Category Archives: IIHF

All Hockey Canada and other International hockey talk (World Juniors, World Championships, Women’s World Championships, and Olympics)

They Gave me Nothing to Bitch About This Year!

So I always write a postmortem on the World Juniors.  And since I started doing this in 2012, I’ve had a lot of negative shit to chew on with Team Canada!  That year I basically said they were still the best even though they lost.  In 2013 I destroyed the job Steve Spott did coaching a super team as the two previous super teams (lockout year teams) had obliterated the tournament and they ended up finishing 4th.  In 2014 my theory became that they had lost their mental edge and that other countries were now confident they could beat Canada while Canada wasn’t confident they could win anymore.  2015 it was finally a gold and I discussed whether or not it was the best non lockout team ever.  2016 it was more so about how the team wasn’t nearly as bad as they got made out to be (lost on a 5 on 3 PP goal caused by a fluke penalty to the Fins who went on to win it all).  And finally last year I talked about how it really wasn’t much of a loss, just sucked that they had to lose a great game and it had to be to the Americans.  So I had a main topic to chew on all of those years.  This year, I’m lost!  I don’t know what one thing to hit on, so instead I’ll cover a bunch of different things, not just from Canada, but from some of the other countries too.  So if you’ve stayed with me thus far, you’re a true friend because both the title and that opening were pretty terrible!

 

I’m actually going to start with the performance of the Americans.  Is it just me or are the Americans actually not that great, but rather just play way over their heads when they play Canada?  Because you watch any of their non Canada games, and if they happen to win, they seem to just barely scrape by most of the time.   It wasn’t just this year, last year they had trouble with the Swiss and the Russians.  Of course this year they lost to the Slovaks, nearly blew the game against an overrated Finnish team, even against the Russians they had trouble before they bowed out to the Swedes.  They’re developing a lot of damn good talent, but it’s very much so like winning the tournament is 2nd for them to beating Canada.  As long as they beat Canada, that’s the main thing.  Gold would be cool too, but beating Canada is the real victory.  It’s odd.

 

That’s not the Swedes deal, and despite losing that heart breaker had nothing to hang their heads…or toss their medals away…about.  Great team, would have been full value for a win in that game also.  But the big takeaway from the tournament is just how special Rasmus Dahlin is.  I wrote this back in October:

The initial reaction with Dahlin is to go nuts with this comparison (Drew Doughty).  It’s so rare we see a defenceman who can excite you at both ends of the ice like Dahlin can.  And remember, he’s playing against men.  He can play either side of the ice, tremendous wheels, loves to play physical, great vision, I wouldn’t say he has a bomb but he has a very good shot, he’s just got elite/number one defenceman written all over him.  I know some are gun shy on taking D-men high in the draft, and history proves that it’s risky, but this kids the exception to that rule.  I believe that because he’s a D-man that some have been slow to realize just how special this kid is, but I believe by late June he’ll be the clear cut top pick and a franchise changer for whichever team is lucky enough to land him.

I got one right.  Well, I write a lot of shit, so I get a few right, but if you check out my Saturday picks I get a lot more wrong!  I think I’m even higher on Dahlin now than I was at that time.  There were people who actually thought Andrei Svechnikov was a better prospect.  A one dimensional winger over one of the best defence prospects we’ve ever seen.  The kid does it all, and while he’s not in the McDavid class, he’s going to have a tremendous impact on whichever team drafts him (please Edmonton if they’re going to be this bad, it feels like they never win the top pick…)

 

As for the other big story from the Swedish end of things, I go back and forth about Lias Andersson chucking his medal in the stands.  On one hand, I don’t know if I like the gesture of tossing it in the stands like he did.  But listening to his post game interview, it’s simple that the kid doesn’t want silver, and what’s wrong with that?!  When Canada gets silver, most of the country wants to rip the silver medals off our kids and I’m sure a lot of people take issue with nobody doing something like that.  But then when someone from another country does it we should piss on it?  Again, maybe don’t toss it in the stands as it made a spectacle of it, but as a guy who can’t stand losing and is labelled as over emotional, I totally get it.

 

How about the re-emergence of the Czech’s!?  For an old guy like me, it seems like just yesterday the Czech’s were the gold standard for the dead puck era, perhaps the worst era hockey’s ever seen.  Back to back golds in 2000 and 2001.  But it’s been a long ass time since they were relevant in this tournament.  This was just their second 4th place finish since 01, and that’s the highest they’ve finished since.  They’ve obviously still got a ways to go to get back in there with the Swedes, Russians, Finns, Americans and of course Canada.

 

Ok, Canada.  What a win!  That was the best final game that Canada has won since the 2008 final.  Canada never wins those!  17, 11, 10, 04, 02, 99, we always lose the heart breaker….except if we get the Swedes apparently.  And who better to get the winner than Tyler Steenbergen?!  A team where nobody really stood out, just extremely solid everywhere, and it’s the 13th forward who snipes the winner.  Just awesome!  It was the exact Team Canada win that I expected when first writing about the team back in November.  Great goaltending, best blueline in the tournament (though I didn’t see that coming from Conor Timmins!  And I was higher on him than most going into the draft last year, but I had no clue he was even on their radar!), and very balanced up front.  No doubt they caught a break with the Czech’s upsetting the Finns, and not seeing the States again was likely a good thing because as I talked about earlier they seem to be hell bent on beating Canada, but this was the best team in the tournament.

 

As always, I take a look ahead at who could be on the team next season.  And much like on Rasmus Dahlin, I have to do a bit of bragging.  I had no idea I wrote all this last year at this time, but I guess did ok at predicting 2018, so maybe 2019 will go the same?

It’s always so difficult to project.  You just never know who’ll end up making their NHL club.  But I would guess that seven of the nine potential returnees will be back.  I’d say Carter Hart, Dillon Dube, Taylor Raddysh, Michael McLeod, Jake Bean, Kale Clague, and Dante Fabbro are close to locks to being back with this club.  The two who I believe are unlikely yet eligible would be Tyson Jost and Pierre-Luc Dubois.  Dubois wouldn’t disappoint anyone if he wasn’t back, he was very underwhelming in this tournament.  Jost, who as you know by now I’m a massive fan of, started off amazing and really cooled off as the tournament went on.  He is your captain in 2018 should he be back, I guarantee that.

 

The key there though is a 19 year old Carter Hart.  That COULD be the difference, though in 2004 I remember thinking there was no way goaltending would be a problem with Marc-Andre Fleury coming back after nearly carrying Canada to gold by himself in 03.  Anyway, Carter Hart and then I’m guessing at this point Mike DiPietro of the Windsor Spitfires looks like he would be the backup, but it’s still way too early to project other players on the team.  If you want some names who appear to be safe bets for next seasons team….Brett Howden, Sam Steel, Cliff Pu, Dennis Cholowski, Jordan Kyrou, Owen Tippett, Cale Makar, and Maxime Comtois.  But again, who in the freaking hell knows at this point what’ll happen.

For the record, DiPietro being left at home for Point was a complete joke and Canada is damn lucky that decision didn’t severely bite them in the ass, and also Maxime Comtois I felt the whole way through probably shouldn’t have been on the team over a kid like Nick Suzuki, Cody Glass or Owen Tippett.  Not like he played bad, but probably shouldn’t have been on the team.  ANYWAY…2019…

 

It’s actually ironic that this tourney will be back in Vancouver, because if you recall the team which won in Vancouver in 06, this team could be built a lot like that team was.  Less skill, more grinders, talented but young blueline, great goaltending.

 

Robert Thomas is the captain should he be back.  He’s tracking like he could play in the show next season, but the Blues have a deep organization.  Jordan Kyrou was good enough to make the show this season and was sent back because the Blues were too deep.  So I’m thinking Thomas will be back and the 1st line centre/star of the team.  Joining him as returnees will be Comtois, and I believe Alex Formenton.  I know Formenton came close to making the Sens out of camp, but he’s not ready to make the jump and there is no need to rush him.  The aforementioned Suzuki and Glass will likely be in Vancouver as well.  No need for Vegas to rush them having the success they’re having.  Owen Tippett I believe is a toss up at this point.  He nearly stuck with the Panthers, so we’ll see.  Gabe Vilardi, Michael Rasmussen, Morgan Frost, Shane Bowers, and Jaret Anderson-Dolan are kids who at least at this point and time I would say are good bets up front.

