Blogging away in Ottawa

Welcome to the 2009 IIHF World Junior Championship blog. Throughout the tournament, you will be able to read about our impressions from in and around the rinks in Ottawa, Canada.

Runnin' wild

January 5 / Lucas Aykroyd

Throughout the 2009 IIHF World Junior Championship, the AC/DC-influenced hard rock of Airbourne has echoed through the arena before the teams hit the ice. Perhaps some young fans had the infectious refrain of "Runnin' Wild" ("Runnin' wild, wild and free") when they held up a sign that was shown on the Jumbotron during the second period of the Russia-Slovakia bronze medal game.

It said: "We skipped school to be here." And that got a pretty good cheer.

Random thoughts on medals day

January 5 / Lucas Aykroyd

The New Yuri Liapkin?

He was one of the finest Soviet defenceman of the 1970's, winning one Olympic gold (1976) and four World Championship titles (1971, 1973-75). Unfortunately for Yuri Liapkin, he will also be remembered for handing the puck away to Canada's Paul Henderson for the winning goal in Game Eight of the 1972 Summit Series.

During Saturday night's semi-final, I couldn't help thinking of Liapkin when I saw Russian defenceman Dmitri Kulikov kneeling in front of his cage, vainly trying to corral a loose puck that slipped through his legs and enabled Canada's Jordan Eberle to score the 5-5 goal on Vadim Zhelobnyuk. (In fairness, Dmitri Klopov was equally culpable, since his attempt to hit an empty net led to the icing call that put Canada in a position to tie it up.)

Smart Boy

There's no questioning Jordan Eberle's intelligence on the ice, as he clearly outwitted the Russian netminder on both the tying and winning goals in the semi-final. But did you know that Eberle gets it done in the classroom as well?

Last year, the nifty 18-year-old Regina Pats forward was named the Western Hockey League's Scholastic Player of the year with an 85 percent average at O'Neill High School in his hometown.

Give an Assist to Vancouver

The host city for the 2010 Olympics has, in several ways, played a big role in Canada's march to the 2009 IIHF World Junior Championship gold medal game.

You've got head coach Pat Quinn, a Vancouver resident who famously coached the Canucks to the 1994 Stanley Cup finals and is a part-owner of the Vancouver Giants. You've got Evander Kane, the leading scorer of the Giants, who didn't make the original Canadian roster but has performed superbly since being summoned to replace the injured Dana Tyrell, taking a regular shift and racking up six points in five games. You've got Cody Hodgson, the #10 overall pick of the Canucks in the 2008 NHL Draft, whose calm leadership and playmaking ability have made him Team Canada's most valuable forward after super-prospect John Tavares.

And then, you have to look back at how high Vancouver set the bar for Ottawa in terms of organization and sheer excitement at the 2006 World Juniors, reaping a $9-million profit that will be topped this year at around $14 million. Nice going, Van City.

That's Entertainment

Some players don't just content themselves with getting the job done. Nope, they like to do it with flair and panache, and we love them for it.

In today's gold medal game, players of this ilk to watch on the Swedish side include Mattias Tedenby and Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson. If Tedenby ever plays for the New Jersey Devils, who drafted him in the first round this year, it seems dubious that head coach Brent Sutter will encourage the flashy HV71 product to stickhandle past three guys at the opposing blueline, but it was great to see Tedenby do it versus the Slovaks in the semi-finals en route to setting up Simon Hjalmarsson for the winner. Paajarvi-Svensson sure isn't short on attitude, and if he isn't cutting to the net with super speed to draw a penalty, he's trying to replicate the Sidney Crosby “scoop up the puck on your stick behind the net and put it top corner” goal.

On Team Canada, P.K. Subban is way too much fun to watch with his Paul Coffey-like rushes and Savardian spinneramas. And John Tavares, of course, simply has sick stick skills, whether he's juggling the puck on his blade before scoring in a 7-0 exhibition rout of Slovakia or schooling the Russian goalie in the semi-final shootout.

