I’m back from my first-ever World Junior Championship and it certainly was a whirlwind. Of course, not everything can be covered off in daily wrap-ups or video pieces, so here’s some behind-the-scenes buckshot to put a dagger in the Saskatoon experience with more finality than a John Carlson overtime rush.
• I voted for Switzerland’s Benjamin Conz as the all-star team goalie for the tournament (to which he was ultimately named), but in retrospect – and as I watched him get bombed for 11 goals by the Swedes in the bronze medal game – the two best overall netminders in Saskatoon were probably Russia’s Igor Bobkov and Team USA’s Jack Campbell.
True, the Swiss would not have made the bronze medal game without Conz standing on his head against the Russians in the quarterfinal, nor even played in the quarterfinal had he not stood on his head against Slovakia in the round robin. But besides those two games, Conz was crushed by the Canadians twice, Sweden once and he gave up five goals in a win over Latvia.
Bobkov, on the other hand, played behind a weak Russian defense corps and kept them in games they deserved to lose. Nino Niederreiter’s overtime goal for the Swiss went through at least one player’s legs in front of the net (maybe two), while the three goals the Ducks draft pick surrendered to Finland in the fifth-place game all came on the power play.
Campbell, in spot duty for the U.S., proved why he will be the first goaltender taken in the draft this summer and he’ll only get better before next year’s tournament in Buffalo. He probably didn’t play enough to warrant all-star consideration, but this was a pretty weak goalie tournament, so maybe Conz was the right pick afterall…
• Never let anyone tell you Europeans don’t care about the game the way North Americans do. I almost got my head caved in by an unidentified Swedish player after the team’s loss to Team USA in the semifinal. A black curtain separated the players coming off the ice from the railing the media stood behind to interview them post-game and as the Swedes came off, one of them started whaling on the curtain with his stick.
The blade came very close to my head a couple times, but hey – the sponsorship backdrop that hung off the curtain got it far worse.
• I only heard two snipes about Toronto when I was in Saskatoon, both on the first day, both based on the same joke (“when is Toronto gonna get an NHL team?”). The irony is that the one fellow didn’t even know I was from Toronto – I was simply watching the Winter Classic at a pub at the time and hadn’t said where I was from.
• If there’s a sudden spike in NHLers from Saskatchewan in 10 years, we’ll know why: The 50/50 draws at the games, which benefited local minor hockey, were insane, as in more than $300,000 on one occasion. With a running tally intermittently posted on the scoreboard, a gambling fever was constantly sweeping through the arena.
• Next year the tournament comes to Buffalo and I’m already excited about the location (I can drive there and eat at Chef’s) and the prospects. Mikael Granlund will be even better for Finland and joined by Teemu Pulkkinen (injured this year), while the Russians will have a murderer’s row of players draft eligible this summer: Alexander Burmistrov, Vladimir Tarasenko, Evgeni Kuznetsov, Ivan Telegin and Maxim Kitsyn all got their feet wet in Saskatoon, while Kirill Kabanov will also be there (injured this year).
• Big-ups to all the young reporters from Russia, Sweden and Slovakia that helped me with translations and info about their hockey teams, RDS vet Stephane Leroux for helping out all English journalists by translating for the French-speaking Conz and my road dog Ted Cooper, THN video producer extraordinaire.
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 will appears Monday and Wednesday, his column - The Straight Edge - every Friday, and his prospect feature, The Hot List appears Tuesdays.
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