 

The blueline is likely going to be pretty young with no returnees and the highest picked kid from the 17 draft likely being Pierre-Olivier Joseph.  Ty Smith, Evan Bouchard, Noah Dobson and Jared McIssac are all probably locks.  And again, so much can change, but those four actually all fit real well together, and this 18 draft is defence rich.

 

At the moment, it doesn’t look like Canada will have near the team they were able to ice this year.  But for me, the big key is going to be starting goaltending, I’m calling it now, it’ll be Michael DiPietro.  He should have been on this years team, a part of me believes he was left at home so there couldn’t be a goaltending controversy because I believe DiPietro was that good currently where he could have stole the job even with how good Carter Hart was.  This team will have a punchers chance against what’ll be very talented American and Swedish teams, not to mention the Finns and Russians always being solid.  DiPietro is the type of goaltender who can steal a tournament for a team.

 

For all the talk of the Americans passing Canada which the Canadian media just seems so horny to write about, Canada is a shootout loss away from winning the tournament in three of the last four years.  The Americans have passed Canada in shootouts, I’m not sure they’ve passed us in any other way.  As one of my good friends used to say “they can f***ing have it”.  We’ll enjoy the gold which was won by scoring in a hockey game.  (hell yes that was a petty cheap shot at the Americans winning in the skills competition last year!)

Follow me on Twitter @TJ_Soups

WJC Team Canada Preview

It’s getting to be that time of year.  The time of year where just about all of you go from not ever having seen one of these kids play, to experts on their game and knowing them inside and out.  Yeah, the World Juniors really do bring out the absolute worst in all of us as hockey fans!  Even myself.  I know these kids a lot better than most, but I’m up front about not watching these kids play most nights.  Maybe a few times a year, and I follow them closely, but I’m still a bit of a hypocrite when it comes to how to use these kids.

 

Having said this, I do know these kids, I do follow their development paths, and I probably know what I’m talking about a lot more than most on this subject.  So with camp invites just days away, let’s get it going and we’ll start with my projected forwards:

 

Sam Steel – Michael McLeod – Jordan Kyrou

Dillon Dube – Nick Suzuki – Taylor Raddysh

Matthew Phillips – Robert Thomas – Owen Tippett

Brett Howden – Cliff Pu – Cody Glass

Boris Katchouk

 

Looks damn good.  The big ? is going to be Tyson Jost.  The Avs have him in the AHL right now on a conditioning stint, but that conclusion will coincide with Team Canada’s camp starting up.  So I’d probably say he’s 50/50 to be in Buffalo at the moment, but for this piece I’m going to keep him off.  Should he be there, I’d look at Katchouk being the odd man out, which is why I have him as the 13th forward right now.  For me, the guys I’m a little unsure of with this roster are Katchouk and Cody Glass.  Cliff Pu was on that list probably as recent as ten days ago, but he is on fire of late.  As for guys who could take those spots away?  Obviously I brought up Jost, Michael Rasmussen, Kole Lind, Tyler Steenbergen, Morgan Frost, Jonah Gadjovich, and then the big wildcard for me is Tyler Benson.

 

I went over it in my “Hot Takes” blog from yesterday, but I’ll say it again that I strongly believe that Hockey Canada needs to give Benson an invite to camp and take a serious look at where he’s at.  15 points in 10 games, 14 of those points in his last 7 games.  And it’s not out of nowhere, it’s a case of a very high profile prospect having fallen on tough times thanks to injuries, but has somehow picked up where he left off after missing a large majority of the last two seasons.  In seeing clips of him playing, a lot of his production is coming on the PP, and his skating (which has always been his ?) doesn’t appear to be great, so I doubt he’d make it.  But what he’s done since returning and his track record warrants a look in my mind.

 

Overall I really like the forward group.  I don’t think they can go wrong with it, although I have been fooled in the past.  Jost would help a ton though because I really believe that they need someone to emerge as the offensive catalyst.  Mike McLeod has that ability, but I personally believe Jost as both the ability and the determination to do it.  As for the blueline, I’m really excited about the look of it as well:

 

Kale Clague – Dante Fabbro

Jake Bean – Cal Foote

Dennis Cholowski – Cale Makar

P.O. Joseph

 

Much like the forwards, the only concern is that I worry there isn’t a standout guy.  Last year of course, Thomas Chabot was a superstar and carried the entire team.  I don’t believe any of these kids can duplicate that, but I’ll tell you this…and maybe I’m just being a homer for the Lloydminster kid, but Kale Clague has been outstanding so far this season.  He stepped up and played great after Phillip Myers went down last year, and he might surprise a few people in this tournament with the level he’s currently playing at.

 

Victor Mete is in the same boat as Tyson Jost, except that I don’t see Montreal sending him back for this tournament.  Sure the Habs are struggling, but Mete has been rock solid for them and it’s a team that needs everything it can get on the blueline right now.  I guess Sam Girard is also a possibility, but with the Avs keeping him up past the 10 game mark it sure seems as though all signs point to him staying with the Avs during the holiday season.

 

As for the 7th defenceman…Josh Mahura would be my pick.  The kid would have been a first round pick in 2016 had it not been for an injury that cost him most of his regular season, but he bounced back from that and had a great playoffs and Memorial Cup for Red Deer, then had another deep run with Regina last year where I felt he was outstanding.

 

But this is me trying to project the roster, so I have P.O. Joseph as the number seven guy.  Not because I believe he is the right guy, but because I’m a very honest guy.  And I look at the roster and notice that we don’t have a kid from the Q on there and I can’t see Hockey Canada picking an entire team of kids from the WHL and OHL, even though that should be the case as this is a rare circumstance which it’s warranted.  In today’s PC society, nobody wants to cause a stir.  But I don’t know what to say to those who will, the Canadian talent which is WJC eligible just isn’t in the Q this season.  Kids like Maxime Comtois, Pascal Laberge and Antoine Morand simply aren’t good enough, and Pierre-Luc Dubois would be on the team but there is no chance the Jackets are going to release him.  Thankfully this comes the year after the tournament is held in Montreal.  I can only imagine what an uproar that would have caused…

 

As for a few others who could possibly steal a spot on D, I can only see two guys other than Mahura and Joseph and those are Nicolas Hague, and possibly at this point the top Canadian prospect for the upcoming draft Ty Smith of the Spokane Chiefs.

 

Last year I was one of the few heading into the tournament who was really high on Canada’s goaltending, and for the most part I feel as though I was right.  Hart definitely didn’t lose the gold medal game for Canada in regulation or OT, and he appears to now be peaking as the WHL player of the week last week.  So it’s just a matter of who’ll join him:

 

Carter Hart

Mike DiPietro

 

Oilers fans might be asking right now “where is Dylan Wells”.  Dylan Wells….MUCH to my dismay, has been awful so far this season.  G.A.A. over 3.50, Sv% below .900, his adj. G.S.A.A. last season led the CHL at 31.87, this year it’s at 2.69 as of writing this.  I’d be shocked if Wells gets a camp invite at this point, which is quite a shame because in the summer it looked as though both he and DiPietro had a chance to knock off Hart for roles on the squad.

 

Hart is good, and being the returning guy he’ll get the best chance to be the starter.  But I’m a massive Mike DiPietro fan and fully believe he’ll steal the starting job and run with it in this tournament.  We saw him shine in the Memorial Cup last spring, the kid seems to love the pressure.  To me, the goaltending this is year is probably as good as it’s been in 10 years (Mason/Bernier).

