Tuesday, January 4, 2011

World Junior Hockey Championship Semi-Finals - January 3, 2011


The World Junior Hockey Championship (WJHC) is an annual tournament that features the top 10 ranked junior hockey nations. It is organized by the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) and officially called the Under 20 Championship. It's been held since 1977 but only recently has it become a premier event, at least in Canada, which has hosted the last two tourneys. For 2011, Buffalo was the host city, which was good news for me as I was able to revisit this great city and catch up will fellow roadtrippers Andrew and Peter from the Ultimate Sports Road Trip.

HSBC Arena


I don't like to comment on the arena if I'm not seeing the primary tenant, so I'll defer making a detailed description. But I do need to say that this is one of the best rinks I have seen - big, lots of well-preserved history, wide concourses, great sightlines, and a signature dish (Beef on Weck) that is much better than a hot dog. I'll just post a few pictures and wait to comment further when I finally see the Sabres here.

Jim Kelly's jersey among several in one display case at the Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame

Sabres' historical display on the second level

Tim Horton's last game jersey

Standings and Sabres' scoring stats from the last game at the Aud


The only retired line in the NHL?

View of the ice from section 315

Game 1 - Russia 4 Sweden 3 (SO)

Sweden won their pool thanks to a shootout victory over Canada and were expected to cruise over a Russian squad that had failed to score against them in the round robin. But things got off to a bad start for Sweden when Russian captain Vladimir Tarasenko scored a weak goal that beat keeper Robin Lehner (below), who had a cup of coffee with the Senators earlier this season.



Russia doubled their lead in the second when Denis Golubev moved out from behind the net and beat a fallen Lehner. It took a power play goal from Adam Larsson to get Sweden on the board late in the period and momentum followed into the third as Sweden began to dominate, resulting in a tying goal from Calle Jarnkrok just two minutes in. Russia battled and kept the score tied, but with just four minutes remaining, Dmitri Orlov took a stupid slashing penalty. Sweden capitalized a few seconds into the PP when Patrick Cehlin took a hard shot from the blue line that went over Shikin’s glove side (below).


It looked like Sweden would be on their way to the final but Russia, who had come back from a two-goal deficit against Finland in the quarter-final, managed to tie it with 1:27 to go when Sergei Kalinin poked the puck through Lehner on a goalmouth scramble. Amazing! Overtime!

The WJHC medal round has a 10-minute OT period, but this settled nothing and a shootout was required. Golubev scored on Russia's first shot and Sweden failed on all three of their chances as Shikin earned player of the game honours with his spectacular play, saving 46 of 49 shots in the game and the 3 in the shootout. The Russians celebrated wildly while the Swedish players were heartbroken, some in tears, as the Russian anthem filled the arena.



This was a great game, but obviously the appetizer to the evening's main course, when Canada sought revenge against the defending champs.

Game 2 - Canada 4 USA 1


Canada has gone through a goaltending "controversy" as Olivier Roy had looked less than inspiring in early play. So Mark Visetin (below) got the call against Switzerland in the quarters and was again in net for the semi, while the tournament's star keeper, Jack Campbell, started for the Americans.



This game was over pretty quickly. Curtis Hamilton scored at 2:38 of the first when he shot home a rebound past a sprawling Campbell and the US never challenged after that. Quinton Howden added a second later in the period and when Ryan Johansen scored midway through the third, the predominantly Canadian crowd sensed victory, chanting and doing the wave as the Americans folded their tent.


Zach Kassian (above) scored on a breakaway early in the third to salt the game away, and although the Americans managed a power-play marker to ruin Visentin's shutout, Canada held on for the easy 4-1 victory.


As the Canadian flag was raised, the arena loudly sang the O Canada. It was a great feeling, but as it turned out, it would be the last time our anthem would play at the tournament.


Thoughts

Canada's first sports network, TSN, has brilliantly marketed this tournament to fill up a rather empty holiday sports schedule. When I left Canada 15 years ago, the WJHC was barely on the radar and was often held in Europe. Now it is a premier hockey event and the talk of the nation come Christmas. Simply put, no other country cares about it except Canada. This was obvious with 15,000 Canadian fans among the sell-out crowd (look at all the red in the picture below) for the game as well as the party atmosphere on the streets afterwards.


Next year's event will be held in Calgary and Edmonton, while the 2013 tourney will be in Russia. But I expect it will return to Canada or a nearby border town after that as there is too much money to be made by selling overpriced tickets to Canadians such as myself.

Russia beat Canada in the final, yet again coming from behind to score 5 unanswered goals in the third period. I caught the last two goals in a Cleveland bar and was glad that I had skipped the final to see the Raptors. But more on that later. This experience was great and I'm looking forward to Alberta in a year.

Finally, a big thanks to Andrew for all his help and all the food, delivered straight to our seats. Great to see you guys again and look forward to another visit in warmer weather.

Best,

Sean

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