Six days and twenty hockey games later, the preliminaries for the World Junior Hockey Championship have ended. There have been some pleasant surprises, such as Finland's exceptional play in the tournament, as well as disappointments, most notably Russia for the second straight tournament before their impressive game versus the Czech Republic on December 31st. As an advocate of the tournament, we sometimes hear how the WJHC are overhyped and are just a product of the TSN machine. To a degree that may be true, but the games obviously draw the fans and ratings. If anything, the quality of play is deserving of the hype, while events like the U-17 and U-18's are underhyped.
The games may not reach the same degree of obsession as they do in Canada, but the U-20's are still noticed in other countries. All of the United States' games were televised on NHL Network while the station also carried a handful of TSN games. NTV+ in Russia broadcasted all of the Russian games and over half of the total games, MTV3+ showed all of the Finnish games, SVT caught three of Sweden's matches, the Czech Republic and Slovakia had their native stations involved and EUROSPORT showed some games. I don't think anyone is ever expecting any country or station to reach the level Canada and TSN has brought to the event, but make no mistake that the U-20's have brought global attention, even if it's not to the largest degree.
With the single game elimination round for the medal and relegation participants about to begin, here are how the standings and schedule look for the games starting on the January 2nd (top team receives a bye; bottom two teams go to the relegation bracket):
GP W OTW OTL L PTS GF GA Diff
USA 4 3 1 0 0 11 15 4 11
Fin 4 3 0 1 0 10 17 4 13
Sui 4 2 0 0 2 6 11 13 -2
Svk 4 0 1 0 3 2 7 19 -12
Ger 4 0 0 1 3 1 5 15 -10
GP W OTW OTL L PTS GF GA Diff
Swe 4 3 1 0 0 11 21 9 12
Can 4 3 0 1 0 10 28 12 16
Rus 4 2 0 0 2 6 19 13 6
Cze 4 1 0 0 3 3 10 21 -11
Nor 4 0 0 0 4 0 4 27 -23
Note that the IIHF scoring system is different; they award fewer points for an Overtime Win than one in regulation time. Also, for those new to the U-20 tournament, two teams will be relegated to the Division-I tournament. The D-I tournaments have already been completed and the promoted teams for next year will be Denmark and Latvia.
Here is the remaining schedule for the medal round:
Sunday, January 2nd:
Canada - Switzerland 3:30 EST
Finland - Russia 7:30 EST
Monday, January 3rd:
Sweden - (Russia - Finland winner) 3:30 EST
USA - (Canada - Switzerland winner) 7:30 EST
Wednesday, January 5th:
Bronze medal game - Losers of both Monday games 3:30 EST
Gold medal game - Winners of both Monday games 7:30 EST
I had originally planned to do detailed write-ups on every team that was eliminated, but to be honest, the four teams heading to the relegation rounds either were a victim of their top players not performing, or those top players being dragged down due to the play of their team. There is only one player in the top thirty scorers who is on one of the relegation teams and my notes on the four teams combined are pretty bare. The two prospects that most stuck out to me in some sort of notable fashion were Petr Straka and Richard Panik. Columbus' Petr Straka of Slovakia gave defenders a real tough time with his speed and on more than occasion, made a defenseman turn his hips. While his frame is still not that built and he needs to bulk up, Straka at least showed the willingness to take the puck to the net even when he knew he would get hit hard. Tampa's Richard Panik of the Czech Republic flashed his plus hands, creativity and the flash to his game that had the former top prospect's name all around scouting circles leading up the 2009 Entry Draft. In his third U-20, Panik was expected to be a top scorer for this team, and to some extent he was. The Slovakia and Czech junior programs have taken major dives in the past few years, and at times, it looked like both players were the only ones creating out there with no support from their teammates. Frequently, I would see Straka rush up the ice with his linemates several steps behind him, or Panik deke out a defender but have nobody open to dish to.
I will continue to blog regularly on the tournament and once the competition wraps up, I will do write-ups on each team's performance, as well an individual profiles on players who stepped up and those who disappointed. The six teams who are left can all provide quality hockey, even Switzerland, and the medal round should be nothing short of entertaining hockey.
I hope everyone's enjoyed my coverage of the event thus far; keep on checking back here at Hockey Prospectus for daily coverage of the World Junior Hockey Championship.
Corey Pronman is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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