Leaders of the pack
by Lucas Aykroyd|16 MAY 2018
Finland's Sebastian Aho earned a hat trick and his 17th point with this empty-net goal, but his bid for the scoring title with American captain Patrick Kane will likely get tougher in the quarter-finals.
photo: Matt Zambonin / HHOF-IIHF Images
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While no team is on pace to match the 66 goals that Canada racked up en route to gold in Prague in 2015, enough pucks are going into the net in Denmark to create an exciting scoring race among the individual stars.

Five of our quarter-final teams have 30 or more goals through the preliminary round, compared to just three last year. And teams like the United States, Canada, Finland, and Sweden are loaded with elite scoring talents.

We identified three interesting questions to ponder as we wait to see which player will finish first overall in points.
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1) Kane he do it?

If Patrick Kane tops the points parade, it’ll be the first time in a long time for America. It’s not surprising when you consider that the U.S. hasn’t won the Worlds since 1933 (not counting 1960 and 1980, when the Olympic title counted as the World Championship), but it is surprising when you consider that close to one-quarter of NHLers are American.

The only U.S. player ever to win the Worlds scoring title outright was centre Bruce Mather, who had 19 goals – at the 1949 tournament, where no assists were recorded. Mather, a Massachusetts native who sadly passed away at age 49 in 1975, earned bronze in Stockholm.

In 1963, America’s Marschall Tschida shared the points lead (12) with Jackie McLeod and Hal Jones of Canada, Sweden’s Sven “Tumba” Johansson, and the USSR’s Vladimir Yurzinov.

Famous for his dipsy-doodling, Kane has shone since notching his first point of the tournament on a lovely cross-ice pass to Johnny Gaudreau for the U.S.’s 3-2 goal against Canada in the Herning opener.

Winning the scoring title would also put Kane into a very exclusive club. The three-time Stanley Cup champion with the Chicago Blackhawks captured the Art Ross Trophy as the NHL’s leading scorer with 106 points in 2015/16. Only six Art Ross winners have led the Worlds in points: Wayne Gretzky (1982), Peter Forsberg (1998), Joe Thornton (2005), Sidney Crosby (2006), Martin St. Louis (2009), and Yevgeni Malkin (2012).

2) Will anyone hit 20?

In 1973, the great Soviet centre Vladimir Petrov set the single-tournament points record with 34 points (18+16=34). With the parity in today’s game, that’ll never happen again. Twenty points is a much more realistic benchmark for excellence – and it hasn’t been achieved in 10 years.

Dany Heatley topped the 2008 scoring race with 20 points (12+8=20). He got there with a goal and an assist in host Canada’s dramatic 5-4 overtime loss to Russia in the gold medal game in Quebec City.

Remarkably, Heatley’s 20-point predecessor was a player little-known outside his native West Germany. Forward Holger Meitinger, a 1980 Olympian who appeared in four Worlds, racked up 20 points (8+12=20) in just eight games at the 1981 Worlds in Gothenburg and Stockholm. The Germans lit it up in the consolation round, beating the Netherlands twice (9-2 and 12-6), among other high-scoring games.

The other players to win the Worlds scoring title with 20 or more points were Czechoslovakia’s Vladimir Zabrodsky (26, 1947), Canada’s Moe Galand (20, 1954), the USSR’s Anatoli Firsov (22, 1967), the USSR’s Alexander Maltsev (21, 1970 and 22, 1972), Czechoslovakia’s Vladimir Martinec (20, 1976), and Vladimir Petrov again (21, 1977).

With up to three games left to play, arguably five players have a shot at 20 points. Co-leaders Sebastian Aho (9+8=17) and Patrick Kane (6+11=17) both have good odds, especially if they survive the quarter-finals. However, Teuvo Teravainen (5-9-14), Connor McDavid (5-8-13), and Rickard Rakell (6-6-12) would need to average two or more points per game to get there. And with top teams bearing down defensively, there are unlikely to be any more blowouts like the 13-1 U.S. win over Korea.

3) Is winning the scoring title a jinx?

Every player who’s ever won the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship scoring title would trade it for a gold medal. But while putting pucks in the net seems more likely to help than harm your team, it’s remarkable how infrequently the scoring champion is also a gold medalist in any given year.

Since the year 2000, only five out of a possible 18 scoring champions have also taken home gold: Miroslav Satan (2002), Dany Heatley (2004), Jarkko Immonen (2011), Yevgeni Malkin (2012), and Viktor Tikhonov (2014).

Is there a logical, rational explanation for this? Not unless you assume that some teams ride one or two lines until they reach the final and then fall short against deeper teams with more balanced attacks.

That happened to Satan’s Slovaks in 2000 in St. Petersburg, for instance. While Satan had a tournament-high 10 goals and two assists, there were four Czechs ranked after him – Jiri Dopita, David Vyborny, Tomas Vlasak, and Michal Sykora – before the next Slovak, Jan Pardavy, who had three goals and four assists.

By contrast, in the NHL playoffs, since the year 2000, the leading points-getter (or getters) has come from the Stanley Cup-winning team in 11 cases.

Interestingly, at the last two World Championships, the top scorer was a Russian bronze-medalist: Vadim Shipachyov (18, 2016) and Artemi Panarin (17, 2017).

Stay tuned, but don’t be shocked if the scoring champ wins a medal that isn’t gold.
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