Day six was billed as the most exciting day of the tournament yet, with four games, including the much-hyped United States vs Canada match-up in the evening. It did not disappoint, as the United States/Canada game was one of the most exciting ever, but there were three other very important games that took place yesterday, all of which affected the playoff round of the 2009 WJCs.
The first game of the day was as anticipated in the entire hockey world as the US/Canada battle was in North America. Traditional hockey giants Russia and Sweden would battle for first place in the tournament’s Group "B." It was expected to be a close game, and a packed house at the Ottawa Civic Centre arrived early and eagerly awaited the battle between the best European teams. It was obvious early in the first period that the Russians were not the same team that had faced Slovakia the day before. Russia looked tired and overmatched against the faster, fresher Swedes.
Sweden took control in the first minute of the game, and never relinquished it in the 5-0 victory. Again, again, again, and again Russian blueliners Maxim Chudinov and Vasili Tokranov were caught flat-footed and taking bad angles as the Swedes skated right past them for goals. After the fourth Swedish goal of the first period, the Russian goaltender Dnaila Alistratov was pulled, and Vadim Zhelobnyuk was put in. Zelobnyuk, who was named Russia‘s Player of the Game, steadied things, however, the Russians were not able to really mount more than five real scoring chances in the entire game. Despite the statistics, which have the Russians sending 31 shots on goal during the contest, very few of those shots were genuine scoring chances, and when Swedish netminder Jacob Markstrom faced scoring chances, he was a wall. Tall and very mobile, Markstrom is arguably the best goalie in the tournament. His focus, economy of motion and pure size make him a pleasure to watch between the pipes, and Markstrom has gotten better and better as the tournament has gone on. Goaltending can really be the difference when going for the gold in the WJCs, and Markstrom has shown that he can be really cool and confident under pressure.
Among forwards, Sweden‘s Mikael Backlund stole the show yesterday. Although he did not score a goal until late in the first period, when the game was out of Russia‘s reach, Backlund was all over the ice. His vision, instincts, passing abilities, and acceleration are exceptional. 2009 NHL Entry Draft-eligible Magnus Svensson Paarjarvi was very impressive in this game too. In the game against Latvia on Monday, Svensson Paarjarvi showed that he could finish; yesterday he showed how strong he is on the puck and protecting it in the offensive zone. A good size winger, Svenssonn Paarjari moves well and has only enhanced his draft status by his performance thus far.
One other note on this game, Swedish forward Oscar Moller suffered a shoulder injury during the second period of yesterday’s game and did not return. Although his coach, Par Marts later said that he would have to wait for the doctor’s report to determine how serious the injury is, other sources indicate that Moller should be ready for Sweden‘s next game on Saturday.
In the other Civic Centre game, last evening Slovakia took on Finland for third place in Group "B." This game was extremely important to both teams, as theoretically the winner of this match-up could win the gold medal. The loser would play in the relegation round and could possibly lose its spot in this division. On paper and in reality this contest was really close, but it was Slovakia that eventually won the game 3-2, in a shootout. Jaroslav Janus, the Slovakian netminder, again came up big in this game, as during both the overtime period and the shootout, he made crucial saves. Previously quiet, one the top 2009 NHL Entry Draft Prospects, Slovakian Richard Panik, finally came alive and scored a goal in this contest.
It will be Slovakia‘s first appearance in the playoff round in five years and excitement abounded in the locker room after the game. Although Finland is unlikely to be a relegated country this year, its appearance in the relegation round is terribly disappointing to the team and its fans. More work will have to be done to move up in the ranks next year in Saskatchewan.
While Slovakia and Sweden were battling it out in the Civic Centre, approximately 40 kilometers away at the Scotia Bank Place, the Czech Republic was taking Kazakhstan. The Czechs won this game by the score of 8-2, with winger Jan Kana scoring four goals. The diminutive Kana has great touch and hands, and really was given a chance to demonstrate his skill yesterday. Named Player of the Game, Kana put on quite a show against a weaker team, which is likely to be relegated and not appear next year.
In the contest that has been anxiously awaited in Ottawa for months, the United States took on the reigning Canadians in a very exciting game. The energy and excitement in the Scotia Bank Place was so high that it was hard to not get swept away in it. When the game finally started, it became clear that these two teams really did not like each other. It was more than just gamesmanship when they banged into each other on changes or chopped at each other’s legs on face-offs. There was clear dislike and each team took every opportunity for contact. In the first five minutes, it seemed like the game might get out of the control of the officials. But, to their credit and the chagrin of the more than 20,000 fans in the stands, the officials began calling penalties, and did not stop until the teams realized that the game depended on disciplined play.
After the United States dominated the scoring in the first 12:35 of the game, the team took two consecutive penalties, giving Canadian center John Tavares more room to maneuver on the ice. Tavares, who was named Canadian Player of the Game, is a wizard with the puck and scored two goals within a minute of each other. By this time, the partisan crowd was in a frenzy and the building was shaking.
As Canadian forward Cody Hodgson, who assisted on the team’s third goal of the period, said after the game, "the crowd was incredible. It was absolutely amazing to play in this atmosphere and we really fed off crowd’s energy."
The score was tied after the first period, and the Americans were on their heels. The United States scored one more goal during the second period, but it seemed like their energy never rose to the level it had been early in the first period. Even though the US team was in the game until the last minute (when coach Ron Rolston pulled his netminder Tom McCollum and a Canadian empty net goal resulted), the level of team energy was lower. Additionally, even after Tavares scored his empty net hat trick goal at 59:13 of the final period, McCollum did not return to the net. The Canadians scored another empty netter to win the game, and the bye to the semi finals, by the score of 7-4.
Today is a day off for the tournament, which continues tomorrow with one relegation round game (Germany vs. Latvia) and playoff round games between the Czech Republic and Russia, and Slovakia and the United States.