 

As always, there are five or six teams who are fully capable of winning it all.  The Swedes will be very strong, especially on D being led by Rasmus Dahlin.  The Fins will have a ton of motivation after last year’s embarrassment and the talent to be a threat.  Obviously the Americans have been the most successful team in the tournament over the last eight years with three golds and even in years that they don’t win have given Canada specifically a lot of fits.  Not as skilled of American team this time around, but don’t sleep on them.  The Czech’s after so many down years are starting to get back to where they were.  Martin Necas, potential top five pick Filip Zadina, Oilers 4th rounder Ostap Safin who currently sits 10th in the Q in scoring, they’re starting to develop some high end kids again.  And finally the Russians, whom for whatever reason show up in this tournament.  The big star will be potential top three pick Andrei Svechnikov assuming he’s healthy (he’s supposed to be back shortly so no reason to assume otherwise), but they’re starting to develop the right kind of players in Russia over the last few years.  Seeing a lot more D-men and two way centres come out of their system in the last two drafts.

 

But having said all that, this Team Canada squad looks like a gold medal team to me.  Top to bottom, at least at the moment, I’m not seeing much of a flaw with them.  Four lines deep, three pairs deep, and as good of goaltending as any team in the tournament.  I counted 15 of the 22 players being 19 year olds, 13 of the 22 being 1st round picks, and perhaps most importantly seven returning players, and the possibility of those numbers all moving up one if the Avs release Jost.  It’s going to be a very complete squad barring some strange selections or injuries occurring.  2 PM MST on Boxing Day, Canada vs Finland.  A great test to kick things off.  As always, it’s going to be a blast to watch.

 

Follow me on Twitter @TJ_Soups

Team Canada 2018 Pt.1

In the fall of 2012 there was no NHL hockey in sight.  The third lockout in the last 18 years was ongoing, so outside of tracking what most of the Oilers were doing in Oklahoma City (specifically Justin Schultz who got all Oilers fans hot and bothered with 48 points in just 34 games in the AHL that season), there wasn’t a lot to talk about.  One blog idea I did come up with however was looking at what the Team Canada roster might look like for the 2014 Olympics 15 months out.  Today, I have a lot of stuff I could talk about, and have talked about.  But these are the type of pieces that are fun to write, fun to read, and fun to look back at down the line.

 

I would say it’s 60-40 right now in favour of the NHL not going to Pyeongchang next February.  So this piece could easily be for not.  But really, who cares?  You simply can’t go wrong talking about a potential team Canada roster for a best on best tournament.  I didn’t talk about it when it came to the World Cup of Hockey (did I ever bother to mention that I believed it was a gimmick tournament?)  But this is the Olympics.  An ACTUAL tournament.

 

Should they go to the Olympics, and be healthy, this easily could be the best team Canada of all time.  I’m not saying that for shock affect either.  The stars aren’t aligning for the players to go right now, but if they do, the stars will have aligned for Canada to be amazing.  So here is the forward group I would project about 10 months out from being named.  I should add that I’m assuming that it’ll be 14 forwards, 8 defencemen and 3 goaltenders as it was in 2014.

 

Marchand – Crosby – Bergeron

Tavares – McDavid – Stamkos

Benn – Toews – Carter

Couture – Seguin – MacKinnon

Duchene

Marner

 

I think the first thing which is noticeable is no Getzlaf or Perry.  Now Perry didn’t make the gimmick tournament team originally and only was added because of injuries, so perhaps he isn’t all that surprising.  I’m still wanting both guys on my NHL team any day of the week obviously.  But the foot speed is fading and as we’ve seen in the last two Olympics you just can’t afford to sacrifice speed in this tournament.  Personally I was worried about both those guys the last time around!  They were terrific as you know, but four years down the road I just think there Olympic days are done.  Having said that, they’ll without a doubt be in the discussion for the squad.  More so Getzlaf who might be looked at for that 4th line centre role.

 

Another very large omission I have is Mark Scheifele.  I originally had him on the team.  The guy is damn near a point per game player and has done nothing but improve since coming in the league.  His 200 foot game is still a work in progress, he’s still weak in the dot, and while he’s not slow by any means, look at the wheels the three guys I have on that 4th line have.  That’s too sweet to pass up in my opinion.  Some people will scoff at having two players currently on the Avs on this squad, but again I’m looking towards next season.

 

Finally for omissions I have to talk about Taylor Hall.  It just became clear through injury after injury after injury at the gimmick tournament and how Doug Armstrong and the team Canada brass continued to pass on him that he isn’t one of their guys.  So if they passed on him in 2014 for St. Louis, and passed on him in 2016 when they had several chances to add him to that roster, there is zero reason to believe they’ll take him this time around.  Hope I’m wrong, I’m a big Taylor Hall fan, but I just don’t see it happening.

 

I really wonder whether or not the brass would have the balls to pick two guys like Seguin and MacKinnon for the 4th line.  Neither of those guys are great away from the puck, but both have next level wheels that I personally would have a lot of trouble leaving off the squad.  All that skill, all that speed, and I just don’t know how you say no to either of them.

 

Bergeron on this club might be a little sketchy with his play dropping off a bit this season, but I just think that he has to be on this team because he does too many things for you.  Worst case scenario is he’s your 4th line centre who wins virtually every draw and is your top penalty killer.  But we’ve seen how well he plays with Crosby, and he is great with Marchand, and those three together were unstoppable at the gimmick tournament, so I believe he would need to have a major decline between now and November to not be named to this team.

 

As for Marner, he’s a kid with an insane amount of skill, and Mike Babcock obviously knows him well.  Some of the thinking with Marner as well is that by November he will be viewed as one of the top wingers in the game.  Also, you always want to take younger guys where you can to get them some experience.  It’s not overly likely that a 14th forward would be needed, so it’s a safe spot to put a kid like Marner.

 

Lots of omissions who easily could make this squad (other than Getzlaf, Perry, Scheifele and Hall).  Ryan O’Reilly, Sean Monahan and Claude Giroux I would say are right there.  Sam Reinhart, Jonathan Drouin, Jonathan Huberdeau, Tyler Toffoli, Brendan Gallagher, Ryan Johansen, Sean Couturier, and Bo Horvat are all kids I believe you have to keep your eye on moving forward.  Horvat specifically is a guy who is currently really emerging.  He’s another Bergeron.

 

Then you have the defence, and at this time it would take a miracle for the other countries for Canada’s blueline to look anything other than incredible.

 

Keith – Doughty

Vlasic – Burns

Brodie – Pietrangelo

Rielly – Subban

 

Could be one of the top Team Canada bluelines of all time.  This is a lot more balanced than 2014 was, because we know that in 2014 they insisted on lefty/righty combos and Canada was weak on the left side.  While the left side still isn’t AS good as the right, there is nobody on there who isn’t worthy of being there.

 

Can they finally get it right and have one of Brodie or Giordano on this team?  In 2014, Giordano should have been there.  It was bizarre that they were so desperate for left handed shooting D, yet Giordano was left off the team for Jay Bouwmeester whom by the time Bouwmeester was dealt from the Flames in 2013 was very clearly the better of the two D-men.  In 2015, T.J. Brodie emerged as another elite LH shooting D-man for the Flames, yet for the gimmick in the GTA (as it should have been dubbed) last fall neither guy was anywhere to be found…and Jake Muzzin was on the team.  Get it right people.  I would only take one, I would take the better of the two at the time of the selections and I believe it’s a complete coin flip as to who could be that guy.  I’m guessing Brodie, but it’s a complete guess obviously.

 

Morgan Rielly’s selection would be similar to Mitch Marner’s.  Babcock knows him, he’s had all the tough minutes for the Leafs and has held his own.  The offensive numbers haven’t been as great as expected this season, but those will come.  On the big ice he would thrive.

 

Omissions obviously include Shea Weber (losing foot speed much like Getzlaf and Perry), Aaron Ekblad, Kris Letang, Giordano (as I mentioned), Bouwmeester and Muzzin.  But again, all of these guys will be in the mix and you could easily substitute anyone of them for a guy I have on the team.  Kids/dark horses to watch for over the next year could be Josh Morrissey, Ryan Murray, Darnell Nurse, Thomas Chabot, Ryan Ellis, Damon Severson, Colten Parayko, Jared Spurgeon, and Chris Tanev.  Of course you never know, especially on defence, who could completely come out of nowhere.

