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WJHC Day Two: The beatings will continue until the bubble teams improve

Allow me to begin this quick look back at yesterday's games with a brief aside on the nature of competition in the World Juniors.  Put simply, Ryan Lambert is right and Bruce "saskhab" Peter is wrong on the subject of blowouts: they serve only to remind us how bad everyone is outside the top six or seven, and the only ones who gain from the experience are the teams with little to gain anyway.  What did Canada gain from their Day One victory over Latvia?  Cohesiveness.  Discipline (only two minors against all afternoon).  Good habits, in the form of meeting Coach Desjardins' goal of not giving up a single odd-man rush in the third period.  What did Latvia gain from getting skullfucked 16-0?  I can tell you from personal experience, having been in net for an 11-0 rout in intramural soccer, they probably only gained a keen sense of their own woeful inferiority and a fiery resentment of the whole process.  The IIHF n eeds to get their heads out of their asses here and do something about this, because these early games are senseless: it's bad hockey, it's bad sportsmanship, and it's no fun for either team.  Somewhere around Goal #14, they showed the Canadian "celebration," and Brandon Kozun, who was working on a five-point night, looked like he wanted to be anywhere else but there.  The kid looked guilty.  But it was necessary, because of the IIHF's asinine goal-differential tiebreaker.

On Twitter yesterday, Bob MacKenzie suggested a new format for the ten-team tourney that I like from a competition standpoint:

  • Teams ranked 1-5 play in one bracket, teams 6-10 play in the other.
  • The A bracket is seeded 1-5 based on round robin play, and the winner of the B bracket is given the #6 slot
  • The quarter-finals proceed essentially as usual: 1 and 2 get byes, 3 vs. 6 and 4 vs. 5; winners face 1 and 2 in the semis.  Teams 7-10 play for relegation, as before.

The problem MacKenzie himself noted in this format is, of course, that no one's going to pay good money tickets for the B pool, because unless they're the host country, there aren't enough people who give a crap about Latvia or Switzerland for it to be worthwhile.  I'm looking at my bill for the 2012 tourney: the non-Canada pool games plus the medal round is $2,100 for the reds at the Saddledome.  Now imagine if that was for the 6-10 pool instead of a pool that'll include two gold-medal contenders.  I already have no interest in watching Sweden bludgeon Belarus on TSN2: why the hell would I pay triple my Hitmen season ticket price in order to watch it in person?  Why the hell would I pay that much to watch a bunch of games between also-rans destined for relegation?

If the IIHF really wants to grow the sport of hockey outside its traditional hotbeds of North America, Scandanavia, and Eastern Europe, this is not the way to do it.  You want to see Belarus, Latvia, Austria, Switzerland, Norway, France, Germany, and Kazakhstan become even half-way competitive with Canada, the US, Russia, Sweden, Finland, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia?  Send experienced coaches from those countries over there to build the game at the grassroots level, promote hockey as a winter sport for soccer players, and make the handful of NHLers, KHLers, and SELers from those countries prominent figures in the marketing campaign.  There are 0.67 junior hockey players per thousand in Latvia; there are 9.59/1000 in Canada.  Do something about that and the competition will improve.

All of this is inspired by Team Austria, who have put forth a hell of an effort here in order to look respectable.  They'll probably get relegated, when all's said and done: Switzerland and either Slovakia or the Czech Republic will overpower them in the relegation round, and their tournament will end up a series of moral victories.  But the fact that they haven't been blown to kingdom come like their fellows in the host bracket is admirable.  Losing 6-2 to Russia on Saturday and 7-3 to Sweden yesterday, on paper, is still no good, but when you consider the disparity between those countries in terms of hockey participation, NHL players produced, and overall skill, it's pretty damned impressive.  It looks like they caught Sweden napping in the second, and scored three times to tie the game, two of them on the PP, before Sweden scored late in the second and pulled away late in the third.  According to the TSN game report, though, the Regina crowd got fully behind the Austrians, rooting for them as they kept it close through a four-minute penalty kill early in the third.  Of the Oilers prospects on the ice, Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson was held pointless and even on eight (!) shots and took one penalty (tripping), while Anton Lander scored two assists, had five shots, and was even.

The other Oilers-related game, Finland vs. Slovakia, was much closer and probably more entertaining.  The Czechs jumped out to a 3-0 lead, taking advantage of four penalties by Finland in the game's first 25-odd minutes.  After that, though, Finland came roaring back.  As Derek previously noted, Teemu Hartikainen scored the first of four unanswered goals, including two beauties by Ducks prospect Sami Vatanen, as Finland won by a 4-3 score.  Your final stat lines: Hartikainen with one goal on seven shots and a +1; Toni Rajala with no points, four shots, and a +1.

Coming up today: Canada-Switzerland (it's 2-0 Canada after one as I type this; I'm taking a miss in favour of a tub and a magazine), and Finland-Russia, which should be legitimately interesting.

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