed poor foot speed as Max Kitsyn blew by him. It was a problem compounded by the ticking time bomb otherwise known as Mark Visentin, with Canada’s latest goaltending love child allowing another softie.

The praise unloaded on Visentin after the semi-final win over the U.S. would have buried the world’s tallest man. He was effective when he needed to be against the Americans, but still only faced a modest 23 shots. It was the Canadian defence that did the dirty work, and prior to the third period collapse tonight Canada had allowed one goal in its last five periods of play, and had outscored opponents 36-14.

Somehow, the psyche was fractured, and the wound went deep.

Canada still held a lead after Russia’s rapid first two goals, but already the end seemed inevitable. This isn’t to take anything away from the Russians either. They were dead through two periods, and then were suddenly rejuvenated during the final frame. Artemi Panarin led the charge, scoring two of the comeback goals. His brilliance was matched by Kitsyn, whose speed won the battle against Canada’s physicality, at least for one period. Russian goaltender Igor Bobkov was also strong, redeeming himself from a fall from grace earlier in the tournament after he relieved starter Dmitri Shikin in the second period. Bobkov was named Russia’s player of the game.

Once the anguish of this humiliation wears off, Canadians will remember the dominance of Brayden Schenn and Ryan Ellis. With his second period goal to give Canada a three-goal led, Schenn’s 18 points tied Dale McCourt for the most points by a Canadian at the WJC. There’s little more that can be said about the spectacle of his performance, but if you’re a Kings fan right now, you’re about as giddy as a baby on a swing.

In a game in front of a home crowd, Canada needed to harness momentum early with more than just a lead, but with hustle plays. Ellis brought both, scoring Canada’s first goal on the powerplay, and then a few shifts later fighting off several Russian forwards deep in their own end to create another scoring chance.

There were positives from others too, although at this point remembering them will be like playing mental connect the dots with that number written in red ink on your hand at the end of the night. For at least 40 minutes, Erik Gudbranson, Jared Cowan, and Tyson Barrie had their usual strong and sturdy performances, as defence continued to be Canada’s strength.

The problem was the last 20 minutes. For our entire hockey lives we’ve repeatedly heard the most ridiculous expression in the massive, dusty glossary of hockey clichès. Do a little channel surfing tonight, and you’ll hear at least a dozen NHL players and coaches saying they either did or didn’t “play for 60 minutes.”

Thanks, Team Canada. Now every time we hear those robotic words flashes of failure will taunt the mind’s eye.

We do a lot of lists around here, and most of them are of the oddball variety. Like, say, that time we listed the best NHL players by colour (no, not that kind of colour), our guide to the best names ending in “Chuk”, and our suggestion that Gary Bettman could dress up as Sidney Crosby in our hockey Halloween list.

But, to get poetic for a moment, sometimes creativity and zaniness gives way to the preservation of history, or something like that. Tonight Team Canada plays in its 10th consecutive gold medal game at the World Junior Championship, looking to regain the top prize after losing it to the U.S. last year, the first time Canada had lost gold in five years. They’ll play a Russian team that’s had eight podium finishes over the last decade, but hasn’t tasted gold since winning back-to-back championships in 2002 and 2003.

These two storied international hockey programs have quite the history against each other. I’m told that some guy named Henderson once scored a goal that was kind of a big deal, and Theo Fleury ignited fisticuffs so intense that they punched the lights out (literally).

So to get the blood pumping for tonight’s gold medal showdown, here are a handful of the top Canada/Russia moments, in video form.

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