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2019 World Junior Hockey Championships

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  • #16
    Not sure I would even call the loss to Finland an upset. The hockey Gods smiled on the Finns to start the tournament, when they were loaned Tolvanen and Jokiharju, and Vaakanainen returned from injury just in time. Vesalainen decided to stay home, but Tolvanen for Vesalainen is just about a wash (I do think Vesalainen is a little better, but not by a wide margin). I said before the tournament I thought Finland's forward group was just about even with Canada's. I was concerned about their D, but getting two first round picks and 20-25 minute guys is such a game-changer. And Canada could have had an elite d-core from top to bottom, but chose not to, so the D wasn't even that far apart. And as much as I love DiPietro, and don't fault him for the loss, Finland had the edge in net, as I said from the start, Luukonen would be the best goalie in the tournament. Now, all that is just on paper. Once the tournament started, the picture became clearer. Canada's powerplay was absolutely atrocious all tournament long (more on that later). Markus "the human pilon" Phillips was playing on the top pair for much of the tournament, including today's game. I guess the idea was to have a pure stay-at-home guy play with Bouchard to let the latter run free, but boy oh boy was that a better idea in theory than it was in practice. After a poor showing against Russia on New Years Eve, I wasn't very hopeful about Canada's chances, and I'm honestly not the least surprised Finland beat them. Lets also not forget, Finland pummeled Canada in pre-tournament exhibition play, 5-2.

    I was, however, quite surprised by the Swiss beating Sweden. Surprised, but not shocked. The Swiss pushed Canada to their limits, and led Russia for almost two periods. Remember, in that first period against Russia, the Swiss weren't just trapping and frustrated them like we're used to seeing, they were out-shooting, out-chancing, and simply out-playing the Russians, hemming them in their own zone for much of the period. And today against Sweden, again, the Swiss out-shot and out-chanced them in the first period. I don't know if they are just catching teams off guard or what. Sweden pushed back in the second and third, but it was pretty evenly matched throughout, and the Swiss goalie was absolutely incredible when he needed to be. Everyone knew Sweden's forward group wasn't the greatest and that much of their offense throughout the tournament came from the defense, and so the Swiss attacked the points very aggressively, and it worked like a charm. The puck kept going back to the Ds, and there was always a Swiss forward on them immediately; pucks were fumbled, shots were blocked, sticks in lanes, everything was disrupted.

    Despite the disappointing finish for Sweden, in their previous two games I watched, against USA and Finland, Brannstrom and Boqvist looked fantastic. Very different types of offensive defensemen, both are grade-A prospects who are going to be very good players in the NHL. Brannstrom slows things down, controls the tempo, stays calm in the hot-zone and has an elite breakout pass, and can walk the blue-line like a tightrope-walker. Boqvist is more of a pure puck-rushing offensive dynamo.
    Last edited by matchesmalone; 01-03-2019, 02:56 AM.

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    • #17
      OK, now lets talk about Canada...

      Here is my open letter to Hockey Canada: Please just PICK THE BEST PLAYERS! Forget about role or size or where they play. Didn't we learn this lesson at the 2006 Olympics? Picking inferior players because they fit a role is dinosaur thinking. It's ridiculous. I honestly thought we were getting over this bullshit in recent years. When Markus Phillips got walked for the winning goal against Russia, I wasn't even mad at him; he should have never been there in the first place. Josh Brook had some good moments, but he wasn't the best available option. Jacob Bernard-Docker and Pierre-Joseph Olivier should have been on the team over those two. Maybe I'm biased and bitter because he's a Sen, but part of me seriously wonders if Bernard-Docker was left off mainly because he plays NCAA, given the CHL's tyranny over Hockey Canada. Sure, Bowers and Ian Mitchell made the team, but it would have been too obvious to have left them off.

      I didn't mind the forward group as much, but still, no Ty Dellandrea or Liam Foudy? It is a bit trickier to say who should have been left off for them compared with the defense, but I dunno. You look at the stats and see Anderson-Dolan and Entwistle did numbers, but that was all in the first three games against weaker opponents (or wait, can we call Switzerland a weaker opponent?), and where were they against Russia and Finland? Again, they were picked because they were role-players. Anderson-Dolan because of his speed and penalty-killing, and Entwistle because of his size and hitting. I wouldn't have minded Anderson-Dolan as much if he'd been healthy all year. But he missed significant time to injury and couldn't have been at 100% (I mean, even if his health was 100%, timing, conditioning, etc. was not). If one of your top players, like Vaaakanainen for Finland, or say if Vilardi had been able to go for Canada, comes back from a long layoff and you have to throw them in cold, sure, of course, a player like that at 90% is still better than any other options, but a borderline player like Anderson-Dolan? No way. They just wanted him as a PK specialist. Enough with the fucking role players.