Hopefully one (or all) of these players will make some more jaw-dropping plays that we'll remember years later from the 2009 championship game.

Live from Ottawa

January 3 / Jenny Wiedeke

The press box at Scotiabank Place got a little more festive with the arrival of the Swedish television crew on Saturday. Especially entertaining to those in the press box was the play-by-play duo of Niklas Wikegard and Chris Harenstan. While English-speakers seated close by couldn’t understand a word of what the broadcasters were saying, they understood what the pair were communicating as they screamed like football announcers for Sweden’s first goal against Slovakia. The second goal elicited a similar cheer, followed by a bear hug between the duo. And for the grand finale, the fourth goal against the Slovaks thanks to an unbelievable play by Mattias Tedenby, there was the quote of "Holy S***!" from the commentator box, which we can only assume means "What a play!" in Swedish.

WJC TV viewership soars

January 3 / Lucas Aykroyd

Want to know what a Canadian's idea of a good time on New Year's Eve is? It doesn't necessarily involve champagne, balloons, or fireworks, but it does require the use of a TV set.

Canada's 7-4 win over the USA on December 31 was the most-watched Preliminary Round game ever on TSN.

It reaped an average of 1.67 million viewers, well ahead of the previous record of 1.41 million from December 31, 2005. There, Canada beat the Americans 3-2 in Vancouver.

In the third period, the audience got as high as two million viewers.

Expect even bigger numbers if Canada advances to the gold medal game on January 5. TSN's all-time record for a championship game was the 3.45 million viewers for Canada-Russia in 2003 in Halifax.

You can keep your hat on

January 3 / Jenny Wiedeke

Typically, in NHL games, when a player gets a hat trick (three goals) in a game, fans will toss their baseball caps on the ice in appreciation. But Latvian goaltender Raimonds Ermics might have misinterpreted the tradition just a bit when he celebrated Roberts Bukarts’ third goal in his team's 7-1 relegation round rout of Germany. In his excitement, Ermics did what he thought was normal in North America when his teammate completed his hat trick--he tossed his baseball cap on the ice from his perch on the player bench.

Oooops! It seems that there are very strict rules against any player throwing any object on the ice-- including seemingly harmless baseball caps. So imagine Ermics’ surprise when the on-ice officials skated over and assessed him a two-minute minor and a 20-minute game misconduct for his celebration that was lost in translation.

Working out with Tre Kronor

December 31 / Lucas Aykroyd

Your IIHF.com correspondents don’t actually get to play in the IIHF World Junior Championship games (for several reasons that are pretty obvious). We do, however, get to the gym every so often. And Swedish fans may be interested to learn that their young heroes were focused on fitness, rather than getting an early start on New Year’s Eve celebrations, prior to the Group B finale with Russia this afternoon.

It was a crowded scene at 9:30 am at the hotel gym as most of Tre Kronor marched in wearing track suits and got down to work on the treadmills, elliptical trainers, and stationary bikes. Goalie Mark Owuya, performing crunches, sported a blue-and-yellow T-shirt with the inspirational message, “Jag kan, jag vill, jag ska” (“I can, I want to, I shall”).

One woman commented at the water cooler: “Well, this doesn’t happen every day.”

How times have changed

December 30 / Lucas Aykroyd

In 1975, Vladimir Popov was the CSKA Moscow forward who hit the crossbar late in the third period of the classic New Year’s Eve game against the Canadiens at the Montreal Forum with the score tied 3-3 (which is how it ended). This year, Popov is an assistant coach for Russia at the World Juniors.

In 1981, Czechoslovakia set the single-game goal-scoring record with a 21-4 demolition of Austria. This year, the Czech Republic and Slovakia have combined for 19 goals in six games so far (10 Czech, nine Slovak).

In 1991, the Finnish player named Mikael Granlund was a 19-year-old goalie backing up Pasi Kuivalainen. This year, the Finnish player named Mikael Granlund is a speedy 16-year-old forward who’s become the youngest player ever to represent his nation at a World Junior Championship.