 

Think about this too.  This could be the 1st PP unit for team Canada:

Crosby

Stamkos Tavares McDavid

Burns

Maybe put Benn in Tavares spot for that net front presence, maybe Subban goes to Burns role if they prefer more of a bomb coming from the blueline.  Regardless, I’ll just let you drool about this for a minute…

 

Done drooling?  It was good wasn’t it?!  Ok, so finally we have the tendy’s.  And unfortunately it doesn’t look like we’re going to get the hot debate that we had going into the 2014 games.  Even if Carey Price went down…or Price and Holtby went down, things are a lot different than they were back then.

 

Price

Holtby

Jones

 

Yeah….they’re seven or eight deep now.  I don’t have Devan Dubnyk on this team, and he just might be the best goaltender in the league to this point of the season!

 

The third spot in my opinion would be between Matt Murray and Martin Jones.  Total toss up in my mind.  Jones has been incredible this season, but Murray has played incredible when he’s been healthy.  I said Jones, but by November, especially if he has a 2nd ring, people might be screaming for Murray.  And the beauty of it with both of them is that they both have pretty good experience too.

 

You might be asking yourself “why one of them and not two time Cup champ Corey Crawford?”  Simply because of age, but make no mistake I’m a massive Corey Crawford fan.  Then you have Cam Talbot who I think is clearly on the outside of this picture, but would anyone be fearful of Talbot being as high on this food chain as the backup?  I wouldn’t.  The guy has been pretty damn consistent for a year now.  A hiccup when he first got to Edmonton, but since that adjustment he’s been outstanding.  Hell, if Mike Smith keeps up the way he’s played this season I believe he would warrant a look, and you likely have forgot that he was the 3rd man in 2014 (not even a question in the infamous words of Ken Holland who apparently can’t scout goaltenders because Jonathan Bernier was miles ahead of Mike Smith that entire season).  Even my man Cam Ward has his game back this season!  So there are zero issues between the pipes for Canada anymore, although I never really agreed that there were, but Canada is as deep as they’ve been since 2002.

 

And circling back to Dubnyk, he could easily be that 3rd guy too.  He might even be the backup over Holtby.  But I believe they would pretty much cement Price as the starter, Holtby as the backup early on in the process.  After that, it’s more of a chess game and they would likely lean towards a younger guy in that spot seeing how the likelihood of the top two guys getting hurt are pretty slim.

 

It’s insane with the club I just laid out.  There are literally no holes, and superstars all over.  John Tavares is essentially an afterthought on this club, and he would be the first line centre for most other countries.  I wrote it hours after the 2014 tournament was done, this could be the best team Canada of all time.  At that time I was more so focusing on McDavid teaming with Crosby, Toews, Stamkos, Tavares, and MacKinnon (who is surprisingly not going to be a sure thing for this squad).  You add in that the goaltending and LH shooting D depth has improved greatly, which were the only spots people could SOMEWHAT point at as holes the last time around, and it just leaves no doubt that if they’re healthy it might be disappointing should they not only win, but exceed the domination we saw in Socchi.

 

IF the NHL decides to go that is…

 

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The Red & White is Blue Today

Well that sucked.  Not the game, the game was incredible.  Quite literally one of the best hockey games we’ll ever see.  And from a growing the game or growing the World Juniors aspect, it was a perfect outcome.  And if we want this tournament to mean something, we can’t win all the time (we also can’t give it to the same area three times in four seasons IIHF…)  We have to go through stretches where we only win gold once in eight years.  But that pesky outcome, as a Canadian, that was a pretty good kick in the balls.

 

And yes, I was wrong.  I puffed my Canadian chest out and declared Canada would win and win decidedly yesterday.  Meh.  I’ve been wrong a TON on here, and I’ll be wrong a TON moving forward.  Canada was just as good as I suspected they would be, but full credit to the Americans for having tremendous resiliency.  I in no way believe they were a better team, but they weren’t a worse team, and there were a few times (4-2 specifically) where they could have easily folded their tent and gone home.  Nobody would have said shit to them.  They didn’t, and now they’ve won three World Juniors in the last eight years…to Canada’s one.

 

Ironically now, we’re on basically the same eight year run as we were from 1997-2004.  One gold in eight years, four silvers (we’ve only got three silvers in this stretch), one horrible finish (8th in 98, this time around it was the 6th last year), and two bronze medals (this might be the most troubling for people this time around, as we’ve only got one bronze in three trips to the bronze medal game).

 

It seems like I’ve been writing this every year now since I’ve started this blog, but it feels like the reminder always needs to be there.  We’re still pumping out much more talent than anyone else, but for whatever reason with the World Juniors our country just goes through these stretches where we get away from doing things right.  And I really do believe a lot of it is mental.  When the pressure is off some of these teams, they’re unbeatable.  You can point to goaltending, and that is the main thing for sure, but it wasn’t last night, and last night you could always tell with the Americans that they weren’t fearful of the situation.  Zero pressure on the States, all the pressure on Canada.  The States have been getting the best of Canada lately too, so even though these are completely different teams then in years past, it still plays a factor just like it does with the Swedes never winning elimination games, yet dominating the round robin.  In 09, the States had a pretty similar team in terms of talent as they did this year, yet when they played Canada on New Years Eve and jumped out to a 3-0 lead, you had zero doubt Canada was going to comeback.

 

So once again, we’re left looking forward to next year.

 

It’s always so difficult to project.  You just never know who’ll end up making their NHL club.  But I would guess that seven of the nine potential returnees will be back.  I’d say Carter Hart, Dillon Dube, Taylor Raddysh, Michael McLeod, Jake Bean, Kale Clague, and Dante Fabbro are close to locks to being back with this club.  The two who I believe are unlikely yet eligible would be Tyson Jost and Pierre-Luc Dubois.  Dubois wouldn’t disappoint anyone if he wasn’t back, he was very underwhelming in this tournament.  Jost, who as you know by now I’m a massive fan of, started off amazing and really cooled off as the tournament went on.  He is your captain in 2018 should he be back, I guarantee that.

 

The key there though is a 19 year old Carter Hart.  That COULD be the difference, though in 2004 I remember thinking there was no way goaltending would be a problem with Marc-Andre Fleury coming back after nearly carrying Canada to gold by himself in 03.  Anyway, Carter Hart and then I’m guessing at this point Mike DiPietro of the Windsor Spitfires looks like he would be the backup, but it’s still way too early to project other players on the team.  If you want some names who appear to be safe bets for next seasons team….Brett Howden, Sam Steel, Cliff Pu, Dennis Cholowski, Jordan Kyrou, Owen Tippett, Cale Makar, and Maxime Comtois.  But again, who in the freaking hell knows at this point what’ll happen.  In 2013 I guessed Max Domi, Tom Wilson, and Ryan Pulock would all be on the 2014 team….very wrong, though Domi definitely should have been!

 

I don’t like writing this piece.  I like the one I did two years ago talking about how that may have been the best team Canada ever in a non lockout year.  Man, I’ve done every type of piece on Canada losing the World Juniors now you can imagine.  In 2012 it was how we just had a few bad bounces.  2013 it was how many things needed to change (which they have thankfully).  2014 I talked about how more than anything the losing had become mental both for other teams believing they could beat Canada, and Canada not believing in themselves.  Last year I think I spoke about how things weren’t near as bad as they seemed as they were a bad bounce away from possibly knocking off the Fins who went on to win it all.

 

So forgive me if this piece is a little all over the place, but I’ve wrote about all the other reasons before.  Nothing really left to be said.  Hats off to our boys.  This is one of the few years that we had a damn good team, and just lost to another damn good team.  A shame that it wasn’t decided in a better way, but in fairness:

He’s right…that was pretty sweet.  Let’s close with that video, and hope more fun like this is on the way for Canadian hockey fans.

