Saturday, December 31, 2011

WJC: From Gold To Bronze To Relegation ?

The US won gold in 2010 and followed that up with a bronze medal in 2011. Last night's 5-2 loss to the Czech Republic all but guaranteed the Americans would be playing in the relegation round of this years World Junior Championships. The Americans would need Finland to lose their final 2 games while at the same time beat the Canadians for a chance to play in the medal rounds. Finland topped Denmark 10-1.

The Americans had plenty of opportunities while firing 54 shots on Czech goalie Petr Mrazek (Detroit - 2010) of the OHL's Ottawa 67's, who turned in the performance of his career.

The Americans took an early lead on a powerplay goal 5:14 into the game on a goal by T.J. Tynan (Columbus - 2010). The goal came on a powerplay in which the Czech's Petr Straka (Columbus - 2010) took a 5 minute major and game misconduct for boarding.  The Czech's would tie the game at 1 at 12:05 of the opening period on Tomas Filippi's (2012 eligible) goal. The period would end with the score knotted at 1 and the Americans outshooting the Czechs 18-6.

The Czechs would take the ever infamous too many men on the ice penalty in the second and the US would make them pay. Bill Arnold (Calgary - 2010) put Team USA up 2-1. But the Czechs would tie it 3:01 later on a goal by Tomas Hertl (2012 eligible) and the period would end tied at 2. Once again the Americans would outshoot the Czechs, this time 15-13.

Petr Holik (2012 eligible) would give the Czechs their first lead of the game 12:26 into the third, a lead they would not relinquish. Filippi would score his second of the game at 17:19 to give the Czechs a two goal margin. Team USA would pull goaltender Jack Campbell for an extra attacker but it went for not as Holik scored his second of the game into the empty net with just under a minute and a half remaining. The US would outshoot the Czechs 21-10 in the period and 54-29 overall.

Mrazek truly was the star of this game and when he wasn't named player of the game for the Czechs, the crowd booed and started chanting his name. He acknowledged the crowd by giving them a wave in satisfaction.

Many complained about the US selection process even before the WJC began. There are those that don't like it and just as many that defended it. But judging by last night's comments by fans, Team USA officials are going to have to answer plenty of questions and rethink the way they do things.

On a personal note, I remember the 1972 Summit Series between Canada and the Soviet Union, the WHA Series vs the Soviets, the early Canada Cup years, the Rendezvous Series in Quebec City and probably the best hockey game ever seen, the Montreal Canadiens vs Soviet Red Army on New Years Eve in 1975 and think that the rivalry between Canada and Russia is still one of the best rivalries. But the US and Canada have closed that gap and I wanted to see nothing more than a US - Canada matchup in the gold medal game (Not suggesting both would have made it - just what I wanted to see).

Every once in a while teams come across this blip in their radar. Canada has gone through it, the Russians, the Czechs, everyone. The US has talent in abundance and they will continue to produce talented hockey players in the future and will emerge from this stronger and better because of it.

In Calgary, Sweden beat Slovakia 9-1. Sebastian Collberg (2012 eligible) led the way with two goals and an assist, Mika Zibanejad (Ottawa - 2011) a goal and assist and Johan Sundstrom (NYI -2011) a goal and two assists . Sweden outshot Slovakia 55-15.

The other contest in Calgary saw Switzerland beat Latvia 5-3. Christoph Bertschy (2012 eligible) scored twice for the Swiss as did Gaetan Haas (2012 eligible). Christian Marti (2012 eligible) added a single for the winners. For Latvia, goals came from Toms Andersons (2012 eligible), and Vitalijs Hvorostinins (2012 eligible) and Nikita Jevpalovs (2012 eligible) who both added an assist as well. Switzerland outshot Latvia 41-23.

The last game took place in Edmonton where Finland easily took care of Denmark 10-1. Teemu Pulkkinen (Detroit 2010) scored the final 4 goals of the contest while adding an assist, Miikka Salomaki (Nashville - 2011) had two goals and two assists, Mikael Granlund (Minnesota 2010) had four assists and brother Markus (Calgary 2011) had two assists. Finland outshot Denmark 59 - 25.

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