Tuesday, January 8, 2013

2013 World Junior Hockey Championships: 30 Final Thoughts

2013 World Junior Hockey Championships: 30 Final Thoughts:

2013 World Junior Hockey Championships logo, Ufa, Russia (IIHF)
The ending of the dreadful NHL lockout will result in a shift in focus for the majority of hockey fans and followers, leaving marvelous memories from the 2013 World Juniors Hockey Championships in Ufa in the dust (or snow).
Nevertheless, in the spirit of CBC’s incomparable Elliotte Friedman’s 30 thoughts, here are my final thoughts and reflections from what was a spectacular edition of one of hockey’s greatest tournaments:
  • Team Canada brass not selecting 2013 draft eligible Medicine Hat Tigers forward Hunter Shinkarukwas a calculated mistake. Read on.
  • Canada not bringing 2013 draft eligible Brandon Wheat Kings defenseman Ryan Pulock at the very least to selection camp in Calgary was perplexing.
  • Sweden was not shy about bringing 2013 draft eligibles and giving them major roles (count six); Canada can learn from this.
  • Fail to see the point of Team Canada selection camp; Vancouver Canucks prospect defensemanFrankie Corrado could not have done more at camp at both ends of the rink, yet was not selected.
  • Minnesota Wild prospect Matt Dumba’s history with Hockey Canada; he’s had a rough year and fairly rough selection camp, but his whole body of work with Canada is still impressive. In the end, Canada could’ve used his potential game-changing ability.
  • Hockey Canada, in selecting the World Junior roster, seems to always try to fabricate a complete team, choosing players for selective roles. In such a short tournament when team gelling time is minimal, this seems to be a tactical error. Given the size of the international ice rink, the way the game is tightly officiated, the first and foremost focus should be selecting the most skilled and smart players. Such players can play the role they are required to play and are also more likely to contribute offensive when and  if the deemed scoring lines struggle to finish.
  • It’s interesting to look back at Sweden’s change in philosophy several years back which has led to current success.At one point in the not so distant pass, they moved away from focusing on individual skills and focused on team play. That led to little international success at various tournament. The evolution to what they are today is quite extraordinary.
  • The number of rinks and registered players of the top four finishers:
    • United States: 2025 rinks; 465975 registered players
    • Sweden: 463 rinks; 60374 registered players
    • Russia: 260 rinks; 84720 registered players
    • Canada: 13451 rinks; 499695 registered players
  • Sweden, even with the abundance of talent up front, missed 2012 World Juniors hero Mika Zibanejad. His absence was a much discussed curiosity. He was struggling in the AHL with Ottawa Senator’s affiliate in Binghamton and a return to the tourney in which he excelled last year was seemingly a logical potential cure for his offensive woes.
  • The top draft eligible players at the draft: who raised their stock, lowered their stock (anyone) and who remained the same? Jonathan Drouin, Marko Dano and several Swedish players all had to raise their stock at least somewhat in the eyes of scouts, who always remain adamant that they focus on a prospects full body of work.
  • Is goaltending really the major issue with Team Canada’s lack of success in big games? There is much more to the story.
  • What about the basics – team play, accurate passing, puckhandling, position, positioning awareness – the fundamentals? There has to be some concerns.
  • Team Sweden gameplan execution in the first half of the semifinal against Russia was superlative. They duplicated their brilliant 2012 World Juniors Gold Medal game performance also against Russia in Calgary.
  • Sweden’s set plays from faceoffs resulted in seemingly countless offensive zone chances.
  • Look back to look ahead: Ken Dryden’s classic The Game has hints of what Canada should be focusing on to improve upon if they wish to stay ahead of the pack – written about forty years ago.
  • Hockey Canada requires a total internal and external review. Their efforts and desire to perpetually improve and be the best are not to be undervalued; however, there are obstacles and apparent flaws in the current approach.
  • Could Hockey Canada benefit from developing a concept whereby they form a core of players for the various age groups and keep them together for the majority of the year?
  • What can other hockey nations learn from Switzerland? The emergence and evolution of Switzerland as a true contender has been something to behold. Perhaps no team in recent times has made such headway in international success – especially for such a non-traditional hockey country.
  • Hockey Canada needs to change gold or bust mentality. The competition is tough and Canada needs to refocus, reinvent and revitalize the approach to a sport we always took for granted we were the best at. Manny Malholtra has hinted at the same.
  • Focus on player size far from a necessity at this level. This is especially the case as the international game is officiated much differently than in North America, even with the recent crackdown on the traditional clutch and grab game. One prime example was USA’s and Calgary Flames’ prospectJohnny Gaudreau was a terror for opposing defenses and goaltenders constantly putting his superlative hockey sense and puck skills on fine display.
Johnny Gaudreau
Flames prospect Johnny Gaudreau was Team USA’s offensive catalyst at the World Juniors in Ufa, Russia. (Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE)

