Archive for the ‘World Juniors’ Category

The Florida Panthers entered this season with little hope for the immediate, but armed with a fresh outlook for the future after hiring Dale Tallon as general manager in May and adding three first round picks at the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. With 38 points and a seat in last place in the Southeast Division, the Panthers are where most could have predicted they’d be in January. They’ve got an elite goaltender to go along with a mix of serviceable-to-fading veterans and a quality group of youth and mid-age players. Hockey has never been an easy sell in South Florida, but if the 2011 World Juniors have signified anything for the Panthers – it’s that they’re on the right track in terms of prospects.

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You can take your goals, your chants of “Campbell! Campbell!”. Those were fun and memorable moments during Canada’s 4-1 dismantling of the U.S, but the double-wide truck otherwise known as Zack Kassian and Marcus Folingo provided my highlight of the night.

Midway through the third period, Kassian and Folingo collided with American forward Brock Nelson, sending him toppling into the Canadian bench with a little help from Casey Cizikas. If you squinted hard enough, you could see the tin foil, long dishevelled hair, and Charlestown Chiefs jerseys.

The collision was a microcosm for a game that saw the American’s wilt against their first sustained physical pressure, a complete turnaround from the gold medal game last January in which both goalies were pulled.

It’s a redemption song that has Canada pitted against Russia Wednesday night for the gold medal. Canada aims to complete its mission and regain gold, while Russia looks to end a much longer quest and taste gold at the World Junior Championship for the first time since 2003.

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Benjamin Conz was once again brilliant in defeat, making 46 saves. How long does it take for the paperwork on a Canadian citizenship to clear?

In the first week of grade nine English, we’re all taught how to construct a plot diagram. For those with other interests at the time (girls, lunch, not class), it’s a spiked graph that intimidates young minds by making English look like math.

This game would have sent my English teacher into instant convulsions. He was a rare man who loved his literature and his hockey, and suddenly those two worlds intersected in perfect harmony on Sunday afternoon during Canada’s 4-1 win over Switzerland.

First, we had the exposition; Canada’s failure during another epic battle against the Swedes, and another strong tournament by the Swiss made possible by the curious case of goaltender Benjamin Conz.

Then, the rising action wore out the edges of seats across the country. Canadian goaltender Mark Visentin did his best Goldberg impression, and the newest Canadian tradition of fighting from behind was alive and well. With their edges thoroughly worn, chairs began breaking when the game remained tied late into the second period. Conz was doing what he’s done for two years, keeping his team afloat.

Casey Cizikas provided the climax and mercifully finally gave Canada a lead with his powerplay goal in the second, and from then the action slowly fell as Canada solidified another appearance in the semi-finals, guaranteeing a shot at the podium. This time it’ll be against the U.S., this year’s powerhouse and tournament favourite.

It’s a plot that will end promptly if Canada keeps getting the kind of poor goaltending we’ve seen over the past two games.

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Burgundy here. In addition to being without Jaden Schwartz (fractured ankle) and Zach Kassian (suspension), Canada were also without Sean Tomlinson Friday evening. Tomlinson, who presumably has better New Years plans than me, was a late scratch for this preliminary game against Sweden. It’s expected Tomlinson will draw back into the line up on Sunday (read: write World Junior reviews for Houses of The Hockey) for Canada’s quarter-final game.

Quarter-finals? What the puck?

Yeah, Canada lost. And honestly, this was a bit of a weird game. It featured lots of goals, big hits, questionable goaltending, hell, it pretty much had everything. Except a Canadian win. Perhaps this Sweden victory, in a dramatic shootout no less, will provide a bit more motivation for Canada and maybe a lesson in playing a full, complete game.

Canada’s game bounced between furious and too laid back. Canada’s failure to play 60 hard and aggressive minutes ultimately cost them the game. Oh, and some weak goaltending by Edmonton Oilers prospect Olivier Roy. As a result, Sweden skip ahead to the tournament Semi-finals while Canada will play in the Quarter-finals. A costly loss for the Canadians as they probably could have used the extra few days off to heal several nagging injuries.

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The good news to come out of Team Canada’s packed infirmary at the World Junior Championship Thursday was, well, really good. But the bad news was heartbreaking.

In the spirit of the holidays, we’ll start with the good news. Last night during Canada’s win over Norway, it was difficult to get a good view of the game from the Canadian press box with defenceman Calvin de Haan, and forwards Jaden Schwartz and Cody Eakin out with injuries, while Zack Kassian served his two-game suspension.

