By Jamie Neugebauer
WJHC studs ‘n duds: a tournament retrospective
The Americans are gold medalists for the second time in the last four years as they defeated Sweden 3-1 in a tightly contested affair.
Russia won the bronze in front of their home fans in a dramatic 6-5 overtime win over Canada.
The Germans punched their ticket to the 2014 World Juniors with a 5-2 victory against Latvia. With the defeat, the Latvians have been relegated to Division I.
John Gibson of the United States was named the tournament MVP, the first goaltender to do so since Canada’s Steve Mason won the honour in 2008. He was also given goalie of the tournament and tournament all-star honours, and he earned every one of them. Sweden came on hard in the third period, and Gibson was forced to rob Viktor Arvidsson outright on a wraparound late that looked like it should have been an easy open-netter. The Ducks prospect was spectacular all tournament and at times appeared almost unbeatable.
Florida second-rounder Rocco Grimaldi has been quiet all tournament despite lofty expectations coming in. Yet the diminutive North Dakota Fighting Soux forward really stepped up and out of Johnny Gaudreau’s shadow in the gold medal game, producing the offence that the Americans needed. Grimaldi, the man some deem as hockey’s version of Tim Tebow for his out-spoken Christian beliefs, scored both of the goals on Swedish net-minder Niklas Lundstrom.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of Canada dominated once again in the bronze medal match, as he had since Game 1. Adding four more points in which he displayed the skill, balance and vision that will make him one of the NHL’s elite whenever the season starts, he finished with the scoring title after racking up 15 points in six games. He was, as expected, a man among boys.
The Canadian power play as a whole really showed up in the bronze medal game, although it might not be that surprising as in the two games against Russia, the Canucks poured in a combined six power-play goals. Yet they moved the puck very well, made good use of movement off the puck to exploit space and Ryan Murphy finally made good his promise to be an effective threat with the man-advantage.
Yes Ryan Murphy got three power-play points for Canada on Saturday, but he was almost entirely responsible for Valeri Nichushkin’s overtime winner. Morgan Rielly had been put in a compromised situation as the big Russian forward steamed into the Canadian zone, but Murphy had the time and the mobility decipher the angle to at least hold Nichushkin up. Instead of backing his partner Rielly up, however, Murphy took a half-hearted swat at the puck that let the Russian steam in alone on Malcolm Subban unimpeded; the rest is history. It is not fair to blame the whole loss on Murphy of course, but in that one instance he was beyond poor.
Canadian starter Jordan Binnington was a dud in the bronze medal game, but a minor one. The usual every day starter for Owen Sound in the Ontario Hockey League had played one-and-a-half games in about a month and he clearly was rusty. Yet the two weak goals he gave up were of the extremely stinky variety and while Canada did come back, they were on the heels for a lot of the game as a result of Russia’s first real fast start of the tournament.
Before the tournament began, US defenceman Seth Jones was quoted as saying that the Americans were the best team in the tournament; turns out, he was right. Head coach Phil Housley’s squad played like a unit from the start, never let down after losing two-straight to Russia and Canada and, as if often the case from gold-medal teams, got absolutely rock-solid goaltending.
The Swedes came in as serious underdogs, missing arguably their five best players in Mika Zibanejad, Oscar Klefbom, Jonas Brodin, Hampus Lindholm and Jesper Pettersson. Yet they made no excuses, played great team defence and got the scoring that they needed from Sebastian Collberg, Emil Molin and Filip Forseberg. Coach Roger Ronnberg’s group was also certainly on the younger side, so watch out for the hosts in 2014.
Switzerland has risen steadily to take its place among the established elite nations, and looks to have arrived after a plucky, splendid performance in the tournament. Melvin Nyfeller was fantastic in goal, while the team got strong contributions up and down a very unheralded lineup. By the end, the Swiss had remarkably gone to overtime or a shootout in all but one of their games (an opening-day win against Latvia), and every team that they did it against is ranked higher than them in the IIHF rankings.