      But now on to the biggest problem - the coaching. Tim Hunter is a goddamn dinosaur. No two ways about it. And more than that, he was a goon as a player. Get real, Hockey Canada. I don't know how much of the say in picking the team was his, but of course he'd take role players over BPA for the bottom lines. And what in the sam hill is he supposed to know about running a powerplay? Good God, have you ever seen such an embarrassing shitshow from Canada at this level? Granted, Canada's powerplay often struggles at this tournament - I don't know if it is just having too many guys who are used to being "the guy" or what - but this year it was a whole different kind of bad. The players looked completely lost. There wasn't much for movement or misdirection, and every player was always on the wrong side for one-timers; what the hell was that about?

      What about the penalty shot in overtime against Finland? OK, Comtois is your best player, he's your captain and heart-and-soul guy who you'd expect to come through in the big moment... but he's a power forward, not so much a skill guy. Any of Owen Tippet, Morgan Frost, Barret Hayton, Nick Suzuki would have been better options.

      And what the hell happened to Evan Bouchard? I mean, yeah I predicted he wouldn't be the best defenseman in the tournament, but yikes. He had three points... all in the blowout win against Denmark. I guess part of the problem was that the powerplay was such garbage, where he should have picked up some points. Perhaps also the fact that he was stuck with Markus Phillips a lot of the time - opponents knew they just had to be on Bouchard on the forecheck, because you could count on Phillips to screw up the breakout play.

      I didn't see who was awarded Canada's top players of the tournament, and I believe it is voted by the team coaches, so I'm sure they bungled this too, but Barrett Hayton was easily Canada's best, most consistent player from start to finish. Based on his stats in the OHL, I didn't get why Arizona picked him as high as they did. Now it is abundantly clear to me. Kid is going to be special. Forget the obvious skill. I mean, his skill-level is ridiculous, but what really struck me was his active stick when he didn't have the puck. Dogged on the puck. Never gives up on a play. Hayton has some of that Datsyuk/Stone in his game. Dunno yet if he'll have the same hockey IQ to be able to do what they do at the highest level, but his stick is always active, in lanes, on sticks, on pucks, constantly disrupting.
      Last edited by matchesmalone; 01-03-2019, 05:53 AM.

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      • #18
        Well, the clock struck midnight for Switzerland. Just too much skill up front for the Finns. I have a feeling we are going to look back at this team in a few years and be like "holy shit, look at all those good NHL forwards on that Finland team." All of Tolvanen, Kupari, Heponiemi, Talvitie, Ylonen, Lundell and Kakko are very good bets to at least be top nine forwards at the NHL level, and more than a couple of them will be all-stars. Mix in a couple of minute monsters with a bunch of NHL experience on D in Vaakanainen and Jokiharju, and an elite goalie in Luukkonen, and this is going to be a very tough team for the USA to beat.

        That US team looked pretty good themselves against Russia though; I'm not sure they can match Finland's top end players, but they have a little more depth, particularly on D. Then again, I suppose who needs depth on defense when you have those top two guys for Finland playing half the game? They each played 29 minutes against Canada...

        That brings me to the awards race. For best defenseman, before the tournament, I thought it would be a two-horse race between Quinn Hughes and Erik Brannstrom. While Brannstrom was as-advertised in the preliminary round, he was shut down and frustrated by the Swiss as the Swedes were eliminated in the quarters, so we can count him out. Quinn Hughes has been very good for the most part, but struggled at times and hasn't really put up the offense we expected from him. In fact, he hasn't even been USA's best defenseman, as that would be the captain, Michael Anderson. Not only has he been part of USA's shutdown pair with Dylan Samberg, most surprisingly to me, he's also been their leading offensive defenseman and powerplay quarterback. In my pre-tournament analysis, I wasn't expecting Jokiharju or Vaakanainen to be at the tournament, or else I would certainly have included them in the discussion of top defensemen. First round picks with that much NHL experience? Yeah, of course this tournament is going to be child's play to them. I would imagine those three, Jokiharju, Vaakanainen and Anderson are the front-runners for top defenseman. The only other possibilities I could imagine would be one of Russia's top three defenseman.

