The first round of the World Junior Hockey Championships is over and for the most part, everything went as “scheduled”. In truth it has been disappointing so far. There has been more negative things about it than positive things to say including the attendance at Montreal which has refused to pay NHL prices for tickets. Here is a brief report on each team analyzing how they have done so far.
- Canada (4 0 0 0 ) 12 points
This is one of the four positive stories of the first round. Canada used to dominate this tournament periodically but has not won a medal since 2012 or won the tournament since 2009. They clearly have brought their A game to the table and won’t be satisfied unless they win it all. They can hold their heads up regardless if they lose in the playoff rounds.
- Sweden (4 0 0 0 ) 12 points
Since 2012, Sweden has been the dominant team in the tournament with one gold and two silver medals. They have continued their fine play here with solid wins over all their opponents. Like Canada, they can hold their heads up even if they lose in the playoff round.
- United States (2 1 0 1 ) 8 points
The United States doesn’t have the unblemished record Canada and Sweden has but they have played well in the tournament so far and do not have to hang their heads if they get put out in the playoffs. They have a good chance of getting a medal if not winning the tournament.
- Denmark (0 1 2 1 ) 4 points
Don’t get too excited because Denmark made the playoffs. Their only victory came in a shoot out against up and coming Switzerland. That said they deserve congratulations and can go home with their heads high. They have reached the goal they set for themselves and have their first victory of the tournament ever. But the real task is still ahead: It is STAYING and IMPROVING from this level so that they are a genuine threat to win this tournament and not just glad to play at a respectable level.
Hockey can only benefit if Denmark continues to improve so now there is a group of “big nine” teams instead of the current “big eight”. Denmark came to Canada early to play and get seasoned in another tournament against better competition and it paid off. But Denmark’s very success proves that the problem with the B level teams (Denmark, Germany, France, Italy, Austria, Norway, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Latvia, Poland, Ukraine) has been the failure of the “traditional” hockey nations to develop the sport outside their borders since the famous Canada-USSR series of 1972. It has been lack of training, coaching, and resources, not lack of talent or enthusiasm for hockey that has held these other countries back. It is a shame that Denmark has to play one of the three teams listed above (Canada) where they have little chance. It would be more fitting if they could put out some of the slackers below.
- Finland (1 0 1 2 ) 4 points
Despite only getting 4 points, Finland is the best of a sorry remaining bunch. The defending champion’s problem has been a mysterious goal-scoring slump that has happened to teams from time to time. But Finland has also been playing good defense which is more important in pressure tournaments and if they could just find a little bit of scoring, it might be enough to defend their title.
- Slovakia (2 0 0 2 ) 6 points
They beat B level Germany and goal slumping Finland but against contenders Canada and the United States they were shut out twice. They might win a medal but they are going to have to show a lot more if they want to win the tournament. Like the remaining teams below, their best chance is if somebody else upsets Canada, Sweden, and the United States.
- Czech Republic (1 1 0 2 ) 5 points
By rights they should be playing in the relegation game, but a convincing win over Russia (Did Russia deliberately lie down against the Czechs? It’s happened before in international hockey play) in their last game saved their bacon. How mighty are the fallen. The Czechs used to be ranked number 3 in hockey behind Canada and Russia but now they have not won a medal in the WJHC since 2005 and have not won the tournament since 2001. It has not been a good record for over a decade. They were badly outclassed by Sweden and have yet to play Canada and the United States.
Whether the victory over Russia has created enough momentum to do much in the playoffs remains to be seen. What is incredible is that they still have a chance to win this tournament.
- Russia (1 1 0 2 ) 5 points
If the win by the Czechs was genuine, then Russia is in big trouble. They have been gradually slipping since winning the tournament in 2011 and they had to struggle to beat Denmark and lost to Sweden and the Czech Republic. The last loss means they have to play a real threat in the United States in the opening playoff round and they could be find themselves out of the tournament if they do not bring their A game.
- Switzerland (1 0 1 2 ) 4 points
Switzerland finds itself playing in the relegation game for two reasons. First, while they are the only country whose team has reached a competitive level with the “traditional seven” hockey countries, they still have not developed further to where they are one of the “teams to beat”. Instead they just play at a respectable level, pulling an upset here and then losing a game they should win there. This cost them as the second reason for their exit was to under-estimate Denmark, a team they should have gone all-out against to secure a playoff position. Hopefully they will learn a lesson, win the relegation game and be back next year more improved.
- Germany (0 0 0 4 ) 0 points
If Denmark shows what can be done with a B Level team, then Germany shows the level that Denmark is trying to advance from. They only scored 2 goals while giving up 17. But Germany’s showing is not so much a comment on their efforts but a black mark on the “traditional seven” hockey countries who have done virtually nothing to improve the quality of hockey beyond their own borders in 42 years. With the amount of players Germany could supply, they could be a consistent threat to win this tournament and have a much greater presence in the NHL then they currently do. If hockey was developed there, they would be just as much a threat in hockey as they are in soccer. Instead they will probably be relegated back to the B Level with the other countries listed above.
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