JWC – Group A Day 1

By Peter Westermark

After the first day of any competition there shouldn’t be any dramatic
conclusions drawn, but often there are signs that point in certain
directions. In the first day of Group A action from the Junior World
Championships in Skellefteå it seems that the team who wants to beat the
Czechs must stop their powerful powerplay unit lead by Michal Sivek, Milan
Kraft and Martin Havlat. That is the strongest impression that the first day
of competition left. Game-summaries at the bottom of the page.

The Czech’s beat Slovakia 5-2, after a hat-trick and one assist from
Penguins firstround pick Milan Kraft, who also serves as captain. The
Czech’s played a typically european game almost to perfection while the
Slovakian team went more for emotion and enthusiasm in the early going. The
Czech team seemed very confident in their style and play a calm and patient
game. The deciding factor in this game, just like in so many other games was
the special teams. A mild judgment of the Slovakians powerplay is ”not
good”; the only time they generated anything that resembled offense was when
17-year olds Marian Gaborik and Tomas Kopecky was on the ice, but that line
didn’t create any quality scoring-chance either. The Czech’s on the other
hