World Juniors Wrap and Whoa-Wild…Whoa!

Marc Elliott

CLOQUET…. The IIHF World Junior U20 tournament has come and gone for another year and it was once again a very exciting tourney. The defending Champion, Team USA, had to settle for a Bronze Medal having entered the event as a favorite to repeat on home soil. They did not achieve that but in looking back I had to conclude that they acquitted themselves well. Team Canada defeated Team Sweden 3-1 for the Gold, while the US club beat the Czechs 9-3 for Bronze. Some observers stated post tournament that this was a year with no ‘Super” teams, and that may have been the case, but make no mistake, no matter the year this is NOT an easy tournament to win. After the American team had an easy 9-0 victory over Team Denmark the hill to climb became much steeper.    

When the USA team lost to Slovakia in their 2nd game it became a marker as to what we might expect for the remainder of the tourney. In the Americans next tilt and in a display of sheer guts and resolve, playing in a back to back situation against our biggest rival, the Yanks bested the Canadians in an outdoor game before 45,000 fans on a snowy afternoon-evening event by a score of 4-3 in a SO. This game was most likely the biggest story of the event. With some negative weather conditions forecast for that day, it wasn’t known until noon the day before the game as to whether the IIHF would proceed outdoors. This was the first, and most likely the last time a game of this magnitude would be played in an outdoor venue. To say the weather didn’t cooperate would be an understatement.    

I can recall when this game was announced last spring that there was immediate blowback as to why a game of this import would be played outdoors where the IIHF would have no control over the game conditions. It was referred to as a money grab amongst other negative opinion. For me, I love the outdoor games and I have never been opposed to trying new and innovative things, but still the negative drumbeat against this game continued forth. Game day arrived and certainly the conditions were “iffy” at best, and then sure enough somewhere in the middle of the 1st period the snow began to come down in greater volume. Eventually it also began to get dark, and between the snowfall and declining light it had to be hard to play out there. In a most remarkable effort though the Americans got down 2-0 and then 3-1 before tying the game and eventually winning in a SO.    

Much as I had expected the detractors came back out of the woodwork in full force. One article I read in particular, titled “First outdoor world junior game a success-at the expense of hockey” from a Toronto based scribe combined some real, honest observations along with some sour grapes all in one neat and tidy package. It left me wondering what the headline might have been if the Canadian entrant had been victorious. I had thoughts of “Canada prevails in Winter Wonderland” among other ideas. At the end of the day the conditions were the same for BOTH teams. Team USA dug their heels in and gutted out a victory. In my final analysis though, I don’t disagree with those who were and are against taking this game outdoors. I don’t think the IIHF will attempt this again in a game that has so much riding upon it. The atmosphere and spectacle of this contest will live on in memory for a long, long time. I believe it will hold a special place in the longtime history and rivalry between us and our northern neighbors.    

I am proud to write that there were 10 Minnesotans on the Final Roster that featured Tourney MVP and Golden Gopher Casey Middlestadt and fellow Gopher Ryan Lindgren, Kieffer Bellows-Portland Winterhawks, Jake Oettinger/BU, Ryan Poehling/SCSU, and then UMD Bulldog players Riley Tufte, Dylan Samberg, Iron Ranger Scott Perunovich, along with brothers Mikey and Joseph Anderson. The elder Anderson was wearing the ‘C’ for the tourney and acquitted himself well in several TV interviews with Jill Savage. With the event being held in Buffalo, and with the Sabres being the NHL team holding Middlestadt’s draft rights, the speculation is that they will make a hard pitch for him to turn pro after the conclusion of this season.    

On the other hand, the NHL is a whole other deal and I think at least one more year of college hockey would serve him well in terms of strengthening, conditioning and experience. Right now I think he would take a pounding in the transition to the show. Additionally, for lack of a better definition, that club is a hot mess right now. Which leads me to speculate, would the Mighty Casey play college hockey until Buffalo’s rights to him expire? Even though they seem to be playing better recently, they are 10-32! I have always been a huge supporter and fan of Coach Phil Housley, but that club isn’t exactly tearing it up for him. I must constantly remind myself that he is from the Hockey College of Scotty Bowman and that he will be ok. When will they turn that corner? Your guess is as good as mine….    

THE MINNESOTA WILD finished the first half of the NHL regular season at 22-19. Then they unceremoniously kicked off the second half Saturday evening by getting a total spanking out in Denver at the hands of the Avalanche by a 7-2 final. In my view this was the most embarrassing defeat to this club since Montreal beat them 8-1 back in March of 2011. I’ll spare you the details, let’s just say they were beaten in every phase of the game. Is this a playoff team? To be perfectly honest I just can’t see it. They are consistently inconsistent. Here’s the latest numbers; THE ATHLETIC; 19th with a 44% chance at the playoffs. THE SAGARIN; 14th on a 22-20 record, 6-11 vs top ten, 9-13 vs top 16. NHL STANDINGS by percent of points available; 19th at a .559% clip, 6th in the Central, 9th in Wild Card position, one spot out of the playoffs.    

NHL RANK; 18th in GF, 18th in GA, 16th on the PP, 8th on the PK, 9th most PIM’s, 15th in FO win %, and 23rd in PP opportunities. A lot of analysts and fans stated that when the club returned their most important players from the IR list, the club would begin to trend upward. All I can say is show me…. PEACE    

RIP to former AWA Star Tom Zenk and to former Iron Range hockey star John Stampohar Jr …   Over & Out!