Perhaps more than any other year 2011 was a year of extremes. The good stories were great and the bad stories were really bad. Here are the international stories that had the greatest impact over this last calendar year.
1. Yaroslavl tragedy
Time will never overpower the memory of September 7, 2011, when a plane carrying the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl hockey team crashed, killing all 44 people aboard but one. It was the greatest loss of life in hockey history. Symbolic of the international makeup of just about every top team in the world, the Yaroslavl team boasted players from nine countries. Truly, the entire hockey world was affected by the loss of life.
2. Granlund’s lacrosse goal
Friday, May 13, 2011 was a date to remember for all the right reasons. In the Finland-Russia semi-finals of the IIHF World Championship, in Bratislava, Suomi’s Mikael Granlund swept the puck onto his stick in behind the Russian goal and in one lacrosse-style motion whipped the puck into the net as goalie Konstantin Barulin watched helplessly out of the corner of his eye. One of the most spectacular goals in World Championship play, it became a postage stamp in Finland over the summer.
3. Canada collapses as Russia ignites
The 2011 IIHF World U20 Championship was going along just as expected. Played in Buffalo in what amounted to a home arena, the Canadians cruised into the gold medal game and then built an impressive 3-0 lead after two periods against Russia. After winning five in a row, they had lost in 2010 to the Americans in the finals, but now they were set to reclaim top spot. Except that in the third period, they suffered an historic collapse while the Russians orchestrated a monumental comeback, scoring five times and winning gold.
4. Crosby highlights concussion troubles
The calendar year 2011 couldn’t have started more horribly when Sidney Crosby, the most dynamic player in the world, suffered a concussion in the NHL’s outdoor game and, after one more game, never played again for nearly eleven months. Worse, just eight games after returning, he suffered another concussion on a play that indicated minimal contact. Yet Crosby was one of only dozens of top stars to suffer head injuries, bringing to the very forefront the severity of the problem of dirty hitting (head shots), fighting, and all other causes of concussions.
5. Teemu Selänne still shining at 40
The “Finnish Flash” set a record of 76 goals and 132 points as a rookie in 1992-93 with the original Winnipeg Jets and he seemed to think 2010-11 would be his last season in the NHL. Then, the 40-year-old went out and scored 31 goals and 80 points in 73 games, and reconsidered. After signing for another season with Anaheim, Selänne finds himself in the top ten in scoring again in 2011-12 at age 41. Why should this season be his final one any more than last? One more year!
6. Finland strikes World Championship gold
There was nothing particularly intimidating or awe-inspiring by coach Jukka Jalonen’s roster for the 2011 IIHF World Championship, but he managed to do what any coach hopes – see improvement in his team as the tournament progresses. The Finns lost 2-1 to the Czechs in the Preliminary Round, but then won three in a row to qualify for the quarter-finals. An easy 4-1 win over Norway was followed by a resounding 3-0 shutdown of the Russians, but in the finals they faced nemesis Sweden. Tre Kronor held a 1-0 lead after scoring midway through the second period and appeared in control, but Jarkko Immonen tied the game with just seven seconds left in the middle period, on a power play. That gave the Finns confidence, and they blitzed Sweden in the third, scoring five unanswered goals to win only their second World Championship gold (after 1995).
7. The Ovechkin Problem
Alexander the Great became Alexander the Good. The Great 8 became the Good 8, and the world looked in puzzlement by the extended slump of the player who once battled tooth and nail with Crosby for title of world’s greatest player. Not only did Ovechkin fail to deliver a great playoff run for the Washington Capitals in the spring of 2011, but he contributed nada for his country at the Worlds, recording zero points in five games and finishing in fourth place. Incredibly, he had 23 shots but not one goal. His start to the 2011-12 NHL season has been equally disappointing. Alex – where are you?
8. Zdeno Chara leads Bruins to Cup
The hulking Slovak defenceman who climbs Mount Everest and wrestles his father just for kicks captained the Boston Bruins to their first Stanley Cup in 39 years in the spring of 2011. The 34-year-old was a tower of strength for Boston all year and became only the second European captain ever to win the Cup.
9. U.S. women dominate
Canada’s women may have won the Olympic gold three years running, but in between it looks like the Americans have established themselves as the team to beat in Sochi. The difference between the teams is usually one goal, but the results have gone to the U.S. more often than not in the last few years. At the senior level, they beat Canada in overtime, 3-2, for their third straight Women’s World Championship title, while in U18 play they won, 5-2, their third gold in four years.
10. Jagr returns to NHL good as ever
When Czech star Jaromir Jagr left the NHL for the KHL in 2008, he was 36 years old and everyone realistically thought he was retiring to a quieter league for a good payday before calling it quits for good. But Jagr enjoyed the KHL and played well, and he was one of the stars of the 2011 IIHF World Championship, notably scoring a hat trick against the United States. Jagr decided he still had a passion for the NHL. He signed a two-year contract with the Philadelphia Flyers in the summer of 2011 at age 39 and has picked up where he left off, producing a point a game through the first third of the schedule.