Category: World Junior Championships (page 1 of 7)

Japan’s juniors rise

By Chris Ellis – IIHF.com

Great Britain – After an absence of two years, the Japanese U20 national team returns to the Division I thanks to an almost flawless week in Dumfries, Scotland, at the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey U20 World Championship Division II Group A.

Five victories, with four in regulation time including a final-day win over hosts Great Britain, was enough to see Japan promoted from Division II Group A with 14 points out of a possible 15.

The week began in convincing fashion for Teruhiko Okita’s side as Tohi Kobayashi scored twice in a 6-1 victory over the Netherlands, who would go on and be relegated despite a thrilling final-day win over Estonia when they came from 4-1 down to win 6-5.

The Japanese weren’t always in control of the group though after they dropped a point in their second game against Romania. Kobayashi scored the game-winning goal 97 seconds into overtime to give his side a narrow 3-2 victory.

Hosts Great Britain led the way after three games with wins over Romania (3-2), Estonia (6-2) and the Netherlands (8-1); in a game which saw the tournament’s leading goal scorer Liam Kirk – who ended the competition with seven goals – grab a hat trick.

Japan kept up their winning record with a 5-1 victory over Korea before the dynamics of the group took a twist on game day four.

It was pretty routine for Japan in a 4-1 success over Estonia, but GB lost 5-4 to Korea after a penalty-shot shootout, so it was the Japanese who topped the group going into the final day.

Korea, who won promotion from Division II Group B last season and was the tournament’s lowest-seed team, beat Romania 5-2 – a result which would ultimately secure them the silver medal.

Japan was denied promotion in a final-day showdown with Lithuania in Estonia last year, but they never looked like suffering the same fate in the game for gold with Great Britain as goals from Masato Kume and Daiki Miura opened up a two-goal lead.

Kirk, who also led the tournament in points with 14 in five matches, pulled GB to within one, but Hayato Aiki and Daiki Miura stretched Japan’s lead to 4-1.

GB head coach Slava Koulikov took his timeout at 15:22 of the third period and lifted netminder Jordan Lawday for the extra skater and it paid dividends within 15 seconds as Cole Shudra scored.

Despite a further three minutes of constant pressure the British were unable to find a way past Eiki Sato – and Junki Shinoda wrapped the game up into the empty net.

It was agony for the hosts who had to settle for bronze and they missed out on promotion at the first time of asking after having come down from the Division IB, but Japan – who conceded the lowest goals in the tournament (seven) and scored the joint-highest (23) – makes a return to Division I in fine style.

Silver went to Korea, which finished the tournament in second place and the U20 World Championship program in 24th place overall – better than ever in the U20 category. Jong Min Lee and Juhyung Lee were the best scorers behind Kirk with six goals and four assists.

Central Asians earn promotion to World Juniors

http://www.iihf.com/typo3temp/pics/74267f410b.jpg

By Chapin Landvogt IIHF.com

Every year, the Christmas season is one that plays host to a plethora of national teams in a number of tournaments across the globe. Rarely do these tournaments see as dominant a point-consuming winner as the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey U20 World Championship Division I Group A, which has once again sweetened the holiday season for some, while giving a number of nation’s ice hockey programs plenty to think about in preparing for next year’s edition.

Spent in the lovely, snow-filled Meribel and Courchevel in France, a new champion has been crowned and it’s none other than the tournament’s most exotic geographical participant, Kazakhstan. This was concluded in astounding fashion as the Kazaks polished off host France 6-1 in the final game, allowing the team to go undefeated in collecting 13 of 15 possible points. Saturday’s victory, as well as gaining first place, was due in part to defenseman Valeri Orekhov, who led the way in putting an exclamation point on the top spot with three assists, allowing him to tie for the lead in tournament scoring with seven points.

This amount was also tallied by teammate Artur Gatiyatov, who proved to be Johnny on the spot at several junctures of the tournament. He also tied for the tournament’s lead in the plus-minus department with a +5. Clearly though, scoring over the five-game event was spread out across a number of shoulders. Another top point-getter was Nikita Nazarenko, who contributed four goals and two assists, despite often playing on a different line that Gatiyatov. All in all, 10 players accumulated two or more points.

The journey to first place experienced its first test when Kazakhstan required overtime to defeat eventual 3rd place Germany 3-2 in the first game of the tournament. The exact same path needed to be taken in their second game, having beaten eventual 2nd-place Latvia by the same score in overtime to set the pace. After that, the Kazaks completed one mission after another, defeating the promoted Hungary by a tight score of 5-3, Austria in a 3-2 thriller, and then host France 6-1 in the only game of the tournament that saw the promoted Kazakhstan really dominate their opponent over 60 minutes.

That elation was clearly evident throughout the arena, most especially noticed by the predominantly French spectators, once the siren had rung and Kazakhstan’s celebration began taking place.

After a very strong showing in 2016 followed by another respectable showing (and a bit of bad luck) in 2017, the Kazak program has achieved its goal and will be a part of the big show in 2019 when the world’s best juniors gather in Vancouver and Victoria in Canada’s western province of British Columbia. Home to a population of roughly 18 million inhabitants, the intentions and progress of the Kazak ice hockey program have become very clear in recent years thanks to the achievements of the U18 and U20 teams, both of which have performed strongly in the respective Division I tournaments in the U18 and U20 categories. Something that is reminding viewers of the type of progress that Belarus has enjoyed in recent years.

Taking notes

In a couple of weeks Belarus will be part of the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship taking place in Buffalo, New York. That was made possible thanks to a convincing Division I tournament victory last December in Bremerhaven, Germany. Their journey took them from one B-town to another. And the Division I group serves as the stepping stone for every ambitious hockey nation that feels it should be duking things out with the world’s best. That’s now a step Kazakhstan will be experiencing for itself this time next year and will surely have all eyes on this year’s edition of the tournament, which will begin on 26th December.

It’s a tournament Kazakhstan’s hardest opponent, Latvia, is all too familiar with and one it desperately wants to be part of year for year.

A clear favourite heading into this December’s Division I Group A, the Latvian U20 national team was making a journey from North America to France, where their mission could only be to achieve direct re-qualification to the world’s top U20 division. To get back up, they’d have to beat recent Division I power Germany, ever-improving French and Kazakh teams, the grab bag Austrians, and a Hungarian team that has swiftly made its way up to Division I through some good grassroots development.

Only two years ago, this Latvian team had defeated some stiff competition in Vienna, Austria, to make its way up to the world’s elite. A 1-0 victory over Germany on the final day of the tournament allowed the Latvians, who had lost to Kazakhstan just 3-2 in overtime, to keep their hopes high, but alas, that one point lost to Kazakhstan on the second day of the tournament proved the difference on the final day.