NOTE: Steve Downie misses the opening shot.  I’m certain this was Don Cherry’s fault for not showing enough shootouts on Rock’em Sock’em videos…

 

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UH OH! It’s the Big, Bad Americans Again…

I’ll never forget the piece I wrote 3 years ago.  It was the 2014 Olympics, and for the entire tournament all you heard from the media was how great the Americans were.  And all their arguments for this had pretty much no basis.  They were digging deep for any flaws Canada possibly had, and looking for any excuse possible to anoint an American team which actually was quite flawed as the top hockey power on the planet.  It wasn’t my most intellectual piece, but I tore the media to shreds in that blog, and going into tonight’s gold medal game it has a very similar feeling.

Oh No!!! It’s the Big Bad Americans!!!

 

 

First things first, it is a major advantage now for Canada to have lost that first game on New Year’s eve.  They’ll have an underdog feel coming into this game.  There is no chance they’ll take the US lightly coming into this game.  These are a couple of the reasons it is insanely tough to beat a team twice in this tournament, or really any other tournament.  The States did just do it against Russia, but they BARELY did it against Russia.  In 2010, Canada won the New Year’s eve game, then the States won the gold medal game.  In 2013, Canada again won the round robin game against the States (I believe that was also NYE, but I honestly can’t recall), and then the States won in the semi finals.  Canada won easily over the Russians in the opener in 2011, and we all know what happened in the gold medal game in 2011.  Think about the 2010 Olympics.  Canada lost to the US in the round robin there.  What happened in the gold medal game though?

 

Another reason it’s a major advantage, because you’re then the team that’ll make the adjustments needed.  When you play a team you just beat, the message from the coach is always “play the same game you just did against these guys, we’re not changing a thing”.  And if he does start making adjustments, what is he basing it on?  So you’re hands are basically tied as a coach.  You tell them to come out hard and get the jump, but you know that initial push will come from the opposition.  It always does, as they’re the team looking for “revenge”.  Eventually the game will settle down and become more of a chess match, but you have to weather the storm.

 

On New Years eve, the initial push came from an American team who had a lot more to win than Canada did.  They wanted to spoil the party for Canada by winning on Canadian soil.  What did Canada get out of it had they won?  Playing the Russians in the semi’s I guess, but it was clear at that point this tournament was a 4 team race assuming the Russians were doing what they always do.  So the US had a big initial push that made the difference in the game.

 

And let’s be honest about something.  In that first game, Canada was tight as could possibly be.  Connor Ingram wasn’t good early.  Canada controlled a large portion of that game.  They blew two 5 on 3’s (if you don’t score on a 5 on 3, it’s more on you than it is about the PK).  So are the people picking the Americans tonight doing it with logic, or are they doing it out of fear?  Or are they doing it because subconsciously it’s a win-win for them?  Canada wins, it’s forgotten or they can say “I’m so glad I was wrong!!!”  Canada loses, “I told you so.”  In their mind it gives them something out of the deal.

 

Fuck that.

 

This comes down to Carter Hart tonight.  If Hart carries over what he did last night, I don’t think this will be that tight of a game.  If he’s on again, the rest of the teams confidence will grow and we seen last night that when this teams confidence is high that they can roll anyone.  That was a freaking BEAT DOWN last night, against what was supposed to be the top team in the tournament.  5-2 was flattering.  It really should have been a 4, 5 or even 6-0 Canada win.

 

I’m not meaning to piss on what the Americans have done in this tournament, but they haven’t been close to that level Canada played at last night, and I don’t see how that momentum doesn’t carry over.  They seemed to stop being sad and started getting mad so to speak.  You can’t sit there and say “here we go again” when things start going shitty.  You have to get pissed about it and find another level.  At 2-1 last night, they did that.  In recent years, other Canadian teams would have crumbled in that moment.  That was a turning point moment, that’ll make Canada tougher mentally, and the US hasn’t had the benefit of going through.

 

Just be honest, and have some damn balls would you?  Can the Americans win this game tonight?  Absolutely.  With everyone going like they should, who has the better team?  Canada.  Should be a great game, but I’m calling Canada to win this game 4-1.

 

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Prognosticating Team Canada

2015_wjc_can_herewego_crowdSo now we know.  I started this piece last week, but without knowing who was going to at least be invited to team Canada’s WJC training camp it would be ridiculous to jump the gun with that information coming out soon.  But here we are.  The list has been released, and now it’s time for the brass to build a winner.

 

A winner?  What am I talking about?!  I’m certain the fans and media have already written Canada off, as is the trend these days.  Fans and media have a tough time grasping the fact during down periods for Canadian hockey that they aren’t the underdogs, they’re just simply on par with the other four contenders (the United States, Sweden, Finland and Russia).

 

The truth that not many want to admit is that if one of these countries get a hot goaltender that they’ll likely take the tournament.  Last year none of them did, which played in perfectly to the style the Fins were playing and they took it.  Everyone thought Canada was so horrendous, yet they lost to the Fins thanks to a fluke penalty by Joe Hicketts on a clearing attempt.  That doesn’t happen and Canada gets the one goal, there is a pretty good chance they go on to win gold.  But because that didn’t happen, they’re awful and the sky is falling.

 

This year, in addition to the tournament being back on home soil, the goaltending to me looks better than it has in most of the last seven years (I’d say Fucale/Comrie in 2015 is the one exception).

 

I would GUESS that Carter Hart is the starter in goal.  Yes he plays for Kevin Constantine and there for he doesn’t get much action.  But watch the kid play.  How does he move, how is his quickness, how technically sound is he, this isn’t tough to track.  If you’re scouting a goaltender, why would you care about what the shot clock says at the end of the night?  Track the quality shots, the quality saves that get made.  Anyone who watches Hart will tell you he’s a stud, and the only thing that is a concern moving forward is his size and the trend which is going on in the NHL of wanting bigger goaltenders.  Make no mistake though, this kid is an elite junior goaltender.

 

Connor Ingram should be the backup, but keep in mind that Michael NcNiven is a Montreal Canadiens prospect.  It wouldn’t be just that, he has real solid numbers this season too for Owen Sound this season, but that little added bonus could push a kid like Ingram or even Hart to the side.  I hope not, but Hockey Canada doesn’t exactly have a track record of pushing politics aside (*cough* Steve Spott/Ryan Murphy *cough*).

 

I don’t really like to get into omissions.  I used to.  I used to get extremely rattled at guys who I thought needed to be on the team when really I was just loving everyone who was a first round pick like a complete d-bag.  Having said this, I’m really not getting why Connor Hobbs or maybe even David Quenneville weren’t at least invited to this camp over a guy like Victor Mete.  There are only three right handed shot D-men on this list, and none of them are great PP guys.  Hobbs and Quenneville, in the WHL….not the Q….the dub…are well over a point per game this season (Hobbs has 29 points in 21 games, Quenneville has 31 points in 24 games).  I’m really not getting that one.  I know Hobbs isn’t the best skater, and Quenneville is a really small kid (5’8), but having these kind of weapons to put out on the PP to me is too valuable to pass up in my opinion.

 

Having said that, this team still has enough to make a pretty good defence core.

 

Getting Jakob Chychrun back from the Coyotes would be nice, but I don’t see it as a necessity.  More often than not, guys coming back from the NHL to play in the World Juniors is a bit of a let down.  They’re living their dream, and then it gets taken away from them.  Not to say that the World Juniors isn’t a dream too, absolutely it is, but it’s not as big of a dream as the NHL.  So what tends to happen is a lot of these kids don’t perform the way many believe they will.  Plus, this team is pretty deep on the left side of the D.

 

Chabot and Juulsen seems like a lock to be the top pairing.  For me, Dante Fabbro as long as he’s back to 100% by the start of the tournament should be on the 2nd pair with either Chychrun or Jake Bean.  Fabbro isn’t an elite skater, but his hockey sense is off the charts and he’s a kid who just does everything very well.  I was extremely high on him going into last year’s draft, and felt he should have gone much higher than 17th to Nashville.

