Thursday, May 15, 2008

World Hockey Championships

The so-called World Hockey Championships are underway. The tournament is misnamed because it isn't a true world championship when many players are unavailable because they are still active in the Stanley Cup playoffs and other players chose not to play after a long season, but nevertheless the tournament is played annually. It has a bit more interest in North America this year because it is being played in Canada. Games are being played in Halifax, Nova Scotia and Quebec City, Quebec. Here are the results so far:

Preliminary Round

Group A
Switzerland won this group winning all three of their games. Offensively, they were led by Julien Sprunger, a Minnesota Wild draft pick who plays in Switzerland and Andres Ambuhl, an undrafted Swiss player. Their goaltending was provided by Martin Gerber of the Ottawa Senators. Sweden finished second, losing only to the Swiss. Their offensive leaders have been Mattias Weinhandl and Tony Martensson, both players in Sweden with some NHL experience. Their top goaltender was Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers. Belarus finished third with Alexei Ugarov leading their offence and Vitali Koval in goal. Both are undrafted Russian Elite leaguers. France finished last in this group. They were led offensively by Sebastien Bordeleau, a former NHLer now playing in Switzerland and had Cristobal Huet of the Washington Capitals in goal.

Group B This group was won by Canada, who went undefeated. They were led offensively by Dany Heatley of the Ottawa Senators and Rick Nash of the Columbus Blue Jackets. Cam Ward of the Carolina Hurricanes has played the most minutes in their goal. The second place finishers were USA, who lost only to Canada. They have been lead offensively by Phil Kessel of the Boston Bruins and Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks. Their top goaltender has been Robert Esche, the former Philadelphia Flyer who did not play this season. Latvia finished third in this group. Their weak offence was led by Lauris Darzins, a Nashville Predator draftee who plays in the Czech League, until Martins Karsums became available when his Providence Bruins were eliminated from the AHL Calder Cup playoffs. Their goaltending was provided by Edgars Masalskis, who plays in Germany. The last place finisher was Slovenia, who was led offensively by Anze Kopitar of the Los Angeles Kings with Robert Kristan, who plays in the Austrian League, in goal.

Group C Finland went undefeated winning this group. They were led by Mikko Koivu of the Minnesota Wild and Teemu Selanne of the Anaheim Ducks. Their goaltending was provided by Niklas Backstrom of Minnesota. There was a three way tied among the other teams with 1-2 records. Norway took second by virtue of having an overtime loss. They were led offensively by Morten Ask and Anders Bastiansen. Both are undrafted by the NHL and play in Sweden. Their goaltending was provided by Pal Grotnes, who also plays in Sweden. Germany was third under the tie breaking rules. They have been led by Christopher Schmidt, who played a few games for the Los Angeles Kings but is now in the German League with Dmitri Patzold of the San Jose Sharks system in goal. Last place in the tie breaker was Slovakia who was led by Lubomir Visnovsky of the Los Angeles Kings with former Nashville Predator Jan Lasak, who currently plays in the Czech league in goal.

Group D Russia won this group. Offensively they have been led by Alexander Ovechkin and Alexander Semin of the Washington Capitals. Evgeni Nabokov of the San Jose Sharks was their goalie, despite his having been born in Kazakhstan. The Czech Republic finished second with Tomas Kaberle of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Patrik Elias of the New Jersey Devils leading the way offensively. Former NHLer Milan Hnilicka, who now plays in the Czech League, provided their goaltending. Denmark was third with former Montreal Canadien draft pick Kim Staal leading the way offensively. Staal now plays in Sweden. Patrick Galbraith, who plays in the Danish League, provided their goaltending. Last in this division was Italy. They were led by Jason Cirone offensively. Cirone is a former Winnipeg Jet draft pick who plays in the IHL. Guenther Hell, who plays in the Italian League, was their goalie.

After the preliminary round, the top three teams in each group were put into two six team qualifying round brackets.

Group E Russia won this group with five wins (two in overtime), with the Czech Republic finishing second. Sweden finished in third. Switzerland fourth. Belarus finished fifth and Denmark last.

Group F Canada went undefeated to win this group. Finland placed second. USA took third. Norway finished fourth, followed by Germany and Latvia.

The top four teams in each then faced off in the first round of the playoffs.

Sweden 3 Czech Republic 2 This was a close fought game that went to overtime. Mattias Weinhandl scored in overtime beating Czech goalie Milan Hnilicka. Anton Stralman of the Toronto Maple Leafs had two assists.

Canada 8 Norway 2 Dany Heatley and Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks led the way with 3 points a piece for Canada in the rout. Anders Bastiensen had two assists for team Norway.

Russia 6 Switzerland 0 Another lopsided game. Evgeni Nabokov had the shutout. Danis Zaripov led the way for Russia with three points. He is undrafted and plays in Russia. Maxim Afinogenov of the Buffalo Sabres scored two goals.

Finland 3 USA 2 A back and forth battle won in overtime when Sami Lepisto of the Washington Capitals beat Robert Esche for the game winning goal. Olli Jokinen of the Florida Panthers and Teemu Selanne had two assists each.

The tournament moves onto the semi-finals now. Russia will play Finland and Canada will play Sweden. These games are on Friday. The bronze-4th game is on Saturday and the gold-silver game on Sunday.

It is always interesting to see the results when NHL players play non-NHLers. Maybe some of the more prominent non-NHLers will appear in the NHL in the future.

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