Keeping things tight

German coach Christian Kunast perhaps said it best by stating, “We’ve once again come to see that this division won’t let you get away with even one bad day. At the end of the tournament, the team gaining promotion is the one that plays most consistently right from day one.”

A glance at the paths taken by Latvia and Germany at this tournament, much less that of Kazakhstan, which had it lost in overtime to either Germany or Latvia, would not have gained promotion when all was said and done, once again showed how tight the competition is at this level. Latvia missed out by one shootout loss and Germany’s loss of five possible points proved extremely bitter, considering each loss was by just one goal. A different hero here or there could have seen any of these three countries finish first.

“Our congrats go to Kazakhstan for gaining promotion,” stated German team manager Klaus Merk. “They played the best tournament, managing to do what was necessary when it was necessary, and rightfully earned first place in the standings.”

Differing a bit from previous years were the fates of Austria, France, and Hungary. Other than beating up each other, none of the three could make a dent against the tourney’s top three. Hungary’s one point came in OT against France, which at that juncture of the tournament seemed like quite the success. Nonetheless, the level of play in France and at this tournament was too much for Hungary, which still must be seen as an up and coming ice hockey nation.

Clearer playing field and continued trend

Almost surprisingly, the host nation France didn’t have the tournament it expected. After a very strong appearance last December in Germany, where the team managed to feature the tournament’s top scorers (Gabin Ville and Bastien Maia with 12 and 10 points respectively) and really give the impression that it will be reckoned with for promotion this year, the team simply couldn’t come close to achieving the same level of success. This came as a bit of a surprise for several reasons.

The home-ice advantage was felt to give the team a big boost, especially after the men’s World Championships were successfully co-held in France just this past May. In addition, the team featured what many felt would be the tournament’s strongest player, Alexandre Texier, a 2017 2nd-round draft pick of the Columbus Blue Jackets who is currently taking a regular shift for KalPa in Finland’s top senior circuit, for whom he has scored eight goals in 30 games. After kicking off the tournament with three assists in France’s convincing 6-1 victory over Austria, he managed just one point over the next four games in which France garnered just two points and was shut out twice. His power outage was indicative of France’s 4th place finish in the tournament.

Another trend that has developed at the Division I level was once again confirmed, namely that nations of the former USSR not only were among the most competitive, but also posed the tournament’s champion for the third year running. This shouldn’t come as a surprise as each of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Latvia have a rich history with the sport, which is clearly the most popular team sport in Belarus and Latvia while being as much in several parts of Kazakhstan.

On the way down

As if the organizers knew this match-up might hold such relevance, the final day of the tournament included an Austro-Hungarian match-up that featured a do-or-die scenario with respect to relegation. The two nations of Austria and Hungary are not just deeply entwined from an historical standpoint, but each have teams playing in the EBEL, a multinational league that stretches across four Central European nations and organizes its own junior leagues. A great many of the players dotting the roster have come up through the junior programs fostered by EBEL participants and/or are currently playing in North America, Scandinavia or Switzerland.

Each having entered the game with no more than a single point, Austria managed to pull out a convincing 5-2 victory, which was one that the team celebrated with aplomb. Forward Marco Rossi looked like a man on a mission with two goals and four points, proving to be the difference like few individuals had been in a game thus far. Although this was certainly a bit of a damper in the program’s progress, ice hockey pundits continue to believe that Austria will start to have a higher impact on the international ice hockey scene at this level in the years to come.

For now, the nations of Germany, France, and Austria will watch the progress of Kazakhstan at the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship while anxiously awaiting to see who will join them next winter after this year’s World Juniors in Buffalo. One thing they already know is that Norway will be rejoining them at next year’s Division I Group A tournament. To get there, Norway required a shootout victory to defeat Ukraine and then another in the final game to defeat Poland.

As such, things are getting tighter at the U20 level – something that every true ice hockey fan has to love to see.

Norway holds its nerve

By Andy Potts – IIHF.com

Norway edged Poland in a tournament-deciding shootout to seal top spot in the IIHF World Under-20 Championship Division IB on Friday.

The teams met in the final game of the tournament in Slovenia, both knowing that any kind of victory would be good enough to win the competition and claim a spot in Division IA next year. Norway eased into a 2-0 lead thanks to a quick-fire salvo early in the second period, but the Poles refused to yield. Dominik Jarosz pulled one back in the middle frame, then Alan Lyszczarczyk potted a dramatic equalizer with seven seconds left. Overtime was scoreless, but in the shootout Norway’s strong goaltending made the difference: Jorgen Hanneborg, who plays his hockey in Finland with the Espoo Blues, won all his duels. Martin Ellingsen claimed the decisive score.

The game promised to be a clash of styles. Norway had reached this stage thanks to a miserly defence, allowing just three goals in four games. Poland, meanwhile, offered lively offense: Lyszczarczyk, who plays in Canada with Owen Sound System, topped the scoring charts ahead of strike partner Bartlomiej Jeziorski, but there were questions over the defence, especially after the team allowed six power play goals during the tournament.

At times, the game reflected that. From the start, Poland was happy to get forward and shoot at Hanneborg’s net. Norway, by contrast, looked for more control of the puck and sought to carve out clear-cut opportunities. After a scoreless opening stanza, the Norwegians exploded with two goals in 64 seconds early in the second. Samuel Solem created the first, weaving his way to the Polish net before Esbjorn Live Vold beat Kamil Lewartowski to a rebound and open the scoring. It wasn’t long before Mads Homdrom added a second, getting the vital touch on Joachim Nielsen’s shot from the blue line after Poland failed to clear its zone.

But then the Polish PK raised its game, seeing off a short 3-on-5 situation before Jarosz reduced the deficit. Then came the dramatic finish. Ellingsen almost won it for Norway but fired narrowly wide of the empty net, then got a minor for holding. Poland took advantage, forcing the puck home with seven seconds left on the clock when Lyszczarchuk shot a wrister through heavy traffic to tie the scores. That was his eighth goal and 15th point of the tournament; Jeziorski’s helper took him to 12 (5+7).

The Poles celebrated hard, but the reprieve was temporary. Ellingsen redeemed himself for that late penalty by deking his way past Lewartowski to win the shootout, and the tournament. The result means Norway makes an instant return to Division IA following its relegation in Bremerhaven 12 months ago.

However, Poland’s future at this level looks encouraging. Head coach David Leger highlighted the youth of his roster, which had two players born in 2000 and drew heavily on the squad that suffered relegation at u18 level a year ago.

Host nation Slovenia had hopes of disturbing the top seeds in the group, but finished third after losing to Poland in a shootout after a 4-4 tie and then suffering a 1-5 drubbing against the Norwegians. Ukraine took fourth place, but was competitive in all its games.

