A memorable world junior tournament had its ups and downs
6 ÿíâàðÿ 2016 ãîäà. ÌICHAEL TRAIKOS, Postmedia Network
MONTREAL - Put this one up there with John Carlson’s overtime goal in the 2007 World Junior Hockey Championship. Or, if you want to be cruel, call it the U.S version of Sidney Crosby’s “golden goal.”
Sure, the 5-4 shootout loss in the championship final of the world juniors wasn’t the ending that Canada had wanted — or expected. But hockey fans couldn’t be disappointed.
The finish to the championship final between Canada and the United States had just about everything that is great about hockey. For a tournament that had been making news for all the empty seats, it was must-watch TV. If there was a downside — aside from Canada losing, of course — it was that it had to end.
And, perhaps more frustratingly, that it had to end in a shootout.
From the coming out party of Thomas Chabot and draft-eligible prospect Nico Hischier to the lack of fans at games and Finland firing its coach, here are the seven takeaways from a very memorable tournament:
Blame the costly ticket prices or the overkill of hosting a tournament in the same two cities two years apart, but attendance was downright disappointing. Blocks of empty seats were visible throughout the Air Canada Centre in Toronto and in Montreal’s Bell Centre. And it wasn’t just for non-Canadian games. Canada’s quarterfinal against the Czech Republic drew 10,215 fans — half of the arena’s capacity — while 13,456 fans came out to see Canada’s semifinal against Sweden. It wasn’t until the gold medal game when we finally saw a true sell-out. Of course, based on how fans have been gouged in what is increasingly becoming less of a junior-type event, sell-outs could describe Hockey Canada.
A year after winning the world juniors on home soil — and also winning the under-18 championship — Finland came into this year’s tournament with sky-high expectations. But the defending champs had an embarrassing tournament, firing their coach after losing the first three games and becoming the first team to play in the relegation round a year after winning. Part of the reason for the sub-par performance was that the team was missing NHLers Jesse Puljujarvi, Sebastian Aho and Patrik Laine, who had gone 1-2-3 in scoring last year. But the bigger reason had to do with experience. The team was one of the youngest, with as many as five draft-eligible players on the roster.
Kids Will Be Kids
From Puljujarvi and Laine to Auston Matthews and Alexander Nylander, it was the 17-year-old draft-eligible prospects who made the most noise at last year’s world juniors. As one scout said, we were spoiled. With top-ranked prospects Nolan Patrick and Timothy Liljegren absent from the tournament due to injuries, the normalcy returned this year. That didn’t mean that the draft eligibles were invisible. Switzerland’s Nico Hischier, who is considered a top-5 pick, improved his draft stock with four goals and seven points in five games, including a two-goal effort in a close 3-2 loss in the quarterfinal to the U.S. Finland’s Eeli Tolvanen had two goals and six points and Sweden’s Lias Andersson scored three goals in seven games.
You’d be hard-pressed not to notice Thomas Chabot’s play at the world juniors. After all, he was on the ice for nearly 60 more minutes than the next-highest player in terms of ice time. With four goals and a team-leading 10 points, the Ottawa Senators prospect finished first amongst defencemen in scoring and tied for fourth overall. So it was hardly a surprise that Chabot, who was not used in the overtime shootout versus the U.S., was named tournament MVP, as well as the best defenceman. “I’m proud of everything I accomplished here,” Chabot said after picking up a goal and an assist — and logging nearly 44 minutes — in the gold medal final. “I put everything I could on the ice, night after night.”
Heading into the tournament, Dylan Strome was supposed to be the main attraction. Not just for Canada, but as a No. 3 pick in 2015, the entire world juniors. Someone forgot to tell Russia’s Kirill Kaprizov. While Strome tied for fourth in scoring with 10 points, it was the 5-foot-9 Kaprizov who looked like a miniature version of Alex Ovechkin with nine goals and 12 points. In the process, the Minnesota Wild prospect, who has 15 goals in 37 games in the KHL, was named the tournament’s best forward. Sweden’s Alexander Nylander (five goals and 12 points) and Clayton Keller of the United States (three goals and 11 points) were also named to the all-star team.
Move over T.J. Oshie — there’s a new shootout hero. Troy Terry scored four goals and seven points for the U.S., but it was his prowess in the shootout that made him a legend. In the semifinal against Russia, U.S. head coach Bob Motzko tapped Terry on the shoulder three times. And Terry converted on all three attempts, beating goalie Ilya Samsonov through the legs each time. A day later, with the championship final tied after 20 minutes of overtime, Terry once again played overtime shootout hero following three rounds of failed attempts. Once again, he went with what he knew best. “I didn’t plan on going five-hole,” he said. “I guess it just took over me.”
Washington Capitals prospect Ilya Samsonov, who had a .930 save percentage and a 2.11 goals-against average for Russia, was named the top goaltender of the tournament. It was the ninth straight year that someone not from Canada won the award (the last two were Carey Price in 2007 and Steve Mason in 2008). But before we hold another goaltending summit, cut Carter Hart and Connor Ingram some slack. Individually, they had their moments, like when Ingram allowed two goals on the first three shots he faced in the semifinal or when Hart gave up a two-goal lead in the third period. But collectively, the pair gave up 18 goals in seven games and gave Canada more than enough chances to win.