 

Reading between the lines on what Bob McKenzie was saying yesterday, it sure sounds like they’re set on having Jeremy Lauzon and Philippe Myers as their 3rd pair.  I’m….OK with that.  I worry though, because Hockey Canada for the last seven years or so seems to get hung up on getting guys with chemistry on the team, passing over bigger talents in the process.  And I’m the guy who always harps on building a team rather than amassing talent.  But blindly taking guys just because they play together isn’t the answer either.  It’s new coaching, new systems, new teammates, it’s completely different from what those two or in some cases a full line of guys have been playing with.  But Lauzon and Myers have pretty good credentials, so I’m good with that as the third pair, just as long as both guys actually deserve to make it.

 

As for the 7th guy (should Chychrun not return), I’d probably get homerish here and say it should be Kale Clague, but I’d like to think I’m saying that more so because he can play either side, where a kid he’ll undoubtedly be competing with in Samuel Girard, doesn’t normally play the right side.

 

Up front this year, especially now with Strome and Barzal back in junior, they’re loaded.  Easily the strength of the team.  I had trouble getting the forwards down to 16 let alone 13.  Again, much like Chychrun, Lawson Crouse would be nice to have back, as would Anthony Beauvillier, but I don’t think either guy is needed.  I would personally prefer to have Tyson Jost centring the 3rd line, but they’re so deep down the middle that they can afford to put Jost on the wing, and Pierre-Luc Dubois would be the top LW on most World Junior teams yet should they get those two back he might be pushed down to the 3rd line as well.  Nolan Patrick is likely going to be pushed to the wing, Sam Steel will likely get pushed to the wing if he even makes the team (I would sure as hell hope so, but stranger things have happened), Nic Roy could get pushed to the wing too.  This team is just insanely deep down the middle.

 

So in talking about all this, I THINK this is the roster that I would go with today, ignoring the lines as this is more of a depth chart, and I’ll suggest that they don’t get any of the NHL kids back:

 

Jost – Strome – Gauthier

Dubois – Barzal –  Stephens

Steel – Roy – Raddysh

Howden – McLeod – Joseph

Patrick

4 QMJHL, 4 OHL, 4 WHL, 1 NCAA.  Perfect balance that should keep all the leagues happy.  Left Blake Speers off seeing he only has played one game this season, yet it sounds like they want him on the team.  So then I didn’t know who I take off.  They might end up putting a right handed shot on the left side which would leave a kid like Brett Howden at home.

 

Chabot – Juulsen

Bean – Fabbro

Lauzon – Myers

Clague

No OHL D-men.  Does Victor Mete make this team because of that?  I hope not, because he’s not as good as most of the other LH shot D-men, but don’t be shocked if it happens…

 

Hart

Ingram

McNiven

Obviously the only thing to find out here is the order.  All three kids are having great seasons.  I think without a doubt Hart should be the starter, but a case can be made for Ingram.

 

But let’s be honest.  None of us really care that much who is on the team, we just care that they win.  As I said off the top, they have all the ingredients.  They always have all the ingredients, but it’s brand new teams in a short tournament which is always unpredictable.  It comes down to getting a hot goaltender, good coaching, and good special teams.  If those things happen for Canada, it’ll be the 2nd gold in three seasons, and maybe some people can shut up for a few minutes about how the sky is falling for Canadian hockey.

 

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Bad Mix

1297789286707_ORIGINALWell what is there to say after that?  As I said on twitter, a lot of the fingers are being pointed every which way.  Didn’t play as a team, too many passengers, awful D, awful goaltending, awful coaching.  The fact of the matter is that if a puck doesn’t bobble on Haydn Fleury in the dying seconds of the 1st period, Canada goes to the room with a 2-0 lead over the Fins after a perfect period of hockey.  That is a completely different game, and I’m very likely not writing this piece.

 

But that did happen, and Mackenzie Blackwood let in…not a bad goal, but a puck that probably should be stopped off the stick of potential top 5 pick Patrik Laine.  The momentum after a brilliant 19:45 of play by Canada is completely with the Fins and their fans going into the 1st intermission.

 

Before I get into it all, let’s point out a few more things.  1, Joe Hicketts penalty that led to the 5 on 3 and led to the goal, that’s as shitty of luck as a guy and a team can have.  And really, it should be an exception to that rule.  If that happens 5 on 5…and I’m being honest here….in a no touch icing world that should be called icing before it’s called for a penalty because the puck has already gone over the goal line, shouldn’t it?  I’m honestly asking, but I would think that should be the case.

 

Add to this, the spirit of the rule is to stop players from simply dumping it into the crowd when they are in trouble in their own zone.  If a player is in trouble in his own zone, the last thing he is ever going to have time to do is to shoot it 200 feet into the crowd.  I would just simply adjust the rule to say, if the puck makes it past the opposing goal line and clears the glass, it isn’t a penalty, however it is treated like an icing in that the team cannot change.  Might sound like sour grapes, but is it not an absurd penalty in that scenario that cost Canada a game?

 

Here is another one that is already being forgot.  Patrik Laine should have been kicked out of the game.  And AGAIN, it’ll sound like sour grapes.  It’ll sound like I’m Jake Virtanen (true Vancouver Canuck).  But I can’t help but think if it’s another player, at another point in the game, he gets tossed for that hit from behind.  Granted, Strome was selling it.  But it was still a very clear cut hit from behind.  When it happened my initial thought was “that’s 5”.  Not outraged, but I’ve seen enough international games by now to know what is often called in that scenario.  Because it’s late and because it’s Laine, it’s 2.

 

Let me make it perfectly clear though, unlike some of the kids have come out and said.  Canada didn’t lose that game because of officiating.  I’m just pointing out that maybe we shouldn’t lose our minds about how this all went down because the bounces didn’t go our way.

 

Now, having said all this….for the 6th time in 7 years we are left dissecting what has gone wrong for Canada at the WJC.  I wouldn’t put 2010, 11, or 12 in the same group as 13,14, or 16 though.  You can easily chalk those first 3 up to a bad bounce or 2.  These last 3 of 4 years though, it’s not pretty.  And you can say that the rest of the world has caught up to us, but you would have said the same thing from 98-01, or 04 depending on how pessimistic you are.

 

1 thing we can all likely agree on is that this is no longer an aberration that Canada’s goaltending is weak.  We have a big problem in this country producing goaltending right now that needs to be fixed.  Even the kids like Subban and Blackwood who are higher picks are viewed as projects on draft day.  Fucale and Comrie have been exceptions to the rule (unfortunately for Canadians they came along at the same time).  We just simply are not producing goaltenders, especially young ones.

 

So what is the answer?  I truly don’t know.  Finding ways to make goaltending more appealing and affordable would be a start.  Also another maybe small thing to consider is that when I was growing up (get off my lawn!) goaltenders had personality and were fun to watch.  Roy, Belfour, Hasek, Potvin, Cujo, Richter, Ranford, Moog, all these guys were fun to watch play.  They had unique masks (well, Hasek’s was unique in that it was awful), and gear that made them appealing to kids.  It’s just not the same any more.  Not to say that THIS is the problem, but I really do believe it plays a part.

 

But isn’t it weird that goaltending shows up on weaker rosters…is the roster weak because of bad goaltending, or does the goaltending get exposed because of a weak roster?

 

This team had FAR too many passengers.  Brayden Point….like I hate to say this about a 19 year old kid, but he might go down as one of the worst captains in Canadian history at this event.  I do wonder if Dave Lowry felt he couldn’t name Hicketts as his captain just because of the look (being his head coach in Victoria).  But no doubt Hicketts was the leader of this team and Point was a passenger.  Jake Virtanen, wow.  All I can say is that Craig Button warned us all in 2014 that Virtanen didn’t have the hockey sense.  Button had Virtanen 43rd in that draft while the rest of the hockey world was looking at him sideways.  He more than any other skater cost Canada today.

 

They weren’t the only 19 year olds.  Perlini, Fleury, Quenneville, I can’t think of a 2014 drafted kid that played well other than Roland McKewon (remember, Hicketts wasn’t drafted).  I don’t know what’s happend to Michael Dal Colle, but is he REALLY worse than Brendan Perlini?  When they were drafted, viewed as pretty similar guys except Perlini was extremely soft, that hasn’t changed.