        For best goalie, Switzerland's Luca Hollenstein deserves some consideration, but I would expect it will go to one of Cayden Primeau or Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen. Again, the only other possibility I could see would be the Russian keeper, Kochetkov.

        And then for top forward, I would like to imagine USA's Josh Norris will garner serious consideration. He's been sort of their 1A center, along with Ryan Poehling. I think Poehling has played more on the powerplay, but Norris plays on essentially the top line with Robertson and Farabee, and he's also been their top penalty-killing forward, and I believe the best faceoff man in the tournament. So yeah, those two, Norris and Poehling would be the two candidates for USA. Heponiemi has been really good for Finland, but I think their best forward in all situations throughout has been Aarne Talvitie, and that crisscross play he made for the first assist on the OT winner against Canada was brilliant, not to mention clutch, obviously. So those would be my top three picks: Norris, Poehling, Talvitie, and then I suppose mix in Russia's Grigori Denisenko and Switzerland's Philipp Kurashev.
        Last edited by matchesmalone; 01-05-2019, 03:05 AM.

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        • #19
          Well alright then, I guess Finland is the future of hockey. And they did it without Heiskanen, Kotkaniemi and Vesalainen; all three could have been the best player in the tournament. Unbelievable. This makes three golds in the past six years for them. Huge props to USA as well, who have been right up there too - while Finland has mixed in some awful showings with those three golds, in the past ten tournaments USA has had three golds, a silver and three bronzes; now that is consistency.

          I think one important thing to note about Finland, is they do not give a shit where their players play. Wherever they can go to get the best development for their particular individual situation, go there and do it, and they're welcome on the Finnish team. This team features players who in the past two years have played CHL, USHL, AHL, NHL, SHL, SM Liiga, KHL, and their captain currently plays NCAA.

          Obviously, the World Juniors do not determine hockey supremacy (although with no more true best-on-best international men's tournament, maybe they kind of do), but they certainly are an indicator of future supremacy. Canada dominated men's best-on-best play for the past decade, winning Olympic golds in 2010 and 2014, and also the World Cup in 2016, for whatever that's worth. And they did so with teams made up overwhelmingly of players from the World Junior gold medal streak from 2005-2009. Canada also won five straight WJHC golds from '93-'97 and then went on to win Olympic gold in 2002, and then they won no gold medals from '98-'04, and subsequently tanked at the '06 Olympics. Hmmm, are we noticing a trend here? Anyways, with no more true best-on-best men's tournament, all we can really do is point out that some of the brightest young stars in the NHL today are Finnish - Rantanen, Aho, Laine, Barkov, Ristolainen, Heiskanen, Kotkaniemi - and watch that list balloon in the next few years.

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          • #20
            Now back to this year's tournament. What a gold medal game. A ton of fun to watch. Full of interesting storylines, including a late push by USA when down two, where for a span of five or seven minutes it suddenly seemed like they had just been toying with Finland all along and now that they wanted to they easily dominated play. This push was highlighted by Sasha Chmelevski being in the middle of four or five grade-A scoring chances; and the kinesthetic awareness - am I using that term correctly? - on his goal was just phenomenal, with his back to the net, to know exactly where he was and where the puck was in relation to the net, to cradle and settle the puck while he was spinning, and then to hit the net from a difficult angle. Wow. San Jose might have found a real gem in the 6th round there. But then after USA tied it Finland woke up and reeled it back in, and it was a close game for the last few minutes before Finland scored with about a minute and a half left - the 2019 number two ranked prospect Kaapo Kakko assisted by the 2020 number two ranked prospect Anton Lundell. In another fairly interesting storyline, USA came into the game with the best powerplay in the tournament, and Finland with the seventh ranked penalty kill, but USA's powerplay just couldn't get it done when it mattered, and Finland locked it down on the PK, even creating a number of shorthanded opportunities. And maybe the most captivating storyline throughout the game - Finland's captain, Aarne Talvitie, left the game in the first period with an ankle injury, and came back and played through it. Although he was used sparingly, and was even partly responsible for USA's tying goal, this show of determination from their captain had to have been a huge motivating factor for the Finnish players.

