The 2011-12 international hockey season is over, and it ended with a bang, not a whimper. The men’s Worlds, co-hosted for the first time, by Helsinki and Stockholm, left an overall impression of celebration for the game. Herewith is a selection of highlights from the just-completed tournament.
1. Malkin wins scoring title on final shot
At first blush it might not seem like a big deal, but when Yevgeni Malkin scored the final goal of the 2012 World Championship with just 1:58 left in the final period, he made history. Or, at least, tied history. That goal gave him 19 points, one more than Norway’s Patrick Thoresen, giving him the scoring title outright. In so doing, Malkin became only the second player ever to lead the NHL in scoring and then the Worlds in points in the same season. Wayne Gretzky had done the trick in 1981-82.
2. Opera singers
One of the greatest qualities of IIHF events is travelling to different countries to watch the games. Each country brings its own culture to the hosting, and the Finns did something unique and special, thanks to a new venture by the IIHF. For the first time, both teams’ national anthems were played prior to each round-robin game rather than having only the winner’s anthem played after the game. For all Finland games at Hartwall Arena, local opera singers sung the visitor’s and Finnish anthems, a magical recitation that goes down as unique to this event along with the light show before each game.
3. Borg sighting
There are superstars and legends, and then there are the sporting gods. Sweden’s Björn Borg is at the head table with the gods, and his presence reverberated throughout the Globen when he attended two games, the first, against Norway, on opening night, and then several days later the Sweden-Russia game.
4. Canada-Slovakia quarter-finals
Perhaps never before has the quarter-finals produced three more remarkable games than this year. And the fourth, a 5-2 Russia win over Norway, was undecided after 40 minutes when teams were tied 2-2. The first playoff game, though, featured Canada and Slovakia. The Slovaks jumped into an early 2-0 only to have the persistent Canadians storm back and take a 3-2 lead. But the Slovaks scored two late goals to win, eliminating Canada and removing the only three players who could have joined the Triple Gold Club this year – Corey Perry, Duncan Keith, and Ryan Getzlaf.
5. Finland-United States quarter-finals
For anyone who thought the Slovaks provided their fans with late-game heroics, they had loads of time compared to the Finns. The Americans had humbled the hosts by a 5-0 count in the round robin and were leading 2-1 late in the third period of this elimination game when the home side produced an incredible rally. First, Mikko Koivu tied the game with just 6:58 remaining to set up what looked to be an overtime finish, but then with just 8.8 seconds left in regulation, Jesse Joensuu knocked in a puck from the crease to give the Finns an incredible victory and send the stunned Americans home early again.
6. Czech Republic-Sweden quarter-final
The final quarter-finals game of the night featured a little bit of the other two games. The Swedes scored early, but the Czechs took a commanding 3-1 lead only to see Tre Kronor tie the game early in the third. But just when another OT looked imminent, Milan Michalek walked out of the corner and roofed a shot with only 30 seconds remaining to advance the Czechs to the semi-finals with a 4-3 win.
7. Slovakia-France play a surprisingly meaningful game
The last day of the round robin in Helsinki saw these two teams play in what was certainly going to be a meaningless game by pre-tournament estimates. Nope. In fact, the winner would advance to the playoffs and the loser would go home. The Slovaks were overwhelming favourites but couldn’t put the game away. They went up 2-0; France tied. They led 3-2, and 4-3, and France tied each time. Finally, midway through the third, Brank Radivojevic made it 5-4 – and the Slovaks held on for the win.
8. Chara honours Demitra
Rarely does it feel like both teams were winners on gold medal day, but the Russians were so good this year and the Slovaks such a surprising story that justice seemed to have been served. Despite the loss in the finals, Slovakia made fans through their enthusiasm and persistence, and before the medals were handed out captain Zdeno Chara donned a Pavol Demitra sweater backwards, so the nameplate was visible on front. Demitra had perished in the Yaroslavl plane crash nearly a year earlier, and Chara wanted to honour his great teammate and friend.
9. Russians overwhelm Sweden
The Russia-Sweden game in Stockholm during the round robin was shaping up as a gem. It was 3-3 after two periods, and a classic ending seemed certain. But this Russian team was just too good, swarming the Swedes with four impressive and unanswered goals to win in a cakewalk, 7-3. Malkin led the way with a hat trick and two assists, his five-point night coming against a medal contender.
10. Jan Laco
Before this tournament, Slovak goalie Jan Laco was an itinerant puckstopper of little repute. By the end, he was named IIHF Directorate Best Goalie and had established himself as a late blooming sensation. The 30-year-old was making his WM debut and played in nine of the team’s ten games, recording a 2.17 GAA.
11. Sacha Treille felt commitment against head hits
French forward Sacha Treille delivered a vicious elbow to the head of the Kazakhs’ Roman Starchenko, taking Starchenko out of the tournament with a serious concussion. The IIHF’s Disciplinary Panel stepped in and suspended Treille for the balance of the tournament (five games), the most severe banishment for an on-ice incident and further emphasizing the IIHF’s commitment to clean, safe hockey.
12. Patrick Thoresen
Who could have predicted this unassuming Norwegian would take the tournament by storm? He had 18 points, second only to Malkin, including an historic six-point night in a 12-4 smothering of Germany. Thoresen was named to the end-of-tournament all-star team, the first Norwegian so honoured in IIHF history.
13. Gold medal refereeing
Quick – who were the referees in the gold-medal game? No one remembers. They were invisible, not worth mentioning, not even part of the game story. And that’s exactly why they were brilliant. Brent Reiber and Antonin Jerabek called exactly three minor penalties all game, the first coming near the end of the second period. And the players, with gold on the line, responded. There were no dirty hits, no cheap shots, no pushing and shoving after whistles. It was a game of speed and skill. And the refs are partly to thank for that.
14. IIHF Hall of Fame induction
It’s impossible to praise one group of Hall of Famers at the expense of any other, but surely the Class of 2012 must go down as one of the finest ever to be honoured by the IIHF. Players included Pavel Bure, Milan Novy, Raimo Helminen, and Phil Housley. The Builder was Andy Murray and the Paul Loicq Award went to Nike’s Kent Angus. And, the IIHF introduced its new Milestone Award, given to Teams Canada and Soviet Union for their defining, eight-game Summit Series in 1972.
15. New format
The IIHF’s new format wasn’t perfect, but it did generate some great games on the final days of the tournament and generated new enthusiasm for round-robin play in which fans can see their team face off against every other at least once. And, it produced three incredible quarter-finals games which are now memorable moments in IIHF World Championship history.