The IIHF World Championships kicked off this past week with plenty of story
lines going into this edition of the tournament. Sweden and Finland are joint
hosting a tournament that sees both teams go in as favourites, with Finland
being the defending champions. Canada enters this years tournament with a
talented roster built for victory and an improvement in the IIHF world rankings.
Four Montreal Canadiens are taking part including Lars Eller (Denmark), Tomas
Plekanec (Czech Republic), Alexei Emelin (Russia) and Max Pacioretty (USA). This
article reviews the first week in the 2012 edition of hockey’s biggest annual
United States Shock Canada:
Every time Canada and the US meet in any level of Ice Hockey it is deemed a big game. This meeting at the World Championships was no different. While for the most part Canada has dominated its rivals to the south in international play the United States have had some notable victories over the years at the senior level. The most notable was the 1996 World Cup in which the USA shocked Canada in the final 5-2. More recently they defeated Canada in the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in the preliminary round and took them to overtime in the final. With both teams 1-0-0 going into this game it appeared that a Canadian team with far more depth would defeat a talented yet patched up United States squad. However a Jack Johnson power play goal in overtime with John Tavares in the box lead the USA to a shocking 5-4 victory. Tavares was having a solid game before taking the penalty, an unlucky delay of game call. Tavares had a goal and an assist while Skinner, Evander Kane and
Duncan Keith had the other goals for Canada. Jack Johnson two goals in the game including the overtime winner while
Jim Slater, Patrick Dwyer and Nate Thompson also scored for the USA. Pacioretty had an assist on the Jack Johnson goal, one of 4 assists he has put up during the tournament.
Defending Champions Proving Their Value:
Finland has always been a talented team in international hockey. However, last year they took it a step further winning a tournament that some never gave them a chance at winning. This year they are back for more of the same. This years Finnish squad is just as talented with notable names like
Mikko Koivu, Jussi Jokinen, Mikael Granlund, Valtteri Filppula, Kari Lehtonen, and former Canadiens
goalie Karri Ramo. While the Finns have not met any notable opposition so far they have been solid against all the teams they have faced including back to back 1-0 wins over Belarus and Slovakia before a 5-2 victory over Switzerland. While Finland still has to face Canada and the United States before the end of the preliminary round they have proven already that they are one of the better teams in this tournament once again.
Best Team: Canada
They are talented, deep and have plenty of goal scoring up front. It has not been the most impressive tournament so far this year but when Canada is at its best in international tournaments a little bit of doubt is introduced in the earlier rounds. Look for Canada to finish first in this group, even after falling 5-4 in overtime to the United States. A 7-2 win over France and a 3-2 victory over Slovakia remain results to build on going into the next couple of games.
Biggest Disappointment: United States
After upsetting Canada in overtime and defeating France easily in their first
game of the tournament the United States looked like one of the teams most
dangerous teams in the World Championships. However, directly after the surprise
result against Canada the USA would fall to a Slovakia team who have a few
talented pieces but are not even close to a complete team 4-2. For a team who
looked like the favourite to finish 2nd in this group they fell to the 4th and final playoff spot after this loss. They have some tough games ahead.
Most Underrated: Switzerland
Switzerland is fast becoming one of the best teams in international hockey and are proving it once again. Currently they sit third in a group H which has plenty of talented teams. While a 5-2 loss to Finland was a setback the 5-1 win over Kazakhstan and 3-2 win of Belarus has this team primed to go through to the next round. The team from Switzerland have had plenty of successes in recent years at the senior level including a 2-0 shock of Canada at the 2006 Olympics that the Canadians never recovered from. While this edition of the Swiss national team doesn’t have the goaltending that has made the team a force in the past it does have several key pieces including Nino Niederreiter, former Montreal Canadien Mark Streit and Luca Sbisa.
Max Pacioretty, United States (Montreal Canadiens)
The American forward had a dominant season with the Montreal Canadiens this year. He has continued it with the United States, leading his nation in scoring with a goal and 4 assists after 3 games.
Patrick Sharp, Canada (Chicago Blackhawk)
Sharp is the oldest player on the Canadian World Championship team and has apparently chosen to lead by example during this tournament. With a goal and 4 assists for Canada in the first 3 games Sharp has been Canada’s best player thus far.
Mark Streit, Switzerland (New York Islanders)
Streit is the best Swiss hockey player of his generation and continues to prove it this tournament. The Swiss have started the tournament with solid results and Streit has been in the middle of all of it. The former Montreal Canadiens defenceman and Swiss Captain has 2 goals and 2 assists for 4 points in the first 3 games of the tournament.