            I think it is now safe to say that the people who pick the end-of-tournament awards just look at the stats and make a decision purely on that basis. Ryan Poehling named best forward? Not a terrible pick, but he wasn't even the best forward on his own team. OK, lets dig into this. First, we can't help but notice that the awards are named as soon as the gold medal game ends, so surely the decisions must be in well before that, meaning the gold medal game doesn't really come into play. On the one hand, this makes sense, obviously for logistical purposes, but mainly you don't want people making excited decisions where they base everything on one game; but one the other hand, it is the most important game, and so should be weighted accordingly, and then the semifinal game, and then the quarterfinal, and the preliminary round games should be weighted the least. But for each gradation, you also have to take into account who was the competition and was it a close game, and then balance out all the factors to determine how to weigh each game. Poehling led his team with eight points in the tournament, but four of those points came in his hat trick performance in the preliminary game against Sweden; an impressive showing in which he led the charge in a remarkable comeback, although they lost in overtime. Still though, an important game as far as preliminary rounds go, and an impressive big game performance. But that's about it; three of his other four points came against Kazakhstan. He was pointless through the three elimination games, was a minus two in the gold medal game, and what's worse, he was supposed to be the leader on their powerplay, which faltered when it mattered most, going scoreless on five opportunities in the gold medal game. I don't mean to hate on Poehling, he's a hell of a player and had a very strong tournament; I wouldn't have even minded so much if he was named top forward, but MVP? Get real. Josh Norris had two assists in the crucial New Years Eve game against Finland that decided the final standings, then he scored the 2-0 goal, ultimately the game winner in the quarterfinal against the Czechs, and then he scored the tying goal late in the gold medal game; he was also their top penalty-killing forward, their top faceoff man, and their most consistent forward throughout.

            All of that said, Norris wasn't top forward of the tournament either. Aarne Talvitie was impressive all tournament, with a respectable four points in four games through the preliminary round, but in the elimination rounds, he really shone. I've already mentioned his inspirational, supererogatory effort in the gold medal game. Prior to that, he scored two goals in the semi-final, and here it would be tempting to say "well, it was a blowout win against a weaker opponent." That's easy to say retrospectively, but lets not forget, Switzerland was in every game they played, giving Canada and Russia fits in the prelims, and then upsetting Sweden in the quarters; nobody was expecting this to be an easy game for Finland, but then Talvitie scored the 2-0 and 3-0 goals early in the first, completely taking the wind out of Switzerland's sails, and effectively ringing the bell on the clock tower, signalling midnight for the Cinderella run. And in the game before that, against Canada, Talvitie led Finnish forwards with over 24 minutes of ice time, taking four shots on net, going plus two (he and Heponiemi were the only +2s on the team in a 2-1 victory), and he made a brilliant play to manufacture the game winning goal in overtime, for which he was awarded a first assist. For me, he's the easy pick for best forward and MVP.

            Without going into so much detail, I'd go with Michael Anderson for best defenseman. Sure he wasn't plus twelve like Romanov, but for one thing, Russia played in the easier pool, had an easier quarterfinal, played Switzerland for Bronze as their seventh game instead of Finland for gold, and secondly, Russia doesn't tend to line match; Anderson was playing huge minutes against opponent's top players every game. OK, I will go into just a little bit of detail on one point: in USA's first two preliminary games, against Slovakia and Kazakhstan, Anderson played under 20 minutes, but then against Sweden he played 24:33 and against Finland, 23:21. In a 3-1 quarterfinal win against a weaker Czech opponent, he played just 20:35 in a game really wasn't as close as the score indicates. Then in the semifinal against Russia he played 24:58, and in the final against Finland, 26:47. Now that's a defenseman that the coach is relying on heavily against the top players on top teams.

            Pretty tough to argue with Kochetkov for best goalie I suppose, but Primeau and Luukkonen were both also outstanding.
            Last edited by matchesmalone; 01-06-2019, 11:15 AM.

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            • #21
              Amazing read, as always Matches.

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              • #22
                Not gonna lie, this tournament has worn out a little on me. It’s an exciting time every year, but we were too lucky in 2008-2011, IMO. The Toews shootout, Canada-USA New Years battles, Eberle working magic, Russia comeback and Canada’s little-too-late comeback attempt were some amazing moments.

                Not saying the hockey isn’t good or salty that Canada isn’t as dominant anymore, but it just doesn’t feel the same. But I guess that’s the same for International Hockey as a whole. The 2014 Olympics put me to sleep, and the 2016 World Cup was possibly even worse.

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