Tuesday, 6 January 2009

WJC 2009 In Review

O Canada!

(photo: The Province)

World Junior Hockey Championship - Final Standings


5th - USA
8th -

9th - GERMANY (relegated down to Division I for 2010)
10th -KAZAKHSTAN (relegated down to Division I for 2010)


There are two round robins of five teams each at the Division I level; the winner of each round robin gets bumped up to the Top Division for the following year and the bottom two teams in the Top Division get relegated down to Division I.

Group A winner - SWITZERLAND
Group B winner - AUSTRIA

[nb: The reason the 2010 WJHC is in Saskatchewan next year (usually the IIHF alternates between North American and European hosts) is because Switzerland got relegated last year (2008) and you can't host the tournament if you're not playing in it. Kind of sucks that they'll be back in the tournament after having given it up - they didn't have a choice, but still kind of sucks for them.]

The 2009 WJHC in Review

I'll be perfectly honest, Canada's played better. They've played worse, but they've also played better, much better. As Ed Willis wrote in The Province, Canada has had performances that "when you come right down to it... didn't look like the chase scene from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom." Amen to that.

To be fair, Canada has, in the past, been given more of an incentive to rise to occasion and play exceptionally well. I'm not saying that the other teams weren't good, because we were 5.4 seconds from playing for bronze this year, but no team stood out this year. There individual players who were unbelievable (Jaroslav Janus, Nikita Filatov, John Tavares, Jordan Eberle, Mattias Karlsson, Magnus Svensson Paajarvi to name a few), but no team as a collective unit stood out. Including Canada, as a team. There were some stand out players, but as a team, they were less than efficient (and, in more cases than I care to remember, less effective) than past teams.

That said, Canada looked pretty good (comparatively speaking) through their first few preliminary games. It's hard not to look good when you're whooping teams 8-1 and 15-nil. When they were actually challenged, they didn't look so great. The two games that stand out for me (and pretty much everyone in Canada) are the ones we could have lost. I think that says a lot about our country, that the games we liked best were the ones where we were most challenged. Maybe it just says a lot about our junior hockey program. The Program of Excellence, which Hockey Canada started in 1981, has been cranking out better and better players for nearly two decades. When considered from this standpoint, it makes sense that Canada expects a lot of its national junior team. It's like the Mexico's national under-18 soccer team: when you pour money into a program, you expect results. Canada gets those results because we've invested in our program for longer than most countries, but there are countries who have done a a great deal in less time: USA Hockey is one example.

The words 'soul searching' have been thrown around a lot since the USA's loss to Slovakia. I was actually disappointed for USA Hockey that their team did so poorly (because let's face it, if any country has tried its damnedest to improve their hockey development programs, it's the USA) but I think it may be a blessing in disguise for them. They will likely spend a couple months re-evaluating their programs, seeing where they can improve without a huge influx of cash (because their failure to medal ain't good for funding). It's almost inevitable that they will consider coaching as an area of focus. Canada did when they were frustrated with our lack of results and since then we've medalled for 11 years straight.

I'm not saying that (American Head Coach) Ron Rolston is a bad coach. He's not bad, he's just not enough. His previous experience before joining the USA Hockey National Team Development Program (NTDP) was as limited to assistant coaching at the NCAA level. As Ryan Kennedy wrote for The Hockey News, "he never ran the ship himself" and that's turning out to be a problem. I wrote this during the tournament, but it's worth repeating: the USA NTDP needs to find themselves the reincarnation of Herb Brooks. Go out, search for him, like Buddhists do for the Dalai Lama (insert any hockey as religion joke here). Or in the very least, hire a coach with NHL experience, or who has been a head coach in the AHL or the CHL.

I sincerely hope that Hockey USA does whatever is necessary to kick start their program because they are producing some great players, but the best players aren't winning them gold. In the old Brooks Wisdom, you don't need the best players, you need the right players. If they want to win this championship, Hockey USA NTDP needs to stop focusing on their best players and has to start building good teams. Point finale.


