Monday, December 22, 2008
World Junior Hockey Championship-2008
Once all of the Christmas wrappings have been cleaned up, and the rumblings of turkey have subsided, you will be prepared for the World Junior Hockey Championship beginning on Boxing Day in Ottawa.
The Canadian squad is going through its final stages of preparation with a few exhibition games. The coaches are assessing the boys from a variety of viewpoints; however, at this point in time, there really is little to learn. The players have been under the microscope for several years, likely from their minor bantam days. They have been scouted by other teams, by college and university coaches, by pro scouts.
The coaching staff, under the direction of head coach Pat Quinn, will be looking for those little extra things as they put the finishing touches to the team. They will be looking for the right line combinations, matching defensive pairings, weighing the merits of goaltenders. They will be looking for that magical chemistry that will lead to a blended product heading into the tournament.
The tournament ends on the 5th of January. At that point in time, someone will wrap gold medals around the necks of the victors. For the past four years, Canadian boys have had that honour. Just a little more pressure on this year’s squad. Coupled with the fact that the tournament is in this country, that ScotiaBank place in Ottawa can be a mad house when it is jammed to the rafters, and that the host team always enjoys home field advantage, placing a two dollar bet on the Canucks should be reasonably safe.
The Belleville Bulls have three players at the tournament, all wearing different uniforms. P. K. Subban will represent Canada for the second straight year, after going through the gruelling process of making the team. There was a summer camp, then the pre-tournament camp, and a final cut-down time. On all of these occasions, coaches informed disappointed kids that their services were no longer required. The team has eight players in the defensive corps. From what I saw in the exhibition game against Finland, Subban must play well to get ice time. In that game, he was used almost exclusively as a forward, something rarely done by the Bulls’ George Burnett.
Eric Tangradi, the Bulls’ captain, will lead the team from the United States. He is enjoying an excellent season for the Bulls, and will provide stiff competition for the Canadians when they face each other in the preliminary game on New Year’s Eve. Tangradi is third in league scoring, with 49 points. The Bulls’ backup goaltender, Phillipp Grubauer, will suit up for Germany.
It is expected that the team will be led offensively by the Oshawa Generals’ John Tavares. Tavares, now eighteen years old, is in his fourth season in the Ontario Hockey League. Despite the enormous pressure put on this young phenom, he has continued to surpass expectations year after year. He again has won Player of the Week and Player of the Month awards this year, and currently leads the league in scoring. He has found the net in both of the exhibition games held this week. Naturally, he will command a lot of attention from opponents, freeing up space for his teammates.
Another OHL player on the team is Barrie’s Stefan Della Rovere. He also has copped a Player of the Week award this year in the OHL. Don’t look for him to fill the net. You will more often than not find him in the “Sin Bin”-an old but not yet tired moniker for the penalty box. Della Rovere leads the league in penalty minutes. He is truly fun to watch, a whirling dervish who will hit anything that moves that is wearing the opposing sweater. His checks are punishing, and in a dump and chase attack, opposition defensemen will be looking over their shoulders as they attempt to clear the puck from their zones.
Former Wellington Duke Matt Cooke also represented Canada on the world stage in Junior Hockey. “Cookie” played a style similar to that of Della Rovere, with great success, and has enjoyed a remarkable NHL career since that time.
There are ten teams in the tourney, with two divisions. Canada will play the Czech Republic on Boxing Day, and will follow with games against Kazakhstan, Germany, and the USA. Sweden, Finland, Latvia, Slovakia, and Russia are on the other side. Playoffs begin on January 2nd, after round-robin play.
Have a great Christmas, and a Happy New Year. Happy Hanukah to all of our Jewish friends. Keep your stick on the ice, and your head up. The puck is YOURS. Don’t let anyone take it away from you!