A Look Back at the 2007 WJHC Part 5
It’s taken me longer than I thought to get back and finish this five part look back at the 2007 World Junior Championship, but here is the final instalment.
My infatuation with the World Junior Championship started with the infamous punch-up at Piestany in 1987. Back then Canada played a completely different style than pretty much every other team. It was balls to the wall tremendous physical punishment for their opponents, but in today's game many of those hits would likely have resulted in penalties or even suspensions. Team Canada paid the price in the penalty department, but oh man, their opponents paid a physical price. Now it's a different story, European hockey and the North American style have come closer together and there is less and less to differentiate between the two styles.
Twenty years later, there I was in Sweden about to take in my very first World Junior Championship in person. Ten days of total immersion in the best tournament going.
The two-time reigning Canadian side came in as co-favourites along with a strong host Sweden. The opening match pitted Canada against Sweden. The atmosphere was incredible; the home side had a drummer and those coordinated chants that make for a super cool ambiance, something I wish we had in North America. Instead we have overactive jumbo-trons telling us to "Make some noise!!!", often for no apparent reason. This was the only game in the tournament that was packed to the rafters. I suspect the gold medal game was sold out, but many seats were left empty likely due to Sweden playing in the bronze medal game.
The shootout semi-final game against the USA team had me in tears by the end of it. Canada started the breakaway duel with an unlikely player, Steve Downie. He missed. The Americans countered with Patrick Kane, who also missed. Then it was Bryan Little, Peter Mueller, Jonathan Toews and Jack Johnson, who all scored. I only found out later that after the first three shooters, teams can use the same player as many times as they want. Canada went with Little and the U.S. countered with Kane, both missed. Then Toews, Mueller, Cogliano and JJ all scored in order. Toews then took his third successful shot and Mueller missed his third attempt. Game over. There were 14 shooters in all.
Then: This tournament was a defining moment for Carey Price. He played every minute of all six games, winning every match and recorded a tournament best 1.14 goals-against-average and an incredible 0.961 save percentage. Price was voted Top Goaltender and Tournament MVP. Watching Price was amazing, he was so calm, efficient and above all else clutch!
Now: Riding what must have been a wave of euphoria, he went on to be named WHL and CHL Goaltender of the Year. Price finished his year with Montreal's AHL affiliate Hamilton in the playoffs where he sported a 15-4 record, 2.06 goals-against-average and 0.936 save percentage. He was also named Playoff MVP. This year, Price easily had his best season ever in the NHL. He played in 72 games, 20 games more than his previous NHL high, recording 38 wins, a 2.35 goals-against-average, 0.923 save percentage and eight shutouts. This is the first of many great seasons for this franchise goaltender.
Then: The offensive leader was clearly Jonathan Toews, but he wasn't just a one trick pony, he dominated at both ends of the ice. Maturity was a word that came quickly when assessing Toews game. He had seven points in six games. His three goals in the semi-final shootout were things of beauty and stuff legends are made of.
Now: Stanley Cup champion. Conn Smythe winner. Olympic Gold medal. Third youngest team captain in NHL history. What else can you say about Toews that hasn’t already been said? He’s simply a winner.
Then: I had heard so much about Steve Downie, that I was really looking forward to watching him play in person. The first thing I noticed was that his puck possession skills were sublime (he seemingly won every puck battle) and his passing ability was top shelf. He had six points in six games. Okay he did lead the team in penalty minutes, but really who didn't expect that to happen? The only thing holding him back from being an NHL player was his head, he had to walk that line and not be a distraction or detriment (via penalties) to the team.
Now: Downie had an inauspicious start to his NHL career by serving a 20 game suspension. Last season, he proved that he belongs in the NHL, recording the first 20 goal, 200 penalty minute season since Theoren Fleury turned the trick back in 2001-02. Downie spent last summer working out with Scary Gary Roberts. Fantasy gold. His 14 points in 17 playoff games (one point ahead of Stamkos) this year, even with his limited ice time speaks volumes about his potential.
Then: I had never heard of Andrew Cogliano, but it doesn't take long before you notice his speed. He must have had two breakaways a game, but he looked like another Martin Gelinas to me; his hands couldn't match his feet. He had three points in six games.
Now: He's a great penalty killer in the NHL. I think he's miscast as a top six forward, unless he can bury more chances, he'll end up as an elite penalty killer and very good third line player. Cogliano has played in all 82 games in each of his four NHL seasons, recording 45, 38, 28 and 35 points.
Then: One of more noticeable defensemen in the tournament was Kris Letang. His skating ability was very good and he recorded six points in the six games Canada played.
Now: He's pretty much doing for the Pens now what he did back then, providing timely offensive forays and sweet outlet passes. Now that Sergei Gonchar and Alex Goligoski are out of the picture, Letang finished this year with 50 points, easily his best offensive year of his young NHL career. He's for real.
Then: Another offensive defenseman named Kris, this one with the last name Russell. He had four goals and six points over the six games. I didn't get the same feeling that he was as offensively dynamic as Letang.
Now: Russell hasn’t had the offensive impact yet that many thought was possible. In his last three seasons, he has recorded 21, 22 and most recently 23 points. In 2006-07, his final season of junior hockey, Russell recorded 69 points in 59 games, including 32 goals. That season, he was also named the CHL Defenseman of the Year. The 24-year-old still has time to fulfill his offensive potential at the NHL level, but that window is rapidly closing.
12 Team "Experts" Roto representing Dobberhockey 2nd
G,A,PPP,+/-,SOG,Hits,Blocks,Wins,GAA,SV% - Keep 4
12 Team Salary Cap Roto Dynasty 3rd (G,A,Pts,FPts,DPts,Pim,SOG,H,BS,W+OTL+SO,GAA,SV%)
12F-Ovechkin,Kopitar,P&E Kane,Kessel,Ryan,M&N Foligno,Ennis,Hodgson,Killorn,Horton,Wolski,Morrow ,Bonino