At the foot of the table, Lithuania returns to Division II after picking up just two points from two overtime losses. Italy also finished on two points, but crucially defeated the Lithuanians 2-1 in overtime to preserve its status by virtue of the head-to-head record. Simon Berger, of HC Pustertal, got the vital goal for the Azzurri, converting a power play three minutes into the extras.

Among the individual awards, the two Polish hot-shots Lyszczarczyk and Jeziorski led the scoring, with Norway’s Jacob Alexander Noer coming in third with 4+6=10 points. Poland’s late goal denied Hanneborg the top ranking among the goalies – Lithuania’s Laurynas Lubis pipped him with by stopping an impressive 95.29% of his shots across three appearances, although the Norwegian had fractionally the better GAA of 1.26 against 1.29.

Elias Pettersson is taking his place among some all-time Swedish greats

Elias Pettersson waves to the Vaxjo Lakers crowd.

By Daniel Wagner – Vancouver Courier

It’s tough to know how frequently to write an update on Elias Pettersson. If I wrote about him every time he scored a nice goal or had a big game, Pass it to Bulis would pretty much cease to be a Canucks blog and would simply become an Elias Pettersson blog.

This seemed as good a time as any: it’s the halfway point of the Swedish Hockey League regular season, with a brief break in games until December 19th. The SHL season lasts 52 games and most SHL teams have played 26. So has Elias Pettersson.

In those 26 games, Pettersson has 11 goals and 35 points. If he had put up those point totals over a full season, that would have been impressive. A 35-point season would have exceeded expectations and there’s still another half a season to go.

Already, Pettersson’s season is among the all-time greats from a junior (under-20) player in the SHL. His 35 points is 13th all-time and he just needs three more points to step into the top-10. When he does, he’ll join Thomas Gradin, Markus Naslund and the Sedins: seven of the greatest junior seasons in SHL history will belong to Canucks.

But Pettersson isn’t just on-pace for a top-10 all-time season; he’s on-pace to be top-two.

SHL junior points-per-game - Elias Pettersson

              Source: Via EliteProspects.com

Pettersson’s 1.35 points per game trails only Kent “The Magic Man” Nilsson in all-time points per game from a junior in the SHL. Not only is he right behind one of the greatest Swedish hockey players of all time, he’s ahead of arguably the greatest: Peter Forsberg.

It’s entirely possible that when Pettersson’s season ends, he’ll have the most points in SHL history from a junior player. He needs 20 points in the second half of a season to pass Kent Nilsson’s 54, which seems doable. His own excellence might prove to be an obstacle, however.

Pettersson will obviously be on Team Sweden for the World Junior tournament, but he’s also a candidate to play in the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. In fact, it would seem absurd if the SHL’s leading scorer was eligible to go to the Olympics didn’t make the roster.

That means Pettersson will miss at least four games during the World Junior tournament, possibly more if he’s required to be in any pre-tournament camp or games. The tournament runs from December 26th to January 5th.

The SHL will take a break during the Olympic tournament, which runs from February 14th to 25th. Vaxjo does have a game on the 25th, the same day as the gold medal game, so if Sweden goes deep into the medal round, Pettersson would miss at least one game. Just like with the World Junior tournament, he might miss more game if he’s required to go to a selection camp or play in pre-tournament warm-up games.

At his current pace, Pettersson will need to play in 41 games to reach 55 points. With the games he’s likely to miss (and the one game he already missed with a minor injury), it will be tight. There’s also the question of whether he can keep up this pace.

Pettersson currently has a 17.74% shooting percentage, which is unusually high. It’s the sixth highest shooting percentage in the SHL. So, if Pettersson’s shooting percentage regresses, his scoring pace could slow down over the second half of the season.

There’s reason to believe that it won’t regress, however. Pettersson’s shooting percentage in the Allsvenskan last season was a nearly identical 17.76%. Certainly, the Allsvenskan is a lower tier league, with likely a lower caliber of goaltending, but it’s enough to suggest that Pettersson has legitimate shooting talent that can carry a higher-than-average shooting percentage.

He also hasn’t been getting lucky with any of his goals. Scott Wheeler at The Athletic broke down Pettersson’s goalscoring this season (warning: paywall) and noted how his goals have come courtesy of his devastating one-timer, accurate wristshot, and quick hands around the net. He’s not scoring off crazy deflections or fortunate bounces: he’s scoring via skill.

In addition, Pettersson isn’t dependent on his goalscoring ability to rack up points. He leads the SHL in assists per game for a reason: his vision and playmaking are off the charts. He didn’t need to score a goal to put up four points against Färjestad BK: he just assisted on four of the Lakers’ five goals.

Some might question whether the SHL is a physical league and whether Pettersson will continue to produce when he comes over to North America. Two of his four assists in that game came after he was knocked to the ice along the boards. The SHL is a physical league and Pettersson gets hit: he just doesn’t let it stop him from piling up points.

Another reason why Pettersson might be able to keep up his pace is that he’s gradually been given more rope by his coach, the wonderfully foul-mouthed Sam Hellam.

Pettersson is averaging just 16:24 in ice time this season, much less than most of the other leading scorers in the SHL. Throughout the season, however his ice time has been trending upward.

Elias Pettersson - SHL Time on Ice Chart

Since late October, Pettersson’s 5-game average in ice time has stayed steady at or above 17 minutes per game. Over his last five games, Pettersson is up over 18 minutes per game. With that boost in ice time, Pettersson will get more opportunities to keep up his scoring pace.

The Växjö Lakers are currently leading the SHL by nine points, largely thanks to Pettersson’s outstanding season. Pettersson has 12 more points than the next highest scorer on the Lakers, so he hasn’t been carried by his teammates. If anything, the opposite is true.

If he’s good in comparison to his teammates and the rest of the league, he’s incredible in comparison to other junior players. The next best under-20 player is Lias Andersson, who has 7 goals and 14 points, 21 fewer than Pettersson.

Let’s be clear: this is a great season for Andersson, who the New York Rangers picked 7th overall in 2017. It’s the type of season that we could have reasonably expected for Pettersson and one that strongly suggests a good NHL future. And it pales in comparison to how Pettersson is actually performing.

With the SHL season temporarily on hold, Pettersson has continued to score in Champion’s Hockey League action, scoring the game-winner against the Swiss champions SC Bern, who feature several former NHLers, including Mason Raymond, Mark Arcobello, and Andrew Ebbett.

Pettersson’s goal was gorgeous, as he took advantage of some space and ripped a wrist shot into the top corner.

Pettersson combines elite play-making ability, high-end shooting talent, and incredible intelligence, making him one of the best prospects in all of hockey. Yes, it’s okay to be excited.

Rising ice hockey talent from Europe and Asia to descend on Dumfries for the Under-20 World Championships this weekend

By News & Star

The cream of rising ice hockey talent from Europe and Asia will descend on Dumfries this weekend as the Under-20 World Championships get under way.

