Happy Boxing Day everyone!
As we all know, Boxing Day means the start of the World Junior tournament. Today is extra special because there were three marquee games out of four.
To Canadians, the late game versus the USA is the best way to kick off this annual prospect extravaganza. Even better when our kids beat their kids (for a change). Big props to Alexis Lafreniere for a well deserved Canadian player of the game, and stick tap to the goalie with ice water in his veins Nico Daws who didn’t look at all like a kid in his first international game.
To Canucks fans, the two games to watch were the opening tilt between the host Czech Republic and Russia; plus the Scandinavian scrum with Sweden and Finland. Both games had one of the Canucks prospects on each team. There was some promise of entertainment value, and these games certainly delivered.
Perhaps the top prospect that no one had seen much of is Russian power forward Vasili Podkolzin who put on a show. He was the net-front on the first unit Power Play, and a regular on the Penalty Kill (in fact, when Russia had to defend a 5 on 3 Podkolzin was the lone forward for the first unit, despite not being a centre). He also skated on what looked a lot like a first line 5v5, and acquitted himself admirably. Not only did he bang in a gritty rebound for a (just expired) PP goal, but he was battling all night long and clearly not afraid to play behind the net or on the doorstep. Plus he added a nice assist to his performance.
The other Canuck prospect in this game was Czech winger Karel Plášek. To be honest, I didn’t realize I should be watching for him until after the game. He made the national team which is good, and I didn’t notice him much which means he didn’t make any huge mistakes which is also good, and his team won against the boogeymen from Russia in front of a home crowd, which is also good. So: all good. I guess. I’ll watch for him next game.
The second game with Canuck prospects facing each other was Sweden versus Finland. Slick hands Nils Höglander made a bit of a name for himself with a lacrosse goal earlier this season, and wouldn’t you know it: he opened the Swede Scoring with another one today. Not only was it an awesome looking stunt, but the speed at which he executed was breathtaking. Just so you don't think he’s a one trick pony, or a selfish player, Höglander also registered an assist and was on the ice during the overtime period (so you know the coaches trust him in high-leverage situations).
Even though the Swedes did get the win in overtime (and the very sensible two out of three points), the Fins put up a great fight to earn a single point in the OTL. Canucks prospect Toni Utunen was an Alternate Captain, and one of the stalwart Defencemen that kept the stylish Swedes at least partly in Czech. Sorry, I’ll see myself out.... But seriously folks, the Finninsh goalie Justus Annunen was fantastic, and Utunen was mostly a steady defender keeping chances to the outside or clearing rebounds. Not flashy, but did show a few streaks of offensive instinct.
For the rest of the holiday season I’ll be loading up my PVR with games from the five teams I’m now following, and enjoying having something to care about besides the Canadian gold drought of recent years. The play is entertaining and the host country is doing a fine job putting on the event. There’s even some intelligent commentary during the games.