 

Something also brought up today that shouldn’t be ignored, I believe it was Bob Stauffer who pointed it out on twitter.  Dave Lowry coaches the most penalized team in the WHL in Victoria.  So we really shouldn’t be surprised that Team Canada lacked discipline.  And that is on coaching.  Tougher to emphasis in a short tournament with a new team, but it can be done.

 

When Canada rattled off 5 straight, coaching was a much bigger deal.  Brent Sutter got appointed the head coach before the 2005 WJC, and when he was appointed he was going to be THE guy moving forward.  Once he stepped down, it became Craig Hartsburg who had been his right hand man and he led Canada to back to back golds.  Finally, Pat Quinn was the perfect coach for the 09 team.  If the tournament had not been on North American ice, would probably be better served going another direction.  But Quinn was perfect that time.

 

The big ice factor cannot be overstated.  It hurts our kids more than most.  Only the U.S. might be effected as much, but they draw from a lot more NCAA kids than Canada does.  We are so used to playing along the wall because it’s a must on our ice.  European teams know to avoid the wall and use the extra room to their advantage, we don’t.  That Team Canada we saw today didn’t look much different from the one in 2013 and 14 who had the same issues.  I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, Canada’s best move when putting together WJC teams when the tournament is on European ice might be to get a coach from one of the European teams.  Ralph Kruger?  Guy Boucher?  Marc Crawford?  Doug Shedden?  Lots of good candidates.  It would still be an adjustment, but Brent Sutter, Steve Spott, Dave Lowry, they aren’t used to coaching or playing on the big ice.  Might not hurt to have someone behind the bench who is.

 

As for next year’s group, it is always difficult to tell who might be there.  I would guess Matt Barzal will be the catalyst up front.  Travis Konecny will be the captain should he return, but Philly is going to have a tough time keeping him off the team.  Beauvillier, Chabot, Gauthier depending on who drafts him all should be back.  I would guess though that Strome, Marner and Crouse are all in the NHL.  Nick Merkley should be a lock (I’m guessing his skating kept him off more than anything this time around, next year on North American ice it isn’t AS big of a deal), Nolan Patrick is likely a lock and should be one of Canada’s most vital forwards.  Again though, at least at this point, goaltending looks bleak, and the D doesn’t look much better although Chabot with Jakob Chychrun would give them a few studs that they lacked this year.

 

Once again, it sucks.  3 of the last 4 WJC Canada has come home without a medal.  Then again, if Canada won every year what would be the point in watching?  A little adversity isn’t a bad thing to face in the long run, but there hasn’t been this poor of a medal run since Canada went 3 straight years (79-81) without a medal.  Still not a case where we should lose our minds, or have say have a summit….

 

But Hockey Canada needs to start coming up with answers to these questions.  Shit will happen here and there, but 3 out of 4 years with no medals, not by coincidence on European ice, something needs to change.

 

Follow me on Twitter @TJ_Soups

Might Sound Crazy But…

mcdavid-canada-usa-gettyI’m going to get right to it.  I believe it is in the Edmonton Oilers best interest to trade Connor McDavid.  We all drool about what he will do for this organization.  But the team is already solid without him.  All this talk of trading Ryan Nugent-Hopkins for a D-man is nice, but McDavid brings back a legit number 1 D, probably two or three 1st round picks, a top 9 centre and if it’s the right team a potential power forward.  Think of a team like the Panthers.  If the Oilers were to add a Griffin Reinhart to the deal, I don’t see why the Panthers wouldn’t do Ekblad, Crouse, Bjugstad, and three 1st rounders for McDavid.  This gives the Oilers the pieces needed to round out the hockey club.  Still great down the middle with Draisaitl, Nugent-Hopkins and Bjugstand.  The blueline is solidified with Ekblad joining Nurse and Klefbom not to mention he has that big RH bomb from the point on the PP which the Oilers have lacked.  Crouse will step in next season and give the team that big body and edge in the top 6 that this team has lacked forever.  And finally while getting these 3 pieces you also load up the system by adding the 1st round picks. With all that added to the Oilers, they would be in just as good of shape to win multiple Stanley Cups moving forward.

 

You didn’t really buy that, did you?  IDIOT!!!  (like what I did with the picture and how it ties into both?  I know you’re all thinking “Soups you sly little devil”)

 

What might sound crazy, isn’t that crazy (actually what I suggested up top probably isn’t overly crazy either, but from a business point of view it’s insane when you have other valuable pieces you can use to fill in around McDavid).  I’m personally going to be pulling for the U.S. to beat Canada in the opener at the WJC on Saturday morning.

 

Why?  Well it’s pretty simple.  Historically teams that face adversity early in these tournaments are better off later on.  I think back to the 2010 WJC in Saskatoon.  Canada played a sloppy game and yet somehow managed to beat the U.S. on NYE 6-5 in a shootout.  When they faced off in the gold medal game, the U.S. got down early but really controlled a large majority of that game.  Now people will say it ended 6-5 in OT so it could have gone either way, they’ll say that Jake Allen was awful that night, and both are true statements.  But the U.S. had the better team that Tuesday night in Saskatoon, and you could feel it.  Even after Jordan Eberle tied it with 2 late goals I recall texting with one of my buddies and saying “I still don’t feel good about this”.

 

And that was far from the only time, especially in recent years.  2012 we steam rolled everyone in the round robin, then faced a good Russian team and had no answer for them until it was too late.  Again with the U.S. in 2013.  We got them in the round robin, then got punted in the teeth by them in the semi final.  And I really believe what happens is that the loss forces teams to re-evaluate themselves.  They put in that extra bit of work, they’re a little hungrier the next time around, they don’t have that invincible feeling.  Sometimes that invincible feeling is good to have…when it’s true.  In 2005 that team was head and shoulders above everyone.  Last year, even though the gold medal game got tight nobody would debate that team Canada was the best team all tournament by a pretty wide margin.  This years team isn’t nearly as loaded as last years team though.

 

Marner and Strome give Canada an awesome offensive duo up front.  I really don’t care who is put with them (Point, Crouse, whoever), those two are going to drive this team offensively.  But this is such a young team, and it has holes.  The blueline is talented, but it has a lot of the same guy and nobody stands out.  And between the pipes they’re solid, but both McDonald and Blackwood when he returns are unproven guys.

 

We saw it today.  They went up 5-1, and sure it’s an exhibition game and so it isn’t going to harm anything if they let off the gas.  But they’re flawed.  So a loss to one of the tournament favourites right off the bat might not be a bad thing at all.  I don’t think Dave Lowry would mind, it gives him something to work off of.  That way the players can’t say “we’ve won every game so why change anything?”  The coach can say “remember the U.S. game?  You guys can be beat, so here is how we’ll avoid it”.

 

Of course Canada can win Saturday morning and win the tournament.  They can go undefeated.  They can go undefeated every year.  That’s the dirty little secret of this tournament is that we are always the best, we just don’t always come together the best or play the best, but talent wise even without some of our best under 20’s we are still the most talented team.

 

Just a hunch, but I think this could be one of those years where the team that faces adversity early, overcomes it to win gold.

 

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3rd Best Ever?

2015 team canadaNobody will believe it now, but I was thinking this heading into last night’s game.  IF Canada wins, this will possibly be the 3rd best Canadian World Junior team of all time.  Then Bob MacKenzie had to come out and say it during the post game discussion.  Curse that handsome devil!

 

But I really do think this was the case.  Going into the Gold medal game nobody wanted to say it.  Nobody wanted to jinx them.  We haven’t won gold in 5 years and so nobody in this country was feeling too cocky about things like we may have been in early January of 2010 for example.

 

But I’m pretty good at looking back on teams and recalling how they were.  A few come to mind who would be in this category, at least in the TSN era (1991-present).  1996 and 2007.

