CALGARY, CANADA - JANUARY 5: Mika Zibanejad #20 of Team Sweden shoots the puck past Andrei Makarov #20 of Team Russia to win during the 2012 World Junior Hockey Championship Gold Medal game in overtime at the Scotiabank Saddledome on January 5, 2012 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Team Sweden defeated Team Russia 1-0 in overtime. (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)
When it was all said and done, the best and most complete team won the tournament. Sweden might not have been the flashiest or most publicized team, but they were deep at both forward and on defense. Switzerland took them to the wire and they had to mount a pair of furious comebacks to get to the gold medal game, but throughout the tournament, they clicked like a well-coached team should.
Perhaps the early flameouts of the Americans and Canadians will teach the fans of both sides a lesson in staking national and personal pride on the backs of 18-year olds thrown together for a month, but I doubt it. Rather than chalking their losses up to bad luck, questions about team selection dominate the narrative.
The best thing to come of the 2012 Championship was the relegation of a single team to Division I, Group A. The drama, although not seen on TSN, of the Latvia-Denmark relegation final was reportedly thrilling and should continue that way as long as that single game is heads-up survival.
The most disappointing story had to be that of the Swiss. They finished the tournament in eighth place, but were a shootout against the Swedes and a couple of unlucky bounces against the Russians from the semi-finals. They brought a relatively young team to the tournament and should come back next year just as strong. A few lucky bounces might get them into the medal round.
Five players who made an impression on me:
Dean Kukan (D-SUI) - Undrafted last year as well, Kukan would be a project for anyone interested, but he was excellent for the Swiss in my limited viewings. Every time I looked up, Kukan was turning the play out of the zone and moving on the attack. He may not be NHL material, but in this tournament he was very good.
- Zakhar Arzamastsev (D-RUS) - I'll fully admit to bias on this one. I've been a fan of Arzamastsev' since before the draft last year. He went undrafted, which I can only take to mean that he's not fully committed to coming to North America after being drafted. However, after seeing him perform against his peers, there's no reason he shouldn't be ranked in the top 30 in 2012. He's a smooth skater, has NHL size and threw a number of jaw-dropping breakouts to his enigmatic wings. He's an outstanding prospect.
- Jacob Trouba (D-USA) - His team got their butts kicked all over the place, but Trouba was one of the few Americans who stood out while they were getting their butts kicked. Admittedly, I noticed him for his physical abilities and not for some special part of his game, but I saw a swift skater (better than many forwards) and a strong kid. He disappeared for stretches, but he's seventeen playing in a nineteen-year-old tournament. It's clear why he's #9 in the consensus top 100. He looks like he could be Kris Letang. Though if he can't handle the physical play of the next levels, he could be Taylor Chorney.
- Christoph Bertschy (F-SUI) - Everyone came to see Bartschi and left wowed by Bertschy. He's ranked as the third-best draft-eligible forward by NHL De-Centralized Scouting, but he looked like the best forward on the entire Swiss team. He played a really smart game in both ends of the ice and played a similar game to that of Jordan Eberle.
Jonas Brodin (D-SWE) - I've heard two things about Brodin: 1. He was drafted too high by Minnesota when they took him 10th in 2011; 2. He's a steady guy, but he's never going to be a huge difference maker. In that tournament of small sample sizes, Brodin stood well-above every other defender in the tournament. He was steady, but steady in a "Jay Bouwmeester before he went to Calgary" way, not in an "all he'll ever be is a steady middling guy" way.
I asked Bruce McCurdy from the Cult of Hockey about a player that made an impression on him. McCurdy was the man on the spot for the entirety of the WJC and came away with thinking Joel Armia is a special player:
He’s taken some grief for perceived lack of effort, but I think he’s simply misunderstood J as the old saying goes. It doesn’t even appear he’s breaking a sweat … the sort of player that polarizes entire fanbases (see: Mahovlich, F.; Hemsky, A.) He strikes me as not so much a power forward as a real slick player who slices through traffic with such ease it doesn’t appear he’s breaking a sweat. Appears to be an accomplished Finnisher, albeit in the TOSSS. Takes the puck to the net, and is a threat on both forehand and backhand sides.