Held in the Dumfries Ice Bowl, the Division II Group A tournament will feature 15 games in a round-robin format, with Team GB up against Korea, Estonia, Japan, Netherlands and Romania as they look to win promotion back to Division I Group B.

Two local players are set to star for the GB side, with Dumfries-based Solway Sharks players, Stuart Kerr and Jordan Buesa, both in the squad, with Sharks coach Martin Grubb also involved in the GB set-up.

Jordan has starred for professional outfit Braehead Clan this season, as well.

A total of five Scottish players have been selected in the 22-man squad for the tournament that runs from December 10 to 16, including Dundee Stars’ Ben Edmonds, Chad Smith of Fife Flyers and Dundee-born Craig Garrigan, now with Skylands Kings in the USA.

Looking ahead to the tournament, Buesa said: “It’s always an honour to represent GB but to do so in a world championships at home makes it even more special.

 “We are up against some strong opposition but will be trying our best to win the group. We hope as many fans as possible come along to cheer us on.”

The tournament, jointly organised by Ice Hockey UK and Dumfries & Galloway Council on behalf of the International Ice Hockey Federation, represents yet another coup for the region as it welcomes back international ice hockey for a sixth consecutive year.

Councillor Adam Wilson, who leads on the council’s events strategy which has delivered a number of major occasions to the region, said: “World Championship Ice Hockey is a wonderful tournament to bring to Dumfries, and an exciting prospect for all sports fans.

“We have an enviable recent tradition of hosting IIHF World Championships and are proud to be able to bring the Great Britain national team at Under-20s level back to South West Scotland.

“Ice Hockey is alive and well in Dumfries and past tournaments have really boosted the profile and participation numbers in the sport – I’m sure this Under-20s World Championship will be no different.”

Americans will be loaded with offensive talent at World Juniors

By Bob McKenzie – TSN

A week today, Hockey Canada will name 30 players, give or take a couple, to compete for the 23-man national junior team roster at the final selection camp that opens two weeks from today in St. Catharines, Ont.

So there’ll be plenty of time to analyze what Team Canada may or may not look like when it takes to the ice for the 2018 World Junior Championship, Dec. 26 – Jan. 5, in Buffalo.

In the meantime, it’s an interesting exercise to look at the pool of talent USA Hockey is in the final stages of assessing before it names the 28 young Americans who will be invited to Team USA’s final selection camp, which opens Dec. 15 in Columbus.

The Americans, of course, are the defending WJC gold medalists, courtesy of the thrilling/heartbreaking — it’s all a matter of perspective — gold-medal game shootout in Montreal last January.

This time around, the host nation and defending champion looks like it will once again be a top contender, if not perhaps the favourite on home ice.

The American program has been on something of a roll lately at the WJC.

Since ending Canada’s run of five straight gold medals, when John Carlson scored in overtime in Saskatoon to win the 2010 tournament, the Americans have won three gold medals in the last eight years, as well as two bronze.

Canada also has won five medals in the last eight years, but only one gold to go with three silver and one bronze.

If you focus only on the last five years, the Americans have two golds and one bronze compared to Canada’s one gold and one silver.

In head-to-head play at the WJC over the last four tournaments, the U.S. has won three of the five meetings. That includes a current three-game winning streak topped by the one that mattered most — last year’s gold-medal game.

Team Canada and Team USA will meet once again this year, Dec. 29, when they take their preliminary round WJC contest to the great outdoors of New Era Field, home of the Buffalo Bills.

So what are we to make of this year’s U.S. national junior team?

Well, Team USA head coach Bob Motzko, who guided them to gold last year, will have some firepower at his disposal.

The top offensive line is potentially projected to be Ottawa Senators (2016) first-rounder Logan Brown between Edmonton Oiler (2017) first-rounder Kailer Yamamoto and Buffalo Sabre (2017) first rounder Casey Mittelstadt. That trio would bring impressive extremes of size, skill and speed. Mittelstadt plays in the middle at the University of Minnesota but is viewed as a left winger for Team USA.

There appears to be the prospect of considerable strength down the middle.

Beyond Brown, strong contenders to lock down roster spots include Montreal Canadien (2017) first- rounder Ryan Poehling; Boston Bruin (2016) first-rounder Trent Frederic and San Jose Shark (2017) first-rounder Josh Norris. Now, it’s important to note that any of these three centers could end shifting to the wing if needed, but if Team USA opts to go with them in the middle it looks to be a strong group.

If Mittelstadt, as expected, is the first-line left winger with Brown and Yamamoto, there’ll be a tremendous amount of competition for the spots behind him.

WJC returnee Kieffer Bellows, the New York Islander (2016) first-rounder, is a strong contender, but who isn’t among a group that includes 2018 draft-eligible Brady Tkachuk, who’s expected to be a top-five pick next June, Anaheim Duck (2016) first-rounder Max Jones and Dallas Stars (2016) first-rounder Riley Tufte. That’s quite a quartet that blends a lot of size and above average goal-scoring ability.

On the right side, Yamamoto owns the top spot and WJC returnee and New Jersey Devil (2016) third-rounder Joey Anderson is bound to get one of the 13 forward spots. Will Lockwood, the Vancouver Canucks’ (2016) third-rounder, is another strong consideration on the right side.

That’s a dozen U.S. forwards who have been mentioned. Not every one of them is a lock to make it, but all are strong contenders and would have to either play their way off the team or be displaced by younger, in some instances first-year NHL draft eligible or more experienced but less (NHL) heralded talent.

Either is always possible.

It will be fascinating to see if USA Hockey is at all enticed by the notion of perhaps inviting some of their blue-chip under-17 players to the national junior team camp. USA Hockey’s U-17 team is as strong as it’s ever been and Jack Hughes (potential No. 1 pick in 2019 NHL draft), Cole Caufield and Alex Turcotte (son of former NHL player Alfie Turcotte) are dynamic offensive stars on that team.

Hughes, in particular, is an intriguing possibility. His older brother Quinn, a potential top-five pick in this year’s NHL draft, is a strong contender to get one of the seven spots on Team USA’s blueline. USA Hockey was said to be “assessing” Hughes, Canfield and Turcotte in the weeks leading up to the opening of the final camp, though it’s a long shot any of them get the call.

Whatever the composition of the final 13 forwards is, there looks to be a nice blend of speed, skill and size.

On the blueline, the first two spots would appear to be spoken for.

Boston Bruin (2016) second-rounder Ryan Lindgren and Calgary Flame (2016) third-rounder Adam Fox are returnees from last year’s gold-medal team. Lindgren will play the left side and get hard matchup minutes while Fox is expected to quarterback the power play and be the top offensive presence from the blueline.

There’ll be a lot of competition for the remaining five spots on defence.

As mentioned, the dynamic speed and puck-moving ability of Quinn Hughes will give him a chance to land a spot on the final roster. Columbus Blue Jacket (2016) second-rounder Andrew Peeke was strong for Team USA at the Summer Showcase and should also contend.

