January 06, 2009

Canada Wins 5th Consecutive WJC

Congratulations goes out to Team Canada for their record tying 5th consecutive World Junior Hockey Championship.

After at-times shaky performances against the Americans and especially the Russians, Canada brought their A-game and, aside from a bit of penalty trouble in the second period, were convincingly the best team on the ice in the gold medal game against Sweden.

From epic Canadian matches against United States, Russia and Sweden, to the great Slovakia Cinderella story, to the John Tavares-Victor Hedman showdown, to the great fans of Ottawa, the 2009 World Juniors was one of the most memorable tournaments in history.

For today's Top Ten Tuesdays, here's my final ten thoughts about the 2009 WJC.

In no particular:

1. John Tavares is the real deal. I had very well placed sources telling me there was serious concerns about Tavares' maturity, focus and career guidance some 18 months ago. But he showed great maturity in this tournament. His offensive game wowed, his defensive game was diligent and he never shied away from physical contact to make a play. His focus, discipline and leadership really impressed me.

Honestly, John Tavares has shown me more at this age than Sidney Crosby did.

2. We talked earlier about how success at the WJC does not guarantee success in the NHL. Don't worry about Cody Hodgson or Ryan Ellis - these guys are the real deal. If the Canucks can somehow land Ellis in the upcoming draft to go along with Hodgson, I will be a very happy Canucks camper.

3. It was refreshing to see Pat Quinn make big changes as the tournament went along, like giving less ice time to struggling captain Thomas Hickey and the undisciplined Stefan Della Rovere. In the past Quinn has been too loyal to his players. This time around he recognized underperforming players, and identified players ready to get the job done, namely giant defenseman Tyler Myers.

4. Speaking of Pat Quinn, does this gold medal get him back into the NHL?

He certainly has rebranded himself with his success at the u18s last year and the u20s this year. He was known as a coach who preferred veterans, and did not always develop young players well. No problem anymore. And he also shows he has an insatiable passion for coaching and for hockey.

Does a NHL team take a chance on him? Perhaps a middling team looking for that spark in mid-season for the playoff run? Quinn would be a more effective addition than any rental player at the trading deadline.

With his close ties to Kevin Lowe and Steve Tambellini, Quinn's name likely has been discussed in the Edmonton Oilers front office as a mid-season replacement for Craig MacTavish.

5. The Swedes looked despondent after the game, as any losing team would. But Sweden has a lot to be excited about.

The current and aging generation of Swedes finally had success on the Olympic and World Championships level as of late. But Mats Sundin, Daniel Alfredsson, Markus Naslund, Peter Forsberg, Nicklas Lidstrom etc are all near the end.

Until recently Sweden was having real trouble developing their youth. That has been corrected as back to back silver medals will attest. A new generation of Swedish stars is on their way, led by Victor Hedman and Mikael Backlund.

With 10 players eligible to return next year, watch out for Sweden again in 2010.

6. Congratulations also goes to Russia, for capturing the bronze medal, and to 4th place Slovakia for making this tournament memorable. I did not get to see the bronze medal showdown because the person who owns the condo directly above me thought it would be a good idea to empty their 33 gallon fish tank onto their floor and down into my unit through my light fixtures. Now they get to pay for my brand new ceiling and carpets, for the second year in a row I might add.

Do you think Nikita Filatov might just crack the Russian Olympic Roster in 2010? He's young, but he's good.

7. Evander Kane was a great story. Before Christmas he was sent home, dejected as the final cut, only to return to the team due to the Dana Tyrell injury. He was simply outstanding in the tournament, showing great speed and skill while accepting a job on the grind line. Fantastic stuff.

It was good to see Tyrell in attendance for the gold medal game, too.

8. If Angelo Esposito could play every game like he played that gold medal game, whoa boy would he be one hell of a player. Consistency and intensity have been problems for him in the past, but he showed me he can yet be a top player in the NHL.

9. There was much ado about there being too many teams in the WJC this year, with weak sisters Latvia and Kazakhstan serving as easy prey. Eight teams makes for a better tournament, but we need to allow weaker countries in so we can develop the game there.

Think back to the international stage 30 years ago. Finland offered no competition. The United States could barely ice a team. Sweden was the equivalent of today's Germany.

It does take a long time, but the more hockey countries we have the better off hockey is everywhere.

10. And now most of us go back to the NHL for our hockey fix. I know the NHL is significantly better in terms of text book hockey, but you just can not duplicate the infectious enthusiasm these kids provide or the raw emotion cheering on your country creates.

I say this every year - the WJC is the best hockey on the season's calendar outside of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

By the way.....for more thoughts from guest writer Gregg Drinnan, check out his blog Taking Note. He's vowing to never bet against Canada again.

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