The series that's an early favorite to win both the Sexually Provocative Headline and Introductory Paragraph Awards here at Dobber Hockey continues today with a look at Teams Finalnd and USA. Both teams had a lot to play for at the World U18s, which wrapped last Sunday. For Team Red White and Blue, it was all about the Gold. And for Finland, it was the chance to suck less than their opponent.
James Van Riemsdyk outskated, outshot and outbodied most every opponent, yet still didn't score as much as he could've. Which is scary, because the potential top two pick finished with a ridiculous 12 points in just seven games. Tied for the tournament lead in points with linemate Colin Wilson ('09 eligible), 'JVR' was voted forward of the tournament and a Media All-Star despite never being chosen as The Player of the Match in any of Team USA's games. While a number of Team USA's players had tremendous individual stats due to the squad's offensive firepower, Van Riemsdyk stood out in every catagory enroute to winning Gold over the Russians.
2009 Draft gets even better
So, the Canadians (John Tavares, Devon MacAusland, Steve Anthony) and Finns (Erik Haula, Toni Rajala) have staked out their top picks for the 2009 draft. But the Americans are just getting started. A high school hockey player since the 8th grade, winger Jordan Schroeder had dominated at both that level and with the US National Team's U17 squad, but no one was sure if the 5'8 pole of a forward would survive- much less score- at the World U18s. Those concerns have been put to rest. The second-leading scorer of the tournament with 11 points, Schroeder joined JVR and Wilson on the top line and fit right in. A deft playmaker with elusive skating and hands, there are a great deal of parallels between the '90 born forward and another American offensive dynamo- Patrick Kane. And while Schroeder has more than enough top-end ability to be a better player than Kane by 2009, he may not even go top three.
Undoubtedly, the story of the tournament was Team USA's scoring prowess. However, not all of it was generated soley from the forward corps. All of the squad's blueliners had stock-rocketing tournaments, the best of which were the fab National Team four of Kevin Shattenkirk, Ian Cole, Cade Fairchild and Ted Ruth. Shattenkirk's five points were 2nd-most in the tournament, and his big shot and puck smarts some of the best on display. Initially ranked as a mid-first rounder, there's suddenly talk the intelligent rearguard could be taken in the top ten. For Ian Cole, a Cody Franson-eesque four-goal performance- the most of any blueliner at the U18s- shot him up from the beginning of the third round to the beginning of the second. Cade Fairchild's six points and five assists let everyone know the one-way defender could do it against his peers, and Ruth's ridiculous +7 lead the defense.
Josh Gets U-Noticed
Stuck behind solid but unspectacular Brad Phillips all season with the National Team, Josh Unice came into the U18s with literally no scouting reports due to his limited performances. The '07 eligible goaltender wasn't even expected to get a start with Thomas McCollum, a frontrunner for OHL MVP despite being only 16, ahead of him. But Unice prevailed, earning all seven starts and coming away with a respectable 2.41 GAA and 0.907 Sv%. Unice has a lot of excellent tools to work with- solid fundamentals, good athleticism and a developing glove. It will take some time, but the project could pay off big.
One of the players who didn't really need a strong U18s showing had one anyway. Project power winger Jim O'Brien helped but a little blue in the Red, White and Blue, picking up a team-high 12 PIM. O'Brien also chipped in some offense, posting seven points from the second line. After a so-so year in the NCAA, scouts began to slowly but surely move his name up the list.
Mildly hyped in North America thanks to the odd observer who'd seen him play, 2008-eligible goalie Harri Sateri was an intriguing property heading in his first largely publicized tournament. Often left alone behind an extremely weak Finnish squad, Sateri did everything but actually burgler the rink in stealing 35 of 37 shots from the vastly superior Swedes. His team still lost 2-1. Sateri seemed to use up all his magic, as the Swiss managed to rip five past him in his next start. He wouldnt get another opportunity to play until the relegation match against the Germans, with the losing team headed to Pool B. The lanky keeper held them in it once again as the Finns prevailed 4-3 to win second-suckiest.
A Lovely Bunch of Kokkonens
And while Sateri did what he could in net, ultimately, a forward had to actually score to win the aforementioned German/Finland match. That honor went to Anton Kokkonen, the only top Finnish prospect for 2007 playing in a men's league. A key stretch contributor for TuTo, a 2nd Division men's team based out of Turku, Kokkonen made an immediate and unusual impact, notching six goals and nine points in his first 19 pro games. What so unusual about the 17 year-old Finn's performance? Well, besides being a late August birthdate- and thus one of the youngest prospects available- Kokkonen last year played Midget AAA. In Utah. Bored with Finnish junior hockey after scoring 19 points in 9 games in 2004-05, Kokkonen went searching for a new challenge and found it with the Northwest Regulators. Kokkonen lead that team in scoring too, notching 41 points in 49 games, and returned to Finland with an eye on senior hockey. Since reaching that level, the Finnish version of Chris Drury has gone from unknown and likely undrafted to a hot sleeper pick.
Besides Kokkonen and Sateri, Finland's best player bar none was Eetu Poysti. The team's leader in points with six in six games, Poysti's tricky hands, exceptional agility and great creativity was the only spark behind the Finnish attack. An afterthought to most due to his lack of muscle and size, Poysti will likely still linger until the fourth round before a team takes a risk on the offensive dynamo.