Beyond that, there’s a substantial pool of fairly large blueliners, including Winnipeg Jet (2017) second-rounder Dylan Samberg and Los Angeles King (2017) fourth-rounder Mikey Anderson, among others. Samberg and Anderson were teammates with Waterloo in the USHL before both moving to the University of Minnesota-Duluth this season.

In goal, Team USA will, technically, have two returnees. Joseph Woll, who is Toronto’s (2016) third-rounder, and Jake Oettinger, who is the Dallas Stars’ (2017) first-rounder, were both on the roster last season. But it was Tyler Parson who starred in net, especially in the gold-medal game. Parsons played five of the Americans’ seven games; Woll played the other two while Oettinger was the insurance policy at No. 3.

This year, Woll and Oettinger are expected to compete for No. 1 status.

On Dec. 5, the day after Team Canada unveils its final selection camp roster, Team USA is expected to name three goalies, 10 defencemen and 15 forwards to its final camp.

Canadian teens cut from the NHL shift focus to starring at world juniors

By Michael Traikos – National Post

One dream has been put on hold. Another is about to begin.

A day after the Florida Panthers returned Owen Tippett to the Ontario Hockey League, the 10th overall pick in this year’s draft was back practising with the Mississauga Steelheads on Tuesday.

If he was bitter or disappointed, he didn’t show it. Instead, Tippett was already looking ahead to the next challenge: winning a spot on Canada’s roster for the world junior championship.

“I’ve dreamed about playing for Team Canada at the world juniors ever since I was a little kid, so to play in that tournament would be a really special feeling,” said the 18-year-old forward. “I obviously can take a lot back from what I learned there and implement it here.”

Tippett, who unexpectedly made Florida’s roster out of training camp, scored a goal and had 17 shots — only once did he fail to register a shot — in seven NHL games for the Panthers.

“What I like about him is he wants the puck and he wants it in critical situations,” GM Dale Tallon told Postmedia News in September. “I think his game is well suited to the pros.”

At times, Tippett looked like he might stick. He had seven shots in his NHL debut. On his goal, he showcased his speed when he grabbed a turnover and sprinted up the ice before converting on a give-and-go against John Gibson of the Anaheim Ducks. But he was in and out of Florida’s lineup; he averaged 11 minutes of ice time and watched nearly half the games from the press box.

At 18, Tippett needs to play so he can develop. That’s why he was sent back to junior on the same day the Edmonton Oilers returned 22nd-overall pick Kailer Yamamoto (no goals and three assists in nine games) to the Spokane Chiefs of the Western Hockey League.

“I’ve realized now it’s not as big of a jump as some people might say,” said Tippett. “Anyone who’s my age who gets to start out with an NHL club at the start of the year (has) a great experience. I obviously can take a lot back from what I learned there and implement it here.”

The hope now is that both players will represent their respective countries — Yamamoto is American — at the world junior championship, which begins in Buffalo over the Christmas holidays next month. For Canada, getting a player with NHL experience, even if it’s only seven games, is a benefit.

“I think they came back with tremendous confidence. That’s first and foremost,” Hockey Canada head scout Brad McEwen said in a phone interview from Swift Current, Sask., where he was watching the first leg of the Canada-Russia series.

“We’re always looking for offence and ways to produce offence. And (Tippett) can do that. We expect him to be part of the offence and certainly in the mix. But he has to prove it right away.”

While it appears no draft-eligible player will find his way onto Canada’s roster, McEwen is “crossing his fingers” that several players currently on NHL rosters will be made available. Some, such as Columbus forward Pierre-Luc Dubois and Montreal defenceman Victor Mete, are long shots. Others, like Colorado’s Tyson Jost and Samuel Girard, could be last-minute additions.

The biggest name out there is No. 2 overall pick Nolan Patrick, who has played nine games with Philadelphia, but has been out of the Philadelphia’s lineup since Oct. 24 with a head injury. Once healthy, the Flyers have to decide whether to keep Patrick past the 10-game threshold or return him to the WHL’s Brandon Wheat Kings.

Another question mark concerns Michael McLeod (12th overall, 2016). The Devils prospect tore his meniscus during a pre-season game and has been recovering from knee surgery ever since. It’s doubtful New Jersey will keep him around once he’s healthy.

“The information that we get is that his rehab is going real well and it’s getting close to the point where he’s going to get cleared,” McEwan said of McLeod, who had two goals and one assist in seven games for Canada at last year’s world juniors. “We’ll communicate with the Devils and see what’s in the plans. He would be a nice addition, having played last year and being a veteran guy.”

The Matt Duchene trade could affect whether Canada ends up with a couple of key players.

At one time, it looked like Jost (10th overall, 2016) might become available, since he was in and out of Colorado’s lineup and averaging only 13 minutes a game. But with Duchene gone from the Avalanche, Jost could see an increase in ice time moving forward. Another difficult assessment concerns Girard (47th overall, 2016), who looked like he would be loaned for the world juniors after getting demoted to Nashville’s AHL affiliate. But that was before he was traded to Colorado.

“Now that Samuel’s been traded, I don’t know what the plan is there, and that’s fine,” said McEwen, who is also keeping an eye on Mete’s declining minutes with the Canadiens. “He played a ton of minutes early and now it’s come down. For me, that’s not an indicator of whether we’re going to get him back or not. We’re just waiting and seeing where it all plays out.

“We prepare the names that we have now, and if those guys come back, it will be a bonus.”

HART FAVOURED TO START IN GOAL

Canada’s selection camp for the 2018 world junior championship is still a month away, but it appears Carter Hart has the inside track on the No. 1 goaltending position.

The 19-year-old, who is one of six potential returning players who won silver at last year’s tournament, posted a shutout in a 7-0 win Monday in the Canada-Russia super series in Moose Jaw, Sask. It was a good first step for the Philadelphia Flyers prospect, who had played sparingly this season because he had been sick with mono.

“I thought Carter Hart was really good,” said Hockey Canada head scout Brad McEwen. “Even though it was 7-0, he was great, which was great to see.”

Hart, who was selected 48th overall in the 2016 draft after being named CHL goalie of the year, is expected to battle Vancouver Canucks prospect Michael DiPietro for the starting job.

New U20 coach for Latvia

By IIHF.com

The Latvian Hockey Federation (LHF) named Karlis Zirnis its new U20 national team head coach following a board meeting on Tuesday.

The 39-year-old has been working as an assistant coach with the men’s and U20 national teams at several occasions during the last five seasons including stints at the 2014 Olympics and the last four World Championships.

