Monday, January 02, 2006

World Junior Hockey Championship Update

The World Junior Hockey Championships are underway in British Columbia. They are always a fun tournament to watch. Its always interesting to see the potential stars of tomorrow, usually for the first time they get any TV exposure in their lives. This year's tournament is marred by poor refereeing. The NHL's obstruction crackdown has carried into the tournament, but since the world junior referees are in general worse than NHL referees, there have been some penalty filled games dominated by multiple questionable calls.

In group A that played in Vancouver, Canada went undefeated. Canada is a deep team lacking any big scoring stars. They have relied on strong goaltending from Toronto Maple Leaf draft pick Justin Pogge. Vancouver Canuck draft pick Luc Bourdon has delighted hometown fans with a strong performance on defence.

USA is second in this group. They are led by future NHL first overall pick Phil Kessel, Washington Capital draftee Chris Bourque and Edmonton Oiler draftee Robbie Schremp. This is probably the team with the best frontline talent of any team, but they have not had the depth of Canada. They tied against Switzerland and lost a close game with Canada.

Finland finished third in the group with a 2-2 record. Lauri Tukonen (a Los Angeles Kings pick) and Aki Seitsonen (a Calgary Flames pick) have been some of their leaders.

Switzerland and Norway finished fourth and fifth and are in the relegation group. Norway has been horribly outmatched outscored 26-3. Switzerland has been competitive. They tied USA 2-2 and have benefitted from the goaltending of Mathias Joggi, who is thus far undrafted.

In group B, which was played in Kelowna and Kamloops, BC, Russia went undefeated. Pittsburgh draftee Evgeni Malkin has been arguably the best player in the tournament so far. Anton Khudobin (a Minnesota Wild draftee) has provided strong goaltending.

Sweden finished second losing only to Russia in the round robin. Nicklas Backstrom and Sebastian Karlsson (both eligible for the 2006 draft) have been their leaders.

The Czech Republic finished 2-2 to get the final playoff berth. Boston Bruins draftee David Kredjci leads them.

Slovakia and Latvia finish fourth and fifth and play to avoid relegation. Slovakia lacks depth, but has the very talented Stanislav Lascek (a Tampa Bay draftee) and Marek Zagrapan (a Buffalo Sabre draftee) leading the way. Latvia has been outscored by a margin of 25-8, which is a respecatable showing for this outclassed small hockey nation.

The second and third placed finishers meet in the playoffs today (they are currently underway). The winners of those games play Canada and Russia tomorrow and the medal games are played on Thursday.

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