Saturday, 29 December 2007

Perfection and Heartbreak

Today saw a couple of countries being forced to play for their chance to go to Ottawa next season in the 2009 World Junior Championships. There are several teams who have yet to record a point in this year's World Junior Championship, and they'll be playing in the relegation round when the medal round begins. The top six teams of the World Junior Championship advance to the medal round, three from each pool, while the bottom four teams play games against each with the hopes of collecting as many points as possible in order to not be relegated for the follwing year's tournament. Points are carried over from the round robin into the relegation round, so every point matters for these two teams right now.

Today, Slovakia and Kazakhstan were the first two teams to have their medal hopes dashed. Slovakia lost 5-2 to their neighbours, the Czech Republic, and cannot overcome Canada, Sweden, or the Czechs due to the tie-breaking rules of the World Junior Championships.

It's the fourth straight year that the Slovaks have played in the relegation round. Their next game is against Denmark in what will be a preview of the relegation round playoffs. Denmark has a slim chance of not being relegated, but the reality is that they won't make it with still having to play Canada and Slovakia.

Kazakhstan joined the relegation round after their disappointing 5-0 loss to Finland earlier today. After showing some grit in their opening game loss to the USA, the Kazakhstan team took it to the Russians, barely losing on a late goal by Alexei Cherepanov in a 5-4 Russian win. However, the emotion just didn't carry over against the Finnish team, and now Kazakhstan will battle to remain in the top tier of international junior hockey.

Kazakhstan and Switzerland meet later in the tournament, and it appears that Switzerland will be the final relegation round team as they have a slim chance of catching Finland, Russia, and the USA in their pool.

More World Junior Championship action can be seen and heard all week. If you're looking for a place to watch or listen online, please click on this link and scroll to the bottom for a list of places where you can watch on broadband or listen via live streaming audio. Yes, they're all Canadian feeds, but it's better than nothing, right?

In other international hockey tournament news, the Canadian team is now 3-0 at the Spengler Cup in Davos, Switzerland. Canada has defeated HC Moeller Pardubice of the Czech Republic 4-3 in a shootout, defeated the host team in HC Davos 6-2, and defeated the Russian Super League team Salavat Yulaev Ufa 3-2 with a late goal today.

Canada has been led by some familiar NHL names: goaltenders Curtis Joseph and Wade Flaherty, former Flames defenceman Mark Giordano, former Canucks defenceman Yannick Tremblay, former Avalanche and Senators forward Serge Aubin, former Penguins and Thrashers forward Ramzi Abid, former Flyers and Kings forward Marty Murray, and former Maple Leafs forward Travis Green.

The team is coached by Sean Simpson who is the head coach for EV Zug. His assistant coach is former Maple Leaf great Doug Gilmour. Clearly, the Canadian coaching staff has this collection of European league players and AHL players playing very well as Canada looks for its first Spengler Cup Championship since 2003.

Canada has one more game to play against the German Elite League's Adler Mannheim. The top two teams automatically advance to the finals, and Canada can secure a berth there with a win over Adler Mannheim. The German club lost earlier in the tournament to Salavat Yulaev Ufa 6-1.

The 40 year-old goalie in Curtis Joseph has been getting high praise for his work in the net thus far, something that the Pittsburgh Penguins should take notice of in my humble opinion.

"He's been outstanding - better and better every day," head coach Sean Simpson said of Joseph to The Canadian Press. "He's shown why he's been the goalie he has been over the course of his career.

"He has such an easy-going demeanor and takes everything in stride. He's thrilled to be here and he's a great guy in our dressing room. He made some key stops (Saturday)."

Canada has a chance for more international domination with the success of these two teams. It appears that both teams are relying on their excellent goaltending - Joseph at the Spengler Cup, and Jonathan Bernier and Steve Mason at the World Junior Championship.

If great teams are built from the net out, Canada has all the right pieces in place to win a couple more accolades this year. And that should be the new Canadian trademark in international hockey.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

1 comment:

Kirsten said...

Well that was unfortunate, but I'm very sure they will come back from that and win gold! I'm now catching hell about the fact that it's the first time they have lost in 20 games.