Hosts Looking Dangerous:
Sweden was always considered one of the best teams in this tournament. They have clearly proven it already with a 3-0-0 start matched by only two other teams in the tournament so far. While a game against the Russians will ultimately prove what place they finish in the group they have been solid thus far. A 3-1 victory over Norway was followed by a 4-1 win over the Czech Republic and a 6-4 defeat of Denmark. Roster wise the team is
rivalled by possibly only Canada as the best team in the tournament with names like Loui Eriksson, Niklas Kronwall, Viktor Stalberg, Victor Hedman, Johan Franzen, Calder favourite Gabriel Landeskog, Norris favourite Erik Karlsson, and
the legendary Daniel Alfredsson. With that kind of firepower and depth this team should take the advantage of playing on home soil and run with it possibly all the way to the championship game. While they have several obstacles ahead including Russia and later the possibility of Canada, Finland or the USA the Swedes look as confident and talented as their roster suggests.
Latvia surprises early:
Latvia is not a household name in international hockey. Latvia has always been a fringe team in international competitions and usually exit tournaments near the bottom of the pack. However, this tournament has started very different for the Latvians who are coached by former Detroit Red Wing Ted Nolan. The team doesn’t have many NHL stars, but does feature a few notable names including Kaspars Daugavins of the Ottawa Senators, Oskars Bartulis of the Adirondack Phantoms and Georgijs Pujacs of Avangard Omsk. Latvia started the tournament holding their own against one of the best teams in the tournament in Russia falling 5-2. But the rebounded quickly by defeating the Germans 3-2. The third game of the tournament they met Italy, who they defeated handily 5-0. All these results have the team in third place after three games. The Latvian team have been getting plenty of scoring from Miks Idrasis, who plays for the KHL‘s Dynamo Riga. With winnable games against Norway and Denmark still to come this team has an excellent opportunity to go through to the next round, something that would be a surprise to almost everyone who follows this tournament.
Best Team: Sweden
At home you will have a hard time betting against this team. In what couple be Daniel Alfredsson’s final international hockey tournament Sweden is looking to win and all costs. With a talented lineup and a loud crowd this team has all the tools to win this tournament. If they don’t get their hands on at least one of the three medals it will be a huge shock.
Biggest Disappointment: Denmark
Denmark is by no means a top talent in international hockey. But in a Group S that has proven fairly top heavy so far this tournament you would expect them to do better. Denmark is led by Montreal’s Lars Eller as well as Philip Larsen of the Dallas Stars, Jannik Hansen of the Vancouver Canucks, Frans Neilsen of the New York Islanders and Frolunda goaltender Fredrick Anderson. But the team has not played up to the standards of all those names a 2-0 loss to a Tomas Plekanec led Czech Republic team to start the tournament was a decent result but the following two, a 4-3 OT loss to a very poor Italy team and a 6-4 loss to Sweden. Lars Eller and Nichlas Hardt of Jokerit both lead the team with 2 goals and an assist but it hasn’t been enough for a Denmark team who need to win almost all of their games from here on in to make the next round.
Most Underrated: Latvia
We already visited Latvia above. This team has been surprisingly good in this
tournament and have a chance to get themselves into the knockout rounds. While
they won’t come all that close to the medal rounds this has the possibility to
be the best ever tournament in Latvian hockey history. Although, they still have
some tough games to play.
Loui Eriksson, Sweden (Dallas Stars)
This tournament has shown that the future of the Dallas Stars is very bright. Two of the best players in this tournament so far have been Jamie Benn who plays for Canada and of course Loui Erickson of Sweden. In fact other than Evgeni Malkin who is mentioned below Eriksson has been the best player in the tournament so far. He leads both Sweden and the tournament with 6 points which includes a tournament leading 3 goals as well as 3 assists.
Evgeni Malkin, Russia (Pittsburgh Penguins)
Malkin will most likely be the NHL’s MVP after leading the league in scoring this past season and having the best season in his NHL career. His pace clearly hasn’t dropped off as he is now join scoring leader of the World Championships with Loui Erickson of Sweden. His 6 points are made up of 2 goals and 4 assists for a Russian team who are 3-0-0 and one of the
favourites to win this tournament.
Miks Idrasis, Latvia (Dynamo Riga)
Latvia has been a surprise in this tournament in no small part due to the play of Dynamo Riga forward Miks Idrasis. The Latvian forward, who is only 21, has been one of the elite forwards in this tournament and could possibly get some interest from the NHL. Idrasis has a tournament leading 3 goals and 2 assists for 5 points which puts him third in tournament scoring.