The preliminary round of the 2012 IIHF World Championship concluded Tuesday with no shortage of interesting story-lines and upsets. Certain teams had problems in this tournament while others would rise to the occasion and surprise everyone. Some teams who were featured in the week one recap for positive reasons are featured in this article negatively and vice-versa, their fortunes changing over just a couple of weeks. Sometimes hockey is predicable but with short tournaments all bets are off. Ahead we take a look at which teams will be title favourites from each group, teams who have disappointed and others who have impressed as well as a look at the All-Star teams for each group after the preliminary round.
2. United States
United States: The USA have been inconsistent during this tournament falling to Belarus and having a tough time finishing off the relegated Kazakhstan team, who they had to take to overtime. But when they have faced formidable opponents, Canada and Finland, they are 2 and 0 and looked solid in both games.
Canada: After the setback against the United States it seemed like this Canadian team was over hyped and may have a tougher time than expected with the tournament. But they quickly improved and haven’t lost since that scare against their rivals to the South. The 5-3 comeback result against the host Finns may have been a defining moment for this team.
Switzerland: Last week I considered the Swiss to be an underrated team in this group. They had a few solid results to start the tournament and I expected that to continue, it didn’t. A 4-2 loss to the French may have eventually sealed their fate as they never recovered, finishing 6th place in the group.
France: The French came into this tournament with only one NHL player on their roster, Stephan De Costa of the Ottawa Senators. They finished it with their heads held high. After a 7-2 loss against the United States to start the tournament France picked up a 6-3 win against Kazakhstan. After taking a couple of tough beatings from the Canadians and the Finns the French team looked like they would go home quietly. That was not in the cards as they shocked Switzerland 4-2 before defeating Belarus 2-1 to finish the tournament in a respectable 5th place in Group H.
Group H All-Star Team:
F-Max Pacioretty- United States (Montreal Canadiens)
The Montreal Canadiens’ forward has continued his incredible season with Team USA. While the goals haven’t come as abundantly as they did during the regular season for Pacioretty, he only had two, the points came quickly as 10 assists saw Pacioretty sit 4th in tournament scoring after the preliminary round.
F- John Tavares- Canada (New York Islanders)
John Tavares has been the best player for Team Canada thus far this tournament putting in a solid effort at both ends of the ice which should get him consideration for the Olympic team in 2014. Tavares has 4 goals and 5 assists for 9 points putting him 8th in tournament scoring.
F- Valterri Filppula- Finland (Detroit Red Wings)
Filppula has been one of the bright spots on what has thus far been a bit of a disappointing tournament for the Finland national team. Filppula, after joining the team from the Detroit Red Wings has put up solid statistics, including 4 goals and 5 assists for 9 points.
D- Duncan Keith- Canada (Chicago Blackhawks)
The former NHL Norris Trophy winner and Team Canada Olympic member has proved his quality thus far in this tournament. With 1 goal and 10 assists during the preliminary round Keith leads the Canadian team with 11 points from the blueline.
D- Justin Faulk- United States (Carolina Hurricanes)
While teammate Jeff Skinner is making headlines for his soft hands with Canada Justin Faulk is making similar headlines for his slapshot in this tournament. The American defenceman has been a force to be reckoned with this tournament at both ends of the ice scoring 4 goals and adding 3 assists for 7 points and a plus 8 rating.
G- Jan Laco- Slovakia (Lev Poprad-Slovakia)
Jaroslav Halak and now Jan Laco have both made a name for themselves while playing with the Slovakian National Team. With Halak away on playoff duty with the St. Louis Blues Laco took matters into his own hands during this tournament. Playing in 6 games Laco has put up a .930 SV% and a 1.67 GAA en route to leading the Slovaks to the playoff round of this tournament.
3. Czech Republic
Russia: The Russians have not lost yet in this tournament and should they win this tournament will have gone undefeated. With the reinforcement provided by Alexander Ovechkin and Alexander Semin the Russians are the best team in the tournament on paper. One can only guess how that will translate into the actual games.
Sweden: The host Swedes have only suffered one loss in this tournament, which came to the tournaments only undefeated Team in Russia. With the home crowd behind them and a roster that has no shortage of NHL stars this team could make a serious run at the World Championship title.
Latvia: Again the team who last week was the biggest surprise turns out to be the biggest disappointment. Latvia started this tournament incredibly well and had plenty of people considering the fact that they could go through to the playoff round. However after a 2-1-0 start the team quickly faltered. They lost their next 4 games: 3-1 to the Czech Republic, 3-0 to Norway, 2-0 to Denmark (Denmark’s only victory of the tournament) and finally 4-0 to Sweden to finish 5th in the group.
Norway: Norway got off to a poor start in this tournament but have since looked very, very good. After losing to Sweden and Russia they didn’t lose again in regulation with the most impressive results being a 12-4 win over Germany and a 3-0 win over Latvia.
Group S All-Star Team:
F- Patrick Thoresen- Norway (SKA St. Petersburg- KHL)
Norway has surprised during this tournament and it has been in large part due to the play of Patrick Thoresen. The tournaments’ leading scorer after the preliminary round had 6 goals and 10 assists for 16 points while posting a plus 7 rating.
F- Evgeni Malkin- Russia (Pittsburgh Penguins)
The NHL MVP nominee has been all over opposition for the undefeated Russians thus far. With 7 goals and 7 assists he leads the tournament in goal scoring. He may not be thrilled but Russia and fans of International Hockey are ecstatic that the Philadelphia Flyers eliminated the Pittsburgh Penguins to give Malkin this chance with Russia.
F- Henrik Zetterberg- Sweden (Detroit Red Wings)
The second Red Wing to be placed on an All-Star team in this article Zetterberg has been as good as ever since joining the Swedes after a short playoff run with Detroit. His 11 assists are tournament leading and his 2 goals add up to make a 13 point total that puts him third in tournament scoring behind only Malkin and Thoresen.
D- Jonas Holos- Norway (Vaxjo Lakers- Elitserien)
While Thoreson has been putting up the points up front for Norway it has been Holos at the back who has led the way all tournament for Norway. His 4 goals and 4 assists making 8 points puts him second in defensive scoring behind only Duncan Keith of Canada. His plus 6 rating only contributes to that fact.
D- Erik Karlsson- Sweden (Ottawa Senators)
While the Norris Trophy favourite hasn’t dominated this tournament the way he did the National Hockey League this season Erik Karlsson’s play with Sweden has been good enough to warrant him this honour. With 3 goals and 4 assists for 7 points Karlsson has been the best defencemen the host team has had to offer during this tournament.
G- Semyon Varlamov- Russia (Colorado Avalanche)
With a win in every one of his starts for the undefeated Russians Varlamov has proved that the solid season he had with the Avalanche in the NHL was no fluke. A .947 SV% and a 1.62 GAA makes him the best goaltender in the tournament thus far.