Archive for the ‘World Juniors’ Category

Team Canada knocked off Russia 6-3 in their opening game of the 2011 World Junior tournament. Here’s our look at the positive and negative aspects of Canada’s play, along with a little bit of educational fun. Don’t worry, there really isn’t any learning involved.

In a short tournament, it’s the intangibles that separate the podium finishers from the middle tier teams left chasing tails. Those extra hustle plays will grow to be a driving source of character for this lunch pail Canadian team, a team that through one game compensated for its lack of bona fide, big name star power by doing the little things, and doing them really, really well.

In Canada’s opening 6-3 win over Russia, it was captain Ryan Ellis, an experienced returnee on the blueline, who embodied this principle. He promptly asserted himself as the leader on the powerplay, putting his stamp on this game with two well time pinches that led to key goals.

Calling the captain a leader is redundant. Head coach Dave Cameron is familiar with the moxie of Ellis, and gave him the “C” for a reason. He’d be disappointed with anything less.

But as steady and reliable as he was, Ellis finished what others started. Momentum is a delicate, dangerous beast in the early days of a tournament where young legs are often shaky at best. After surrendering a quick early goal, Canada needed to harness the momentum mistress.

Good thing Casey Cizikas knows a thing or two about intangibles.

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Canadian Arrogance

Ahhh, Christmas holidays. A time filled with joy, tradition, freakishly cold weather, World Junior Championships and hockey arrogance.

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Sure, you know Canada's captain Ryan Ellis. But just how well do you know the rest of Team Canada?

Spend five minutes anywhere in a typical Canadian small town, and quickly you realize just how much junior hockey players are worshiped. And I’m not even necessarily talking about the young kids we’re about to see take the ice for Canada when the 2011 World Junior hockey Championship begins on Boxing Day.

Go even lower than the CHL level, and you find a layer of hockey that’s more than just a game: it’s a community event. Growing up near the Wellington Dukes‘ home rink–the Junior “A” club playing in Prince Edward County, Ontario–at a very young age I discovered just how much 17 and 18-year-old hockey players are admired. They signed autographs, threw the best parties, and stole all the girls in high school. No, I’m not bitter.

I doubt you need to be told just how massive junior hockey is in the Great White North, a country where it’s illegal to not know how to skate by the age of four. But for those of you who dedicate your time to following the professional game, and may only educate yourself on junior hockey around draft time, some of the names donning the red-and-white this year could seem foreign.

Not to worry, because we here at Houses of the Hockey believe in doing our good deeds as citizens of the hockey community. After scouring Youtube for a while–yes, my job is very difficult–I put together some visual stimulation showing a handful of the players who perhaps aren’t household names yet for Team Canada, but could be soon.

It’s a small slice of what you’ll be seeing over the next two weeks.

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Justin Pogge during much happier times.

Flipping through the interwebs and taking a leisurely trip down World Juniors memory lane is akin to stumbling on an old high school yearbook while doing some house cleaning. It’s always depressing to look back on those straight A students who fizzled out and now sign off on your rented movies.

In the real world, the hope of youth is often crushed quickly by reality, and the same can be said for hockey. The junior stars we’ll see when the puck drops on Boxing Day are the most elite players in the 2010 class. Most have been drafted, and others have general managers clamouring for their services.

But oh, how quickly that house of cards can come crashing down. It’s clear that there are different sets of expectations for the different tiers of junior stars. A hockey playing monkey knew Sidney Crosby would achieve superstardom when he laced up the skates for Team Canada in 2004 as a 16-year-old. Ditto for Taylor Hall last year.

It’s those middle tier players who impressed us on the world stage, and then faded into the nether regions of hockeydom that are far more compelling. It’s these players that make the World Junior tournament so intriguing, and they’re the answer to many questions in the Big Book of Hockey Trivia that’s sitting over your toilet. And it’s these players who were my mission.

To compile this World Juniors “Where are they now?” list, I journeyed into a world where no Leaf fan should ever go, spending an unhealthy amount of time looking at past Ukrainian hockey rosters. Careening through the annals of World Junior history over the past 20 years, the ghost of tournament past led me into a dark place. Soon, the names that washed up on the rough shores of pro hockey mounted, but I couldn’t look away. I was in too deep.

Narrowing this list down to five was a tough task. A simple criteria was followed, and players had to fit into one of two categories:

  • Players who performed well in the World Junior tournament to raise expectations, and then failed at the next level.
  • Highly touted prospects who–regardless of their World Junior performance–took a swift fall off of the professional hockey cliff.
  • Another side note: The focus is Team Canada, but one flameout from another country is tossed in.

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It’s rare that being woken up by a phone call leads to good news. The Canadian junior players who took the ceremonial mid-December media walk of shame are now well versed in the fury of the ringing phone.

The first round of players to get the axe at Canada’s World Junior camp was announced, with nine players receiving that dreaded call in the wee hours of Tuesday morning. The original selection camp roster of 40 players has now been trimmed to 31, and nine more cuts are expected Wednesday morning to finalize the roster heading into the pre-tournament games starting Monday against Sweden.

Of the nine players heading home Tuesday, two were defenceman. The spots open on the back end are sparse with Jared Cowan, Calvin de Haan, and Ryan Ellis returning from last year’s silver medal winning team, and 2010 third overall pick Erik Gudbranson maintaining his hulking presence.

The blueliners heading home were Brayden McNabb of the Kootenay Ice, and Jesse Blacker of the Owen Sound Attack. A handful of players are going back to Owen Sound, as Blacker will be joined by his teammates Joey Hishon and Garrett Wilson, both forwards.

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