The World Junior Hockey Championship is offering some of the best hockey we will be watching for a long time, it seems. The competition has featured the best under 20 talent in the world, and since these kids are playing for their country and not just a team, there is a lot of pride and emotion that sometimes spills over onto the ice. The competition is at its last leg before we go to the 1 game elimination playoffs. So what are some of the highlights of the tournament so far?
Well, it has been nothing but good stuff for team Canada. As I write this, Canada is holding a lead over team Russia and to be honest, they are playing extremely well. There has been no evident weakness on team Canada through this tournament so far. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is leading the way, as he should; producing on a ridiculously consistent basis and leads the tournament with the most points. He also had 3 assists against Russia. The big question mark has been the goal-tending situation for team Canada and how Malcolm Subban would handle the immense pressure of the tournament. He has handled it absolutely fine, as of right now. Allowing only 1 goal against in the big game against United States and the ex-Soviet squad. The amount of talent and team work is just fantastic to watch. I can’t describe how excited I am to finally get to watch some elimination games featuring this team.
The other squad I would like to highlight is team USA. They are slightly less talented than some of the teams in this tournament, but you would hardly notice it with their play. The USA squad is playing fantastic and displaying excellent work ethic. The standout for me has been Alex Galchenyuk and Vince Trochek. The skill that Alex Galchenyuk posses is fairly impressive, but it seems that he is playing with some passion as well. Another kid who is just flying around the ice is Trochek, if you watch the games I think his name gets named the most for team USA. In the game against Russia, I think Makarov really stole the show as United States was really good at working the puck down-low and had a fairly decent amount of chances. I would like to see a bit more out of Seth Jones, especially in the big games that are coming up in the elimination rounds. ( USA vs Canada highlights )
Here we are, my tournament favourite and my mother-land country, team Russia, have not shown to be the offensive threat they should be.I think that in the two big games they have had to-date, against USA and Canada, they have shown a huge weakness in having a poor forcheck defense. USA and Canada are extremely comfortable with working the puck around the boards and Russia seems to spend ages chasing these teams and trying to get the possession of the puck.
From a player perspective the results have been mixed thus far. Makarov and Vasilevski both have been playing well, especially Makarov against the USA. However, Yakupov has been fairly disappointing. He has been flying down the ice carrying the puck and trying to beat two or three defensemen on his own, resulting in nothing but a blocked shot or a failed move. The disappointment here is that most of the Russian attacks seem to end this way. Russia has not controlled the puck in the opponent zone and most goals resulted from fast breaks down the ice. The shot totals reflect this as well. The best player, from the drafted kids, has been Mikhail Grigorenko. He has been fairly effective and active at dishing out the puck and using his big size. Overall, I think the passing and work around the boards will have to improve for Russia to have a chance at beating Canada, Sweden, and team USA in the elimination rounds. As Russia loses to Canada with 4-1 being the final score, it is time to go back to the drawing board and adjust a few things to help generate a bit more offense.
Team Sweden was expected to win their group and they have. It sort of surprised me that Switzerland took them to the shootout, but the big yellow managed to get it done led by a trio of Victor Arvidsson, Sebastian Collberg, and Emil Molin. Finland had an epic shootout with Sweden, losing 7-4, but just like this game most of the tournament did not go as well as most Finnish fans would have hoped.
With a loss to the Czech Republic and an overtime win against Switzerland, Finland has dropped down out of the medal rounds. Switzerland and Czech Republic have proved to be much tougher than expected; well maybe we expected the Czechs to play well, but the Switzerland squad was definitely a surprise to me. Both nations are not considered Hockey super powers and it would be interesting to see if any of them can muster an upset here as Belarus did that one year against Sweden.
This tournament so far has provided some phenomenal hockey. There is no reason to talk about the lockout, right now, because of the wonderful experience we are having watching the junior championship. To me there is nothing better than national teams playing against each other on a the big Euro ice. The most exciting part is just coming up and we will provide the overview and match up highlights shortly.
You can click here for the full schedule and the results.