In 1997, Canada’s leading scorers were Brad Isbister, Christian Dube, and Cameron Mann with seven points apiece in seven games. This year, John Tavares and Cody Hodgson already have nine points each for Canada in three games.

In 2004, Canada failed to win the IIHF World Junior Championship for the seventh consecutive year. This year, the host Canadians are gunning for their fifth straight gold medal.

Immortalized in his "office"

December 30 / Szymon Szemberg

Each time Brian Kilrea steps into his “office,” he sees proof of his status as a living legend. Mr. Kilrea, 74, is the head coach of the Ottawa 67’s, a junior team in the Ontario Hockey League which plays at the Civic Centre, one of the two host venues for the IIHF World Junior Championship. Kilrea’s “office” is the home team’s player’s bench.

It is a unique place, as it is the only player’s bench in hockey which is adorned with a government endorsed commemorative plaque describing the coach’s remarkable achievements.

Despite being virtually unknown in Europe, Kilrea has almost a cult status in Canada. He has been behind the 67’s bench since 1974, except for two years in the 80’s when he was the assistant coach with the New York Islanders in the NHL, plus a brief “retirement” in 1994-95. With the 67’s, he has won two Memorial Cups (1984, 1999), emblematic of Canadian major junior supremacy. Kilrea also coached Canada’s World Junior team to a fourth-place finish in Sweden in 1984. For his contributions to junior hockey in Canada, Kilrea was inducted to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2003.

The way a man like Kilrea is appreciated represents one of the many differences between North America and Europe when it comes to perceptions of sports people. If Kilrea worked in Europe, people would say: “He can’t be that good, because if he were, he would coaching pro, not junior.” Just like college basketball or football in the States, junior hockey is considered a sport in its own right in Canada.

This is something that Europe will never understand.

Borat buffoons not glorious

December 29 / Jenny Wiedeke

The fans in Ottawa once again showed that Canada is ‘Hockey Country’ with another record-setting attendance figure at yesterday’s USA-Czech Republic game. And while 99.99 percent of the Canadian fans have been positively outstanding in their support of the IIHF World Junior Championship, it is time to address the other .01 percent about how to be better supporters. In yesterday’s Canada-Kazakhstan game, the Kazakhs were outclassed by their Canadian counterparts, but the truly classless people were the dozen or so fans that thought it would be clever to dress up as Borat to ensure instant fame on the Jumbotron.

Yes, Borat was an amusing movie, and yes, it is probably the only reference that many North Americans have when it comes to Kazakhstan. But from a Kazakh point of view, it must be demeaning to be greeted by men in bad wigs and leotards after traveling halfway around the world to participate as the biggest underdog at a championship. Would the Canadian team like it if they were welcomed to the ice by South Park’s “Blame Canada” when playing overseas? (Admittedly, another amusing moment in movie history.)

So please, Canadian fans, live up to your reputation as the best in the world (as 99.99 percent of you have done so far), and don’t make us blame Canada for promoting silly stereotypes.

Svensson-Pääjärvi pooh-poohs Canada

December 29 / Lucas Aykroyd

Sweden's highly touted forward Magnus Svensson-Pääjärvi (eligible for the 2009 NHL Draft in Montreal) tells the Swedish tabloid Expressen that he expects his team to reach the gold medal game against Canada.

On top of that, the forward with the long name believes he knows how to knock the favourites off the World Junior throne: "They always think that they are the biggest and the best, but if we score two goals they will [defecate] in their pants. And then they will also face enormous pressure from 19,000 fans."

The comments call to mind the 1993 IIHF World Junior Championship in Gavle, Sweden, when Peter Forsberg suited up for Tre Kronor. Before Sweden’s December 27 meeting with Canada, “Foppa” told reporters he didn’t think the Canadians skated particularly well. In the game, Forsberg notched a goal and three assists despite being closely checked by Dean McCammond, but Canada won 5-4.

Feel the Power

December 28 / Jenny Wiedeke

So just how big is the World Junior Championship in Canada? Let’s just ask The Hockey News, which recently put out its annual Top 100 people of power and influence in hockey list.