Two of those bodies will return for Friday’s pivotal game against Sweden, with de Haan’s leg injury sufficiently healed, and Eakin–who was a surprise scratch after tweaking a nagging left hand injury in warmups–also returning. Along with captain Ryan Ellis and fellow defensive returnee Jared Cowan, de Haan has provided steady leadership on the back end. Canada could afford to rest him against an inferior opponent like Norway, but losing de Haan’s presence for a significant length of time would have been a major setback, especially against an elite team like Sweden.

No stranger to injury, de Haan missed two games during last year’s WJC with a head injury, and then suffered a serious shoulder injury last January while playing with the Oshawa Generals that required surgery, and a six month rehabilitation.

However, the news wasn’t so rosy for Schwartz, the St. Louis Blues first round pick who was playing with a heavy heart during this tournament while his sister Mandi battles cancer.

Schwartz injured his leg during Canada’s 7-2 win over the Czech Republic on Tuesday. He was playing on Canada’s top line alongside Brayden Schenn and Louis Leblanc, and there was optimism that he could return promptly.

But that died today when it was revealed the injury is more serious than what was first expected, and Schwartz will miss the remainder of the tournament and the next six weeks with a fractured ankle. In two games Schwartz scored a goal and had three points. His goal came in true Bobby Baun style, as Schwartz left the game against the Czechs in the first period for treatment, and then after convincing Canada’s medical staff that he could return, he came back and scored on a broken ankle.

Too often we’re guilty of dwelling on injuries for a day or so, and then wondering how a team–any team really–will band together and replace the fallen star. For Schwartz, this is more than just a fractured ankle. He had dedicated this tournament to his sister, who recently suffered a setback in her battle. She was his first phone call after he made the team.

Speaking to The Canadian Press, Schwartz expressed his obvious disappointment, but said sulking and feeling sorry for himself isn’t what the team needs right now. He’ll stay in Buffalo to support his teammates.

“I’ll be here to support the guys. There’s people in the world going through worse things than I am so I’ll keep that in the back of my mind.”

Unless you’ve experienced a family member battling cancer, it’s difficult to truly understand what Schwartz and his family are going through. But as far as the injury is concerned, Canada has now suffered the pain of losing a key cog for the second straight year.

In 2010 it was a double blow to the blueline. In addition to de Haan’s injury, Travis Hamonic separated his shoulder and missed the gold medal game against the United States.

"Dude, I just scored sweet tickets to Canada's game against Norway! Quick, grab the emergency cardboard animal cutout I always have ready. We gotta go!"

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.

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Yes, the beer is far better in the Great White North, but those south of the border nearly faint at the price. That's something we can all agree on.

This wasn’t supposed to be a team with star power. The cliché mill was in overdrive prior to the World Junior tournament, trying to find some witty adjective to describe the latest edition of Team Canada. The best we could come up with is “lunch pail crew.”

Yep, real creative. About as creative and intellectually stimulating as the average NHL post-game interview, in which players get the right bounces, and effort is given for 60 minutes.

For the record, the lunch pail moniker was used in this space too, making me just as guilty. Seemingly without any elite talent to absorb the annual holiday season hype machine, it was difficult to pin down an identity for Canada. That all changed today.

Brayden Schenn has supplied the star power. With his five points today in a dominating 7-2 win over the Czech Republic (one goal and four assists), Schenn quickly emerged as Canada’s offensive leader.

Schenn was the encouraging development in a game that began sluggishly–as it so often does for Canada–and ended in a game featuring plenty of offensive muscle flexed by the Canadian forwards. But the celebration was dampened as the Canadian infirmary slowly filled up. Defenceman Calvin de Hann left with a leg injury, and forward Jaden Scwartz was hobbled by a lower body injury of his own.

Zack Kassian’s wild ways will leave Canada without a key forward for tomorrow night’s game against Norway. Kassian received a five-minute major and a game misconduct for his hit on Czech defenceman Petr Senkerik.

Senkerik was carried off in a stretcher, which is never pleasant to watch under any circumstances. But the injury shouldn’t determine the punishment, and Kassian initially made contact with his shoulder to Senkerik’s chest, before following through with his elbow.

Kassian built his reputation as a player who’s more than willing to go over the edge when he left his feet to deliver an ugly shot last spring while playing with the Windsor Spitfires, and received a 20-game suspension.

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