Zirnis grew up in Latvia and represented his country at the 1995 U18 European Championship C-Pool and the 1996 and 1997 U20 World Championship B-Pool tournaments shortly after the country’s independence. Since 1997 he has been living in North America where he played college and minor-league hockey (CHL, SPHL) in the U.S. until 2010. Afterwards he worked as a scout and coach. This season he has been the head coach of junior team Shreveport Mudbugs of the NAHL after three years as head coach of the Nashville Jr. Predators.

“Karlis Zirnis has for several years helped the senior and junior national teams and now quite successfully led a U.S. junior team in the NAHL. He has sufficient experience and expertise to lead the U20 national team to the World Junior Championship,” said LHF President Aigars Kalvitis. “I’m confident that the Latvian junior national team under Karlis Zirnis’ guidance will return to the top division.”

The Latvian U20 national team will play at the Black Sea Cup 2017 in Sochi, Russia, as kick-off for next season’s preparation. After a last-place finish at the recent World Juniors Latvia will compete in the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey U20 World Championship Division I Group A next winter and aim at promotion against Germany, France, Kazakhstan, Austria and Hungary.

Turkish juniors write history

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By Alister McMurran – IIHF.com

Turkey won the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey U20 World Championship Division III final 2-1 in front of an enthusiastic group of expats at the Dunedin Ice Stadium and will be promoted to Division II Group B next year.

When the clock ticked time the emotionally fired team on the rink threw their hats on to the ice and players on the bench rushed on to the ice to hug each other.

It was an emotional time for a Turkish team that played their hearts out, out-thought and outplayed their more fancied opponents.

It was a well thought out strategy by veteran American coach Keith McAdams who has lifted the performance of Turkish hockey since becoming the under-20 and under-18 head coach over two years ago.

“Turkey hasn’t won an under-20 medal in a long time so there was a lot of pressure on the players,” he said.

“It gives these players something to grow with when they reach the senior team. They are still young and can develop. We knew it would be hard to compete with China with all the ice and financial backing they have.

“I’m so happy for the boys. We played very well as a team. The guys have worked hard on the tactics we are using.”

McAdams plan began when he selected an under-18 team for the under-20 Division III that was held in Dunedin as well two years ago. The same team also played in the under-18 tournament at Auckland the same year.

They were an experienced group when they came back to Dunedin this year. The players all bought into the plan and it worked.

The game plan was simple. They had to shut down the neutral zone and stop the breaks that China likes to make in that part of the rink.

It meant man-on-man marking and putting pressure on the Chinese players. It worked because the Chinese team became frustrated and rattled at not being allowed to play its own game.

Turkey was especially good at competing for the puck when it went behind the net and by making it difficult for China to get out of the tight corners.

They did not give China the freedom and open space it had enjoyed in other games during the tournament.

The first period was tight but U.S.-based forward Hakan Salt scored with just over a minute left to give Turkey a 1-0 lead.

That was the crucial play of the game. It gave the Turkish players the belief that they could win and it put doubts into the minds of the Chinese team.

The margin was extended to two goals after 10 minutes in the second period when the Chinese defence failed to clear the puck away from the front of their goal and Yusuf Kars scored from a rebound.

The margin was reduced when Ou Li scored China’s only goal five minutes later. Turkey’s defence was solid as a rock and no goals were scored in the third period.

The best Turkish player in the final and throughout the whole championships was aggressive forward Omer Kars. The forward from Erzurum is also a member of the Turkish senior squad.

Others to impress for Turkey throughout the week were Hakan Salt, who scored seven goals, and Yusuf Kars, who was named best defenceman of the tournament.

McAdams has coached in Turkey for the last seven years with the Erzurum BBSK teams. They have won eight national titles.

Twelve members of the 20-man strong Turkish under-20 team play for the club.

Erzurum, a city of 600,000 in Eastern Turkey, has four ice rinks thanks to the 2011 Winter Universiade but only one can be used for ice hockey.

“Most of the team have played for me and they know the systems,” McAdams said. “We have been able to build on this over the last three seasons.”

Turkey finished sixth last year but has made a significant improvement over the last 12 months. What made the difference?

“We had a young team at first and our players have gained a lot of experience of international hockey over the last two years,” the coach explained.

“Two years ago we won the under-18 Division III Group B tournament at Auckland and last year we finished second with the under-18 team in the Division III Group A in Bulgaria.

“It was the first time, in any age group, that Turkey has ever won any game when moving up to a higher level.”

The Turkish U20 team reached 35th place overall this season, its highest placing in the new millennium.

Turkey’s biggest advantage was continuity. Only three players of its squad had not played in the team that came to New Zealand two years ago.

McAdams knew it would be difficult for Turkey to continue its unbeaten tournament record in the semi-finals and final. Turkey had beaten New Zealand, 6-4, Bulgaria, 8-1, and South Africa, 6-0, in the group stage. The Turks beat Iceland 3-2 in the semi-finals coming back from a two-goal deficit with three unanswered third-period goals.

“The goal is always to win but I would have been happy as long as we played well and did our best,” he said.

There are 24 indoor ice rinks in Turkey and they are spread over five cities. There are just fewer than 1,100 ice hockey players in Turkey and 576 of them are juniors. But only 22 of them are good enough to make the under-20 team.

“We need more hockey players in Turkey,” McAdams said. “Until the government comes up with a supportive plan it’s always going to be hard.”

Most of the team did not start playing ice hockey until they were aged 14.

“It took five years with me before they became really good players,” McAdams said. “Erzurum BBSK never had a team until I started coaching there.

“They have come a long way and every Erzurum player, boys and girls, has made the national team. That is what I am most happy about. I like the players to develop as people and be able to get a university education.”

This was the second time McAdams has coached a Turkish team at a World Championships in Dunedin in the south of New Zealand.

“Dunedin is a great city and I’m impressed by everything you guys do. Everything is done professionally. I’m impressed with the work the volunteers do. It would be impossible to do this in Turkey.”

China

China won the gold medal in Dunedin two years ago but was not able to stay in the higher grade.

But with new Russian Coach Alexander Barkov on board as head coach China started as favourite.

This favouritism was confirmed in the early rounds when China demonstrated that it was able to lift the power of its games to win tight games.

China reached its pinnacle when it thrashed home team New Zealand 11-2 in the semi-finals.

In that game China sparked into life from the start and scored three goals in the first six minutes and ended the first period with a four goal cushion.

New Zealand, as expected, fought back in the second period but China then romped home by scoring six more goals in the third period.

If China had repeated that form 24 hours later it was difficult to see it losing.

Turkey shut down China’s ability to make breaks through the neutral zone and China had no answer.

The best Chinese player was its captain Rudi Ying who plays for Kunlun Red Star in the Kontinental Hockey League. Ying scored the most goals in the week-long championship with nine and was the scoring leader with 19 points. He was named as the best forward by the directorate.

The other noted forward was Ou Li, who was second on the leaders scoring table with 10 points and scored six goals.