In the halls of Scotiabank Place and the Civic Centre, you can see the who’s who of the hockey world. Why, there’s #30 Bob Nicholson chatting with #87 Tommy Boustedt about Sweden’s sudden surge in its junior program. Or you can find #77 Jim Johannson pacing outside the U.S. locker room as the team’s general manager. Number 85 John Tavares is putting on a one-man show for Canada, of course everyone is wondering if he can touch some of the scoring records that #8 Wayne Gretzky set in the early years of the championship. Kevin Allen (#90) always makes sure to give the World Juniors a good amount of coverage in USA Today, while #64 Ron MacLean is sure to talk about the World Juniors on Hockey Night in Canada. Maybe he’s getting inside information from #73 Pierre McGuire, who is doing color commentary for TSN’s coverage. And more from the list are on the way…of course there’s IIHF President Rene Fasel (#36) and perhaps USA Hockey Executive Director Dave Ogrean (#44) will visit if the U.S. makes a run for the medal.


When World Juniors is in Canada, it's not only a big event for the fans of the game, but also the powerbrokers behind the scenes.

 

 

Inside the media guides

December 28 / Lucas Aykroyd

Oh, the nuggets of information that you discover whilst digging through the 2009 IIHF World U20 Championship Official Media Guide and other media guides. Here are five goodies.

1. Sweden’s little-known Ola Rosander holds the record for most goals in one game (six in a December 28, 1987 meeting with Poland). That puts him ahead of the likes of Markus Naslund and Alexander Mogilny, who could only manage a paltry five. A veteran Swedish journalist whom I asked about Rosander could remember nothing about his subsequent career except that he played competently for Sodertalje for many years.

2. The winningest goalie in the history of the tournament is Russia’s Andrei Medvedev, who won 11 games between 2001 and 2003. Now out of hockey, the former Calgary Flames prospect usually got more media attention during his playing career for his poor physical conditioning than his actual numbers.

3. Each edition of Team Canada during its five-peat era of 1993 to 1997 had at least one player named Jason on the roster. Think Jason Dawe, Jason Smith, Jason Allison, Jason Botterill, Jason Podollan, and Jason Doig. None of the players involved in the current Drive for Five are named Jason. (In fact, the last Jason to suit up for Canada at the IIHF World Junior Championship was Jason Spezza in 2002.) This is the kind of thing the Team Canada braintrust discusses heavily when picking the roster.

4. Switzerland holds the record for the longest losing streak in World Junior history: 31 games between December 22, 1977 and January 2, 1986. (Which is weird, because even though the Swiss aren’t at this World Juniors, they’ve pretty clearly established themselves as at least the eighth-best team in the world at the senior level. Obviously it was different back in the day.) Norway, the second-place nation in this particular turtle derby, isn’t even close: 18 games between December 27, 1978 and January 2, 1989.

5. Here’s a testament to the devastating effect that the migration of top Slovak juniors to North American leagues in recent years has had on the development of hockey in Slovakia. Their media guide includes a list of Slovaks in the NHL Draft in the past three years. In 2006, there were four late-round picks; in 2007, three-late round picks. In 2008? No one. Wow. Sure, that’s been public knowledge for a while. But seeing it in Slovakia’s own media guide really makes it hit home. At least the Slovaks got off to a fine start here in Ottawa with their 7-2 win over Latvia.

Have you seen my red vest?

December 27 / Jenny Wiedeke


In Ottawa, it’s not hard to find help around the arena. Always friendly, and always helpful, the volunteers can easily be identified by their puffy red vests that they wear with pride. The organizing committee had more than 2,000 applications to volunteer for the World Junior Championship, showing why Canadians proudly call their nation ‘Hockey Country’. Of the 2,000 applicants, around 1,200 made the cut and are doing everything from manning information desks, driving cars, folding flags, distributing stats and taking care of virtually every other detail that goes into hosting a major sporting event. It is hard to imagine that these 1,200 people applied to work long hours over their Christmas holiday for nothing other than a handshake….and a red vest. Welcome to hockey country.