 

The trickiest thing to do in all this is to not look at how the players panned out in the NHL.  If you go off that, then the 04 and 08 teams are the top of the list.  But the 04 team collapsed and took silver (not to mention had 11 guys from that team on the 05 team), and while the 08 team had Stamkos, Tavares, Giroux, Doughty, Subban, Alzner, Bernier, etc, they were so young at the time and just barely escaped with gold.

 

We don’t know how these kids are going to pan out.  We THINK guys like Domi, Reinhart, Nurse, Morrissey, Duclair, Fucale, etc. are going to be good-great NHL players.  And maybe this will turn out to be a team loaded with NHLers.  Or maybe history will show that this was a down year for a lot of countries other than Canada.

 

The 96 team doesn’t get much love.  I know that Boston didn’t do a good job of hosting that season which makes it a forgettable tournament, and there was no drama.  But there was no drama because Canada steam rolled everyone.  That was the tournament that Jarome Iginla really put his name on the map.

 

If someone would have told you at that time that Nolan Baumgartner would never stick in the NHL and basically be a career AHLer, you would be laughed out of the room.  Baumgartner was CAN’T MISS at that time.  Add to him Wade Redden, Rhett Warrener, Chad Allen (who was also on the 95 team and has since been forgotten), Denis Gauthier and a soon to be 1st overall pick Chris Phillips.  The D was really good.

 

Of course at that time we didn’t have any worries about our goaltending, and for good reason.  I can’t find it anywhere but I BELIEVE the starter in the gold medal game that year (the first gold medal game ever played) was Marc Denis.  Jose Theodore was his backup and named the top goaltender in the tournament.  Yeah, not bad between the pipes.

 

This team didn’t have a lot of guys pan out up front, but Iginla, Daymond Langkow and if memory serves me right Hnat Domenichelli really drove the bus.  Jason Botterill had injuries really derail his career, Alyn McCauley and Curtis Brown both had really solid NHL careers, but weren’t big names.  Christan Dube was another guy like Baumgartner where you just wouldn’t have believed at the time he would have a strictly minor league career.  Dube was a superstar in junior.

 

But the point of all this is that it was a great team as well and deserves to be in the conversation with the 2015 squad.  As does the 07 team.

 

While the 96 is barely remembered, the 07 team is fondly remembered.  Well, at least a certain shootout was.  I remember very well waking up that morning in early 2007 (and at that time I’ll be honest, it might have been early afternoon) and not being sure if what I was seeing was actually happening.  Not because a shootout was so far fetched, but that team had been CRUISING and I had zero doubt they were winning a 3rd straight gold.

 

11 returning kids from a team in 06 that destroyed 19 year old Evgeni Malkin and a high powered Russian team 6-1 in the gold medal game.  Also the 07 had a 19 year old Carey Price in net, so they were LOADED.  That’s as loaded as you can get for a non lockout year.  The stars really have to align, much like they did this year.

 

Marc Staal, Kris Letang, Kris Russell, the late Luc Bourdon, and Ryan Parent.  Five 19 year old D-men who already had gold medals.  Not too bad I would suggest….

 

6 more returning up front but of course 1 superstar and that was Toews.  Other than the close call in the semi’s that year they really had no threat (of course that’s like saying “other than the shooting, how was the play Mrs. Lincoln?”), but the U.S. had a good team too despite spinning their wheels in the round robin.  Erik and Jack Johnson were studs at the time, Peter Mueller, Kyle Okposo and Patrick Kane gave them a lot of punch up front.

 

Of course any time I have a chance to talk about the 07 team, I also take advantage of the fact I can include this memorable interview…

Just because Canada needed a shootout that year to get past a team doesn’t mean the team was just good enough, it means another team was really good.  Nobody will ever admit it, but in 05 as great as our team was….no other country had a good team.  Even the Russians with Ovechkin and Malkin had no depth.  The 07 team was damn good!

 

So is it dumb to give the 2015 team the moniker as the 3rd best Canadian junior team of all time?  Probably, at least so soon after it is.  And I’m just going off what I know.  I never saw the 82, 85, or 1990 teams.

 

But there is no doubt that this team is deserving of being in that conversation.  An awesome performance, an all time great gold medal game, and the fact that they won it in Toronto will definitely give them a leg up in the argument.  At the end of the day though, who cares?  They won.

 

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Better Than Ever

 

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You’ll have to excuse me for the garbage that this piece could be.  It’s 8 AM MST as I’m writing this.  I was at my buddies wedding dance until 1:30 (congrats to my good friends Gene and Heather!) didn’t get home until 2:30, and was up basically at 5 so I’m operating on less than 3 hours sleep.  But it is so damn worth it!!

 

When the team was picked, I had my doubts.  I worried the brass didn’t give enough respect to how much speed was needed for the big ice.  It was pretty obvious that while they claimed speed was the number 1 factor in selections, size was at the top of their list as well.  I hated the fact that they were so concerned with taking a guy like Kunitz strictly because he plays with Crosby.  And just because we won doesn’t mean every pick was right.

 

But this was beyond impressive!  Hockey played on the big ice isn’t hockey, it’s ice soccer.  You have to win 1-0, 2-0, 2-1, etc.  The European teams play basically terrified of Canada and so they try to make us play on the outside the entire time and use ice that is useless.  Grapes showed a great example of this today when Drew Doughty chased a guy behind the net and gave the Swedes likely their best scoring chance of the game.  And it’s not just the big ice, it’s adapting to living in the Olympic village, being in a foreign country, I had Canada only winning Bronze not because they weren’t the best team on paper, but because there were just so many obstacles to overcome.

 

But our boys overcame everything and then some.  Mike Babcock and his coaching staff got this team to buy into such a disciplined game, it was unbelievable.  This is a team full of stars and superstars who are use to getting a ton of ice time and having their way offensively in the NHL.  How many times do you see it not just in hockey but in sports where the supremely talented team refuses to buy into a team concept and completely fails because it?  Not this crew.

 

BhKZ7SqCcAA7YuY They played amazing.  They stayed patient, and waited for their opportunities to cash in.  Crosby is maybe the best example of this.  Didn’t snipe until today, only 3 points on the tournament, but away from the puck and defensively he was awesome the entire time.  Same thing with Jonathan Toews.  During both Stanley Cup runs, Toews had scoring droughts.  Who cares?  This guy is incredible in all aspects of the game and will step up if he needs to step up.

 

Now to do a little bit of bragging….have to, I’m petty like that.  I was on Carey Price from day 1.  I never once thought he shouldn’t be our number 1 guy, and I have considered him an elite NHL goaltender for 3 or 4 years now.  But a lot of people did question that.  I’m not an idiot, I’m pretty certain we would have won with Luongo too, he’s great.  But Price is not only better, but he was perfectly suited for this team.  He keeps his focus, he is probably the most technically sound goaltender in hockey so he’s not a guy who’ll give up bad rebounds or weak goals, and I’m pretty certain he is clinically dead when he’s between the pipes.  He was my guy, I kept saying in all my Olympic projections leading up to this tournament that our goaltending was on par with everyone else and it was being drastically underrated.  As some of you read 11 days ago or so on this site, I was pretty damn adamant about him being the guy and I’m glad the coaching staff saw it the same way.  Not easy to leave the gold medal winner and a guy coming off a nice shutout on the bench, but it was the right move.

 

And what can you say about our blueline that hasn’t already been said?  When the Norris trophy winner is your 8th D-man….you’re pretty f***ing good!!  I just spoke about how great Price was, well he was the first guy to point out how easy playing behind that blueline was.  Weber and Doughty are just on a different level right now, and did anyone even notice Pietrangelo or Vlasic playing on this team?  That’s a good thing if you’re a D-man.

 

I could go on and on and on, but it’s now 8:30 and I need to go get some sleep so I’ll wrap this up.  Canada was dominate in the most uncomfortable setting they could be placed in.  We had a loss in Vancouver, and 2 other VERY close calls to win gold on home ice, on North American sized iced.  This time, we played everyone else’s game better than everyone else.  4 Golds in a row for the women, 3 out of 4 Golds for the men.  I think us pesky canucks just might be getting pretty good at this hockey thing.

 

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