Other Chinese players to impress during the championship were forward Zemin Deng and defenders Pengfei Zhang and Haolin Nie.

Iceland

Everything worked for Iceland when it beat New Zealand 10-0 in the bronze medal game.

It outplayed the hosts in all departments with its speed on skates and its ability to use the width of the rink to create gaps in the defence.

It was particularly skilled in the battle for the puck behind the net and in the corners.

Iceland tested New Zealand in the first period and then displayed complete dominance in the second period to score five goals.

Latvian-born team captain Edmunds Induss, who is in his fifth season in the top senior league in Iceland, was playing dynamically with his speed with the puck down the centre of the rink. He used his skill to score the fourth goal that went between the legs of the goalie.

The fifth goal, scored by Elvar Olafsson, was all class. It came from a back pass to the trailing man who had a better angle to shoot the goal.

The well drilled Icelandic team continued its dominance in the final period and added five more goals. They were able to jam the New Zealand defence into the neutral zone to open up scoring opportunities.

Iceland demonstrated its dominance when its second line scored three goals against a withering New Zealand defence in the final period. It kept peppering the New Zealand net and its dominance was demonstrated by having 59 shots at goal compared to 20 by New Zealand.

Iceland was heading for the gold medal game when it led Turkey 2-0 at the end of the second period in the semi-final. But it conceded three goals in the last period to lose 3-2.

“We made a good effort but it was not our lucky day,” head coach Magnus Blarand said. “We did a lot of good things today but the final result was a big disappointment to us.”

Iceland led 1-0 after the first period but Turkey had the momentum for 10 minutes in the second period and only good defending kept Iceland’s goal intact.

A goal in the last minute by Vignir Arason gave Iceland a 2-0 lead and an upset was on the cards.

It was a frustrating time for Iceland supporters when Turkey stormed back in the third period to score three goals.

Fatih Faner, a member of the Turkish senior squad, used his experience to hit the winning puck with 3:20 left in the game.

The best player for Iceland in the game was goalie Maksymilian Mojzyszek, who made 25 saves and conceded three goals.

Iceland showed its best game in the 4-1 group-stage loss to China. The score was 1-1 after two periods but China held its structure and scored three goals in the final period.

“China thought they would beat us easily but we showed fight and dominated. It showed that Iceland hockey is on the move,” coach Blarand said.

Iceland’s best players in the tournament were goaltenders Arnar Hjaltested and Maksymilian Mojzyszek, defencemen Sigurdur Thorsteinsson and Jon Arnason, and forwards Edmunds Induss and Hjalti Johannsson.

Mojzyszek saved 89 shots and conceded only eight goals.

New Zealand

New Zealand struck China in vintage form in the semi-finals and lost 11-2. It was a big occasion for the young team in front of their home supporters and they froze in the first period when China raced to a 4-0 lead.

New Zealand got its ice legs back in the second period and played with more urgency and put their bodies on the line.

Goalie James Moore let in three early goals in the first six minutes and was replaced by Taylor Goodall, who let in only one goal to the end of the second period when New Zealand out-scored China 2-1.

But the wheels fell off in the third period when China scored six more goals. The best player for China was captain Rudi Ying who scored four goals.

New Zealand finished runner-up in 2015 and third last year. But assistant coach Matthew Sandford knew that it would be a re-building year with only six members of last year’s squad returning.

“It was a good tournament for us to get this far with so many rookies in the team,” Sandford said. “To reach the top four was a bonus.”

Sandford was pleased with the second-period effort against China.

“The boys went hard and came out with a lot of pride,” Sandford said. “But the skill of the Chinese team broke our resistance in the third period. It was tough.”

Sandford could hear the noise and praised the partisan crowd for its support.

New Zealand started nervously in its home patch and lost its first game to Turkey 6-4.

But the performances got better as the tournament progressed and experienced Robin Vortanov kept his cool to score late goals to give the Kiwi’s a 3-2 win over South Africa and a 5-4 margin against Bulgaria to progress to the semi-finals.

“The chips were down but the boys never gave up,” Sandford said. “It was a good fight in both those games.”

New Zealand had six players returning from 2016 when it finished third and Vortanov, captain Mason Kennedy, Logan Fraser, Ben Harford and Taylor Rooney displayed composure under pressure and stood up when it counted.

Rooney, who finished fourth equal on the goal scoring table, was named the Kiwi’s best player of the tournament and the best new boy was Shaun Brown, who plays for the Canterbury Red Devils national league team.

Israel

Israel finished fourth last year and the team was disappointed not to be in medal contention after the three round-robin games.

It needed to beat China in its last game to reach the semi-finals. It was outplayed in the first period and was down 3-0 at the break. But it fought back after that to only trail by two shots, 6-4, at the end.

It came back strongly in its last two games to beat South Africa 9-0 and narrowly beat Bulgaria 3-2 to finish fifth.

Israel held a 2-0 lead after two periods and added a third goal early in the third period.

But Bulgaria was a team that never gave up and scored two quick goals in the 56th minute by Veselin Dikov and Yanaki Gatchev to give Israel a tense last four minutes.

The star player in this game was goal keeper Raz Werner, who stopped 35 of the 37 Bulgaria shots at goal. Bulgarian keeper Dimitar Dimitrov stopped 19 of Israel’s 22 shots.

Werner, named the top goal keeper by the directorate, saved 141 goals and conceded only 11.

This was only the third time that Israel had competed at the under-20 championships. With only three players returning from last year it suffered by a lack of experience at crucial times.

The big problem for the development of Israeli hockey is that 18-year-olds are drafted into the army for two years and eight months and only a few return to the sport after their military service.

The best players for Israel at the championships were overseas based players Dan Hoffman, Tom Ignatovich, Ariel Kapulkin, Raz Werner, and Denis Kozev and Mark Revniaga who have had experience in the United States.

Others to impress were Ori Kafri, who plays for the Israeli senior team, and promising newcomer Itay Mostovoy.

Bulgaria

Bulgaria finished runner-up to home team Mexico last year when beaten 3-0 in the crunch game.

“We hit the post so often and their goalie made some crazy saves,” Bulgarian captain Tomislav Georgiev said. “I thought we could win it this year because we had six of our players back.”

They began confidently this year with a 5-2 win against South Africa but then slumped to a big 8-1 loss to Turkey.

The crunch final game in section play was won by New Zealand 5-4 when the Kiwis scored two late goals. The last by Robin Vortanov on a power play snuffed out Bulgaria’s medal chances.

It beat Chinese Taipei 6-1 in the first placement game but lost was beaten 3-2 by Israel in the game for fifth place.

Its best players were goaltender Dimitar Dimitrov, who made 41 saves in the 5-4 loss to New Zealand, Daniel Dilkov, Tomislav Georgeiev, Miroslav Vasilev and assistant captain Yanaki Gatchev.

