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WJHC Days Nine and Ten: A worthy championship in an unworthy tournament

I think it's safe to be perfectly honest now and admit that this was one of the least entertaining, least compelling, least competitive under-20s in recent memory.  Thank God the gold medal game was at least worthwhile, because otherwise, there'd be virtually nothing positive left to say.  Much has been made of the early-tournament beatdowns administered by the handful of traditional hockey nations who bothered to show up, but less has been made of the cases of Finland, Russia, and the Czech Republic, who for one reason or another, were really kind of bad through this whole process.  The Czechs saw the relegation round, the Russians made asses of themselves against the Swiss, and the Finns barely met their rather meagre expectations, with no thanks to their best players, who were inconsistent at best and absent without leave at worst.  Even Sweden pulled up lame when they needed something badly, falling apart in the third period of the semifinal against the United States, and having one of their top forwards -- Oilers prospect Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson -- benched for reasons no one has quite been able to pin down, at least not that I've read.  I think it's safe to say, in fact, that outside of the two Canada-USA games -- both of which ended tied in regulation and featured a number of pretty plays and heart-stopping moments -- there was very little drama to be had in the tournament, though I give a ton of credit to Switzerland for showing up and taking advantage of some countries that really should've known better.

I was originally quite upset when I got my bill for my 2012 WJHC ticket package and learned it was nearly three times what I pay for an entire Calgary Hitmen season in the reds ($2,097 for two seats to 21 World Junior games in ten days, or $49.93/ticket -- a good deal for what I'd get, but still astronomical compared to $811 for two seats for 38 WHL games, or $10.67/ticket), but unless some of these other teams get their act together, maybe it'll be just as well that I can't afford to go, or even to buy the tickets then turn around and eBay half of them.

Finland 4, Russia 3: The story going into the fifth-place consolation game was the removal of Nikita Filatov as Russian captain in favour of Kirill Petrov, after Filatov had it out with coach Vladimir Plyushchev during the intermission of the quarter-final against Switzerland.  Maybe Ken Hitchcock was right about the kid, eh?  Anyway, the KHL hasn't put up highlights, so I can only go off the scoresheet.  I see that Finland outshot Russia all to hell, as they've done to most teams in this tournament, but this time, they capitalized on a few opportunities.  Mikael Granlund makes what seems like his first appearance at the tournament with a pair of assists, Teemu Hartikainen scored the game-winner with six to go on a Russian too-many-men penalty, adding an assist on Finland's first goal to tie the game at one back in the first, and Toni Rajala...is listed with the second grouping here.  I don't know if the IIHF scoresheet organizes guys by unit or something like that, but it would make sense with how things have looked all tournament, in which case, Rajala getting a clear demotion; he finished with two shots and a -1 on the day, though that minus is hardly unique, since all four Finnish goals came on the power play while all three of Russia's goals were even-strength markers.  A positive end to a somewhat disappointing tournament for Finland, while Russia's got a lot of questions to answer after failing to medal for just the fourth time since the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1992, and posting their worst result since a seventh-place finish in 2001.

Sweden 11, Switzerland 4: I watched part of this game.  I wish I hadn't.  Sloppy hockey, terrible goaltending (at least in the second, which featured nine goals, including all four Swiss markers), and just generally nothing worth talking about.  We all knew Sweden was winning this game and likely winning it big going in, so there's no point in getting into it much here.  The relevant stats: MPS with a single assist in what I imagine was limited ice time (I don't remember seeing him much in the time I watched); Anton Lander with a goal and an assist and the captaincy, with Markus Johansson sitting this one out.  I wonder if that had to do with getting tossed for an elbow in the American game?

USA 6, Canada 5 (OT): Sure, you can question whether having a healthy Travis Hamonic might've made the difference, but there's a million what-ifs that you could ask.  Why wasn't Jake Allen pulled after the third goal?  Why did Taylor Hall and Nazem Kadri keep making boneheaded plays out there, and why did Willie Desjardins keep going back to them?  What if Brandon Kozun hadn't put that puck off the side of the net with the game 5-4?  What if Alex Pietrangelo hadn't taken two and ten?  Why was he given two and ten, instead of two for boarding?  What if, what if, what if.  Bottom line: the Americans took advantage of a depleted lineup and some horrifyingly bad mistakes, weathered the one-man storm that is Jordan Eberle in the last five minutes of a game (did he sit for more than two shifts in that whole time?), and found a hole in poor Martin Jones, who'll be saddled with the biggest "L" of them all, even though it was bought and paid for with his predecessor's miscues and glaringly exposed flaws.  I also give the Americans a great deal of credit for diving in front of pretty much everything thrown at their net, in a way I haven't seen since the 2006 playoffs: it would've been a real treat to watch that kind of sacrifice in pursuit of a championship, if it wasn't The Other Guys doing it.  It was a great game to watch, with multiple sequences where the game went back and forth for minutes at a time with nary a whistle, and certainly the kind of game that, quibbles like the above aside, you really don't mind losing, at least as a fan, because it was to a worthy opponent, and it was earned by hard work, speed, and skill, as it always should be.  Stats for Oilers prospects and potential prospects: Jordan Eberle (2 G, 5 SOG, E) and Taylor Hall (G, 2A, 2 SOG, +1).

Next game: Boxing Day in Buffalo.  See you then?

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