Jan 12, 2001
From December twenty-sixth to January sixth of the past year some of the greatest players under 19 in the world were gathered to participate in the International World Junior Ice Hockey Championships in Moscow. This tournament is an annual event that is held to showcase the best hockey talents of ten nations.
This years tournament participants were the following ten: Canada, United States, Russia, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Sweden, Finland, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Switzerland.
Teams are split into two pools of five based on the previous years tournament placing. This pits the teams in four games against teams in their pool. The top four teams advance to the "medal round." The pools then cross over and play against other teams in a single elimination style tournament.
This year's tournament was everything viewers have come to expect from this elite tournament. That is if you like exciting hockey that was for the majority neutral-zone-trap free this year. The team from the Czech Republic defended their championship, winning their second straight gold medal defeating Finland in the final by a score of two to one. For the most part the game was wide-open offensive minded hockey, until the Czech went into the third period with the lead and then trapped the Finns relentlessly holding on to the slimmest of margins.
In the bronze medal game the Canadian squad defeated the Swedes in a thrilling overtime win as team Canada winger, and New York Islander draft pick Raffi Torres buried the winner just thirty-seven seconds into overtime to give Canada its third straight medalling finish with the third place bronze. The goal came straight off of a face-off when highly touted prospect Jason Spezza won the draw into the high slot were Torres was waiting. Torres one timed the puck into the top corner bringing home the win for the Canadians.
Besides the actual games there are more reasons to step up these tournaments. The fact that almost every NHL team sends at least one person, usually a GM to watch their prospects and scout future talent makes for an interesting time in the stands. Also the immaturities of what some of the players have to say, because they are still rough around the edges and do not have great media skills, makes for some very entertaining interviews. Two players come to mind. One comment made just before Team Canada flew to Russia was mad by the freshly cut Canadian hopeful, Kris Beech, when he learned he was cut he publicly blasted management and said that he would never play for Team Canada at any level ever again. He also stated that the team was already picked before the evaluation camp and that his reputation for a bad attitude had him marked from the beginning. Also, the comments of American Rick DiPietro who told reporters that he wasn't worried about the upcoming quarter-final game with Team Canada because he knew USA would win and ended the interview by guaranteeing a shut out. Canada won the game 2-1.
This tournament also is a chance for most of the highly touted draft picks to showcase their stuff. Players have earned high praises from scouts and even raised their stock considerably at this tournament, players such as Brian Boucher, Eric Daze, and even older players such as Eric Lindros and Wendel Clark had strong tournaments for their respective nations causing their ante to go up in the forthcoming draft. This also happened this year when Jason Spezza of Canada made a strong showing to be number one overall with some unbelievable plays setting up players for mere tap ins. Other players that are not heard about too much in North America also get some showcase to NHL brass. Players such as Mikko Koivu younger brother to Saku Koivu of the Montreal Canadiens representing Finland had a great tournament almost pulling off the upset in the final.
The secret to this tourney's success is really not known, poor attendance outside North America combined with no major television coverage makes it hard to believe the tourney could still function, but the tournament hasn't missed a beat in providing some of the most exciting hockey tournaments annually for as long as I can remember.
So next year after Christmas see if you can maybe catch a game or two of the TV and see for yourself why the World Junior Championship is without a doubt the best kept secret in hockey.
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