Back from Buffalo, I’m left with a lot of memories of fine hockey and a Russian team that shocked a nation. The most common question being asked in the wake of Canada’s third-period surrender at the hands of the Russians is, what happened? The answer is pretty simple: With a 3-0 lead, the Canadians stopped blocking shots and settled for stick-checks instead of physical pressure. Plus, the Russians got their Willis Reed moment when Vladimir Tarasenko came back for the third period after taking a skate to the head from Marcus Foligno (Tarasenko also indicated after the game that his ribs took a beating on the collision) in the second.
Will the Russians repeat next year? Well, they weren’t favorites this year (THN had them pegged fourth), so throw conventional wisdom out the window. But, as was noted shortly after the victory, this was an old team; only Evgeny Kuznetsov will be eligible to play for the squad again next season. The cupboard’s not bare for the Russian Bears – Sarnia wonder twins Nail Yakupov and Alex Galchenyuk will be available, as will Maxim Shalunov and Mikhail Grigorenko – but the team will definitely be less experienced.
Canada, on the other hand, will get a number of players back, including what we all can assume will be a healthy Jaden Schwartz next time around. Quinton Howden, Brett Connolly and Ryan Johansen can also return. Sean Couturier is a possibility, depending on the NHL team that drafts him this summer, while fellow 2011s Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Ryan Murphy are good bets to be on next year’s team. Ryan Murray, a 2012-eligible defenseman, is another option and, overall, that means a team that will have the dynamism to run over other teams with offense instead of banking on structure and pressure as the 2010 edition attempted to do.
Once again the rinks will be filled with Canadian fans as the tournament is hosted by ‘Alberta United’ – or Calgary and Edmonton in more specific terms. Canada will play its pool games in Edmonton, while the medal round is in Calgary, so everyone gets a chance to see the home team. Whether that helps the Canucks remains to be seen. The Canadians have lost the final game in the past two tourneys, both of which were in front of Canadian crowds (ESPN’s Bill Simmons even jokingly suggested trading Buffalo to Canada recently). As the world juniors spiral upwards in popularity, so too does the pressure on a bunch of teenagers who haven’t really played together that often. The fact the next two tournaments after Alberta will be in Europe may actually help.
The Russians get the event in 2013, with the Kontinental League city of Ufa playing host. Not sure if they planned this or not, but the home team at that edition will once again be an experienced bunch. After that, Sweden gets a crack at hosting and while the city has not yet been determined, I’ve been told it will be either Jonkoping, a southern city best known for the Elite League team HV71, or a northern location.
Will the play away from home galvanize the Canadians or will foreign food and time changes throw them off? It’s nice to see the tournament getting back to its international roots, so let’s hope the competition stays tight, just as it was in Buffalo. The NHL’s Sabres put on the whole party themselves this year and did a great job in the process, so now the pressure is on Alberta to match the effort.
Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey’s Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Fridays, The Hot List appears Tuesdays and Rookie Report appears every other Wednesday.
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