 

Hockey obsession is not exclusively Canadian

December 26 / Szymon Szemberg

How big is the IIHF World Junior Championship in Canada? Well, it’s so important that Canada’s national newspaper, The Globe and Mail, devoted its prime Boxing Day editorial to the event.


The Globe writes: “Thank heavens for the world junior hockey championship, an annual puck extravaganza about which only Canadians seem to care. That fact -- this country’s singular obsession with the fate of a hastily assembled collection of teenage talent on ice -- is usually just a curiosity, a quaint bit of Canadiana like five-pin bowling and Don Cherry’s wardrobe.”


Point well taken, but fact is that more and more other countries are also getting obsessed with this phenomenal event. Although the World Juniors have yet to make the editorial pages in most other countries, one of Sweden’s two major tabloids, Expressen, had a full-spread preview on Christmas Day with this headline running over two pages: “ Finally – a true World Championship in hockey.”


The columnist contends that the U20 event is even better and more exciting than the men’s World Championship in spring and a true reflection of the quality of a country’s hockey program. This comparison can always be argued but the message is clear: Swedes are also getting caught up in World Junior fever, as the country of the Tre Kronor hopes to win its first U20 title in 28 years. Last year’s games against Canada in Pardubice, Czech Republic got ratings of 900,000 viewers on Swedish national television, an amazing number in a country of nine million people.


Finally, the ending of this Globe and Mail editorial really deserves to be quoted: “We may not have a functioning Parliament. We may not keep our economy from floundering, or bring our soldiers home soon. But at the start of this unsettling winter, 2009, we can send our best and brawniest to do battle with the top juniors in the world, bent on again proving Canadian hockey supremacy.”

Hockey capital of the world

December 26 / Lucas Aykroyd

From December 26 to January 5, Ottawa will be the hockey capital of the world.

Sure, Moscow has the IIHF World Championship, Stockholm has the Olympic crown, Detroit has the Stanley Cup, Montreal has its 100th anniversary, and Toronto has the most fans.

But the capital of Canada is the place to be right now if you love this sport in its purest form. Sussex Drive and the Rideau Canal are cold and icy, but that hasn’t dimmed the excitement heading into the 2009 IIHF World Junior Championship one bit. It’s everywhere, as I’ve already discovered.

Despite rough winter weather Canada-wide, players, organizers, fans, and media are doing what it takes to get to Ottawa. Yesterday, I stayed on hold for three and a half hours with my airline’s phone reservation system to book a new early-morning flight after my original departure got canceled at the last minute. Getting here on zero sleep? Priceless.

I chatted with a transportation volunteer at the Ottawa airport and heard all about how John Tavares and other Team Canada players received a rock star-like welcome, with TV cameras and microphones everywhere, when they flew in. It’s a scene you wouldn’t likely witness in many other places.

Do Canadians eat, sleep and breathe hockey? Well, yeah. After checking into the Westin Ottawa, I found a room service menu with beers and appetizers themed in line with this year’s 10 World Junior nations. (For the host country, it’s Canadian pizza with maple-back bacon, Quebec wild mushrooms, and aged cheddar. For Kazakhstan, a mint and soy bean borscht.)

Once you’ve seen this tournament, you’ll always eat it up. And year after year, the returning players provide a special kind of continuity. (Personally, I’m always vaguely surprised when Canada’s roster doesn’t include Jason Botterill.)

Fans, especially in Canada, know the World Juniors deliver a blend of speed, skill, and passion that you can’t replicate elsewhere. Of course, the players in, say, the Olympics are older, stronger, faster, and more internationally famous.

But while many World Junior alumni go on to enormous future pro and IIHF successes, for other youngsters, this is their one and only chance to enjoy the spotlight and win something for their country.

That’s why you don’t see a lot of half-speed, just-feeling-each-other-out games at the elite U20 level. Players desperately need to prove themselves. And this year, they can do it in front of 19,153 crazy fans at Scotiabank Place.

Welcome to the hockey capital of the world. Let’s go.

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