Bulgaria has been a member of the IIHF since 1960 but the sport does not have lot money and has just three indoor and five outdoor rinks for its 760 players.

The country’s strength is with its 575 junior players and it could build its future on this.

South Africa & Chinese Taipei

South Africa and Chinese Taipei were always were seeded at the bottom and ended up in the game for seventh place.

Both countries need international competition and that’s what they got. Originally seeded as the only teams in the Division III Group B, the organizer managed to accommodate to add the teams and make the Division III an eight-team event.

Chinese Taipei coach Ryan Lang was happy that it worked out so the team could get the experience of playing games against five different teams.

Canadian Lang played junior hockey in Canada and the United States and was a professional in the Australian Ice Hockey League. He has been coaching for the last 12 years and has been involved with a club side on the island of Taiwan and with the national side for the last three years.

This was the first tournament that the Chinese Taipei under-20 team has played in the last six years and it has been a big boost to the morale of hockey in the country.

“We were excited to get back,” Lang said. “It was a huge bonus for us to be here.”

For the first time Chinese Taipei will compete in four World Championship categories with the under-18, under-20 and senior men’s teams and the women’s team.

They finished the championship on a high note with a comfortable 7-1 win against South Africa to claim seventh place.

Their best players were goalie Sheng-Chun Huang, who made 34 saves in the 3-0 loss to Israel, forward Po-Jui Huang and assistant captain Wei Chiang.

South Africa did not win any games when it finished last in the seven-team competition in 2016. It finished eighth this year when beaten by Chinese Taipei.

It expected to be demoted to the lower grade but received a reprieve when two extra teams were added to the competition this year.

South Africa’s best game was the narrow 3-2 loss to New Zealand in its second game when the Kiwis scored a late goal to win the game.

Goalie Ryan Boyd was the hero in that game and stopped 38 goals. The other goalie to excel was Aslam Khan, who made 49 saves in the 6-0 loss to Turkey.

The other standout player was defender John Venter.

South African coach Marc Giot said that his aim was to secure a spot in the competition for next year.

“We wanted to do well but we had to be realistic at the same time,” he said.

“Ice hockey is an expensive sport and we only have seven indoor rinks in the country. We have to pick our teams from a small pool of players. Our competitive level is not as high as in other countries we come up against.

“With so few rinks our players have to travel long distances to get to rinks to train and it is difficult to get enough ice time to progress our skills.”

Hyukjin scores twice to give Korea promotion

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By Andy Potts – IIHF.com

Two goals from Hyukjin Lee helped Korea U20 to victory over Spain in Logrono and sent his country back up to Division IIA one year after relegation.

But it took a breathless finale featuring five goals in barely six minutes, plus a passage of 6-on-3 play as Spain threw everything at the Koreans, before the hooter sounded on a 5-3 win for head coach Hyung Jun Cho and his team.

For the host, though, the defeat means another year of frustration in second place, just as Spain endured 12 months ago, when Romania won this section.

The Spanish came into this winner-takes-all showdown against Korea with a one-point advantage after the two teams dominated the competition. Spain picked up crushing victories over Australia (15-2) and Mexico (10-0) to enjoy a goal difference of +28 from four games, while the Koreans also ran riot against the team from Latin America, winning 12-0 on its way to a +18 record. The only blemish for either team came in Korea’s first game, when it needed a shootout to edge past Serbia after a 2-2 tie.

Despite those free-scoring performances, though, it took some time for this game to ignite. The first big opportunity came midway through the first period when Spain’s Ignacio Granell was denied by a great last-ditch challenge from Yun Ho Kim as he shaped to shoot. Granell did better in the 16th minute, opening the scoring with a wicked shot from the face-off spot, even as he tumbled under the attentions of a Korean D-man.

That sparked the visitor into life and the remaining minutes of the period were dominated by Korea. Hyukjin Lee forced the equalizer with 1:45 left to play, exchanging passes with Je Hui Lee behind the net and squeezing the puck home from a tight angle.

The middle stanza saw both teams get a chance to show off their power play, with Korea’s Heedoo Nam and Spain’s Bruno Baldris seeking to orchestrate the offence and capitalize on the numerical advantage. Baldris had the better of that duel, despite Korea enjoying 61 seconds of 5-on-3 play, but the only goal of the period came in the 39th minute. A Spanish attack broke down, Korea countered quickly and Byung Gun Kim wrestled control of the puck behind Lucas Serna’s net. His attempt pass to the slot was deflected, and Ki Suk Lee responded quickest to step up from the point and fire his team ahead.

In the final stanza, with Spain desperate to come back into the game, the host made a lively start and was up 7-2 on shots after five minutes. But Hyounseop Shim in the Korean net was equal to the task and the play steadily became more open as Korea found space on the counter attack. Serna made a big save to deny Byung Gun Kim in front of the net, Spain failed in a one-on-one breakout. Then Korea’s pair of Lees combined once again. Je Hui took the puck into the Spanish zone and set up Hyukjin for a wrist shot from between the hash marks to open a two-goal lead with barely six minutes left.

That was the prelude to some crazy scenes. Two Korean penalties in the space of 13 seconds encouraged Spain to gamble, withdrawing Serna to play 6-on-3. Granell thought he’d got one back when his shot bounced goalwards off a Korean arm; the officials ruled otherwise. Then Granell did get his second of the night after Alfonso Garcia touched Oriol Rubio’s shot into his path.

Spanish joy lasted just seven seconds. Still shorthanded, Korea won the face off and Byung Gun Kim skated through to surprise Serna with a shot over the glove. Korea believed it was safe, but only for 16 seconds when Juan Monge forced home the rebound after Garcia’s shot crashed back off the boards and into the danger zone. Serna headed to the bench once again, but this time Spain coughed up possession and Je Hui Lee added an empty net goal to his two assists.

Spain missed out on gold, but did achieve some individual successes. Rubio’s assist gave him 11 points for the competition, sharing the top scorer honours with Bruno Baldris and Serbia’s Mirko Djumic. Baldris and Rubio were selected as the best defenseman and forward respectively, while the top goalie was Serbia’s Jug Mitic. Granell’s double made him joint leading goalscorer alongside Serbia’s Luka Vukicevic, with six apiece. Baldris finished with 10 assists, way out in front on that chart. For Korea, Heedoo Nam led the scoring with 1+7=8 points, while Hyukjin Lee was the team’s leading goalscorer with five.

Outside of the race for gold, Serbia completed the top three with 10 points from five games. The Serbian first line of Djumic (3+8), Vukicevic (6+3) and Lazar Lestaric (5+4) ensured the Balkan country was well-represented among the competition’s leading scorers. Belgium took fourth place, and Mexico escaped relegation back to Division III with a nerve-jangling 6-5 overtime win over Australia. The Australians, without a victory all week, finished last and face the drop.

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