  • What went wrong for Finland? They were gold medal contenders entering the tournament, but things went miserably for them in the round robin.
  • I do not mind them as players, but the two most questionable Team Canada selections – forwards JC Lipon (third time draft eligible in 2013) and Boston Bruins prospect Anthony Camara – paid little dividends for the team and one could easily argue their play (through suspensions and bad penalties respectively) was detrimental to the pursuit of gold.
  • This tournament continues to show a player does not need to be a NHL first round draft pick (or potential first rounder) to be a difference maker.
  • The native of Pittsburgh and Florida Panthers 2011 third rounder Vincent Trochek was one of Team USA’s most impressive and consistent forwards. It was very fitting that he would notch the gold-medal-clinching empty-netter.
  • Calgary Flames second rounder (one of the 2nd rounders obtained in the forced Tim Erixon deal) and Portland Winterhawks rock steady blueliner Tyler Wotherspoon was one of Team Canada’s most reliable players. He brings solid defensive and positional play game in, game out. He makes crisp and accurate outlet passes with the occasional highly selective and well-timed offensive zone pinch in.
  • NHL expansion in non-traditional hockey markets has had at least one payoff for the USA – 13 states represented at the World Juniors.
  • If only 2013 NHL draft eligible forward Valeri Nichuskin can harness all that size, skill and potential and commit to being interested in a future across the pond; he has shown that he is a legitimate contender to be a top 10 (if not top 5) selection in Newark, New Jersey.
  • Did anyone do a better job of covering the tournament from their nation’s perspective than Chris Peters of United States of Hockey? Outstanding, consistent, in-depth coverage throughout.
  • Kudos to Team USA and its head coach Phil Housley as used a pair of round robin 2-1 losses to Canada and Russia respectively as stepping stones on their golden road to the top of the tournament heap.
  • In the end, after a very strong tournament, Team Sweden and its masterful head coach Roger Ronnberg could not overcome the monumental losses on the blueline. Injuries decimated the defense with NHL first rounders Oscar Klefbom, Jonas Brodin and Hampus Lindholm along with Jesper Pettersson all missing the tournament. Hard to imagining that team not winning gold if all four were healthy, taking nothing away from the performances of the blueliners who stepped up to perform admirably.
Because it was difficult to keep it to thirty thoughts, here are a couple of bonuses:
  • Who else can’t wait for the 2014 tourney to be held in MalmöSweden?
  • A new format will be implemented for the U20s and U18s. The four top teams from each group of the preliminary round will advance to the quarterfinals. Thus, there are no byes for those who finish first in each group (Hockey Canada likely welcomes this).  The last placed teams from each group will play a relegation round in a best of three format to determine who the lone relegated team is (as opposed to two teams previously being relegated).
For previous coverage of the 2013 World Junior Hockey Championships check out THW’s #2013WJC Viewing Guide
This article was originally posted at The Hockey Writers

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