#10. Cody Hodgson proves why Alain Vigneault should call him back up to Vancouver and give him a freaking contract already. Canucks fans wonder if Sundin+Hodgson+the Sedins=their first Stanley Cup. If the Canucks make playoffs this spring (highly likely) and the Sens don't (also highly likely), I'm jumping on the Nucks bandwagon. A serious cup-run will make this city happier than winning the Olympic bid.

#9. Canada's 15-0 win over Kazakhstan. After Canada's fifth goal, I took no pleasure in this game. I was cheering for Kazakhstan. But it was the largest margin of victory and only one goal shy of the largest-margin-record: in 1985, Canada beat Germany 18-2. It also,almost singlehandedly, put the kibosh on any further discussion in the IIHF of making this a 12 team tournament. Some Canadian hockey pundits even think it should be cut down to an 8-team tournament. I, personally, am all for Bob McKenzie's suggested tournament rehash.*(see bottom)

Jamie Benn scoring one of three goals. (photo: Slam Sports)

#8. Dustin Tokarski. I'm going to the Vancouver Giants-Spokane Chiefs game on February 24th just to see him play again. (It's also a game between the two most recent Memorial Cup champions, should be good.)

Mattias Karlsson kicks ass: Ottawa heaves a collective sigh of relief for their franchise.

#6. John Tavares scores a hat-trick against the United States. The Tank 4 Tavares campaign begins in earnest as the NHL season hits its midpoint and suddenly the Senators bombing the season doesn't seem quite so horrible.

John Tavares has never looked better... except if that Canada logo was replaced with a Sens logo... (photo: Hockey Canada)

#5. Slovakia beats Finland in a shootout and wins a pass to the medal round. Finland=Stunned.

Siska congratulates goalie Jaroslav Janus. (photo: Slam Sports)

#4. Slovakia beats the USA in the quarter-final. Everyone wonders why the hell Jaroslav Janus wasn't drafted last June.
Tomas Tatar celebrates Slovakia's second upset win of the tournament as
they beat the USA to play in the medal round. (photo: Slam Sports)

#3. Canada-USA New Year's Eve Showdown. Can we make this a tradition when Canada and the USA are in the same round robin group?

#2. Gold. Again. YESSSSS! Canadians wrack their brains for something that rhymes with 'six'.
-requisite Team Canada dog-pile victory photo-
(photo: Hockey Canada)

Canada-Russia. Epic. As always. 5.4 seconds. Five. Point. Four. Seconds. Jordan Eberle becomes a household name. Oilers fans rejoice.

Jordan Eberle & PK Subban celebrate Eberle's game-tying goal. (photo: Edmonton Sun)

There you have it, folks: my incredibly biased Top 10. I'd love to hear what other peoples favourite moments of the tournament were. I'm already in withdrawal and trying to madly make plans for next year before tournament ticket-packages sell out.

Oh, and if anyone finds a photo of Filatov crumpled against the boards after losing to Slovakia, can you email it to me?

*The note I mentioned earlier regarding a possible way to re-structure the WJC so that we avoid 15-0 and 12-0 games*

Bob McKenzie (TSN) suggested the following format for the WJC: in the preliminary round, Group A would be made up of the top 5 teams. (for 2010, that would be Canada, Sweden, Russia, Slovakia and the USA) Group B would be the other 5 teams. Teams in Group A would play the round robin for the best ranking in the medal round (which they would all automatically qualify for). Group B would play to qualify for the last three spots in the medal round. The top three teams would go on, the bottom two would be relegated (just as they are now). In the medal round, the top team (1) would play the bottom ranked team (8), 2 plays 7, 3 vs 6, 4 vs 5, just like in the NHL conference quarter final, then the semi-final would be the four winning teams playing to determine who played for gold. It's fairly simple. It's a little brilliant. It would work and it would make for some EXCELLENT hockey, but, as McKenzie pointed out with more than a hint of chagrin, there's no way the IIHF will do it. Bummer. Those Group A games would be awesome.

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