CALGARY – The 2012 U20 is centred in Calgary now, six teams to take part in the playoffs, four to worry about relegation. Here’s what’s happened so far and what’s been most noteworthy.
The Czech goalie has been the personality of the tournament. His fist pump after stopping Canada’s Mark Stone on a penalty shot drew disapproval from the Canadian fans and players’ bench, but his incredible play against the Americans drew rave reviews. He stopped 52 shots, including another penalty shot, showed disappointment after almost scoring, and fist-pumped the night away. His great play and outgoing personality have captivated fans everywhere.
Yevgeni Kuznetsov – one game wonder?
Perhaps one day we can stop using the word enigmatic when describing a Russian star, but not just yet. Kuznetsov has zero points in three of his team’s games – and nine in one, a 14-0 blowout of Latvia. Is he the next great thing or just an opportunist against a weak team? The playoff round will help answer that question.
Danish press centre delight
The Danes were expected to lose badly and by a shutout to Canada, but the 10-2 score was within the bounds of some sort of respectability. However, their naïve enjoyment in the press centre well after the game had ended was caught by TV cameras, and then their coach, who banished five of their number to the press box for the next game. Their joie de vivre was admirable, but their choice of venue ill-planned.
A bronze medallist last year and gold winner two years ago, the Americans came to Alberta with an experienced roster looking for gold at best and a lesser medal at worst. To be shunted to the relegation round was a crushing surprise for all the wrong reasons.
Teemu Pulkkinen’s 3rd period outburst
Quiet for the first two games, Pulkkinen scored four goals in a wild third period for Finland against Denmark in a 10-1 win. The goals were of the skilled variety and have helped launch his stock sky high in the eyes of NHL general managers.
When was the last U20 when goalies were such an important part of the story? Mrazek has ignited the Czechs into the playoffs. Finland’s Sami Aitokallio has been sensational in his two games and could take his team to a medal. Scott Wedgewood has been a revelation to Canadian fans and perhaps even coach Don Hay. Russia’s Andrei Vasilevski didn’t allow a goal until the third period of his third game. Even Denmark’s Sebastian Feuk, hung out to dry time and again, has been by far his team’s best player.
The Swede is tied with Canada’s Mark Stone for the tournament lead with seven goals. Who knew he had such offensive ability? And it was his goal with 40 seconds left in regulation that helped propel his team to first place and a bye to the semi-finals.
Even Bob Nicholson, president of Hockey Canada, has to be pleased by the incredible support the U20 has received, not for the big games but for the lower-ranked teams as well. Everyone knew Canada’s games would be packed, but with an average of 16,200 fans per game, this tournament will not only shatter all U20 records but will rank as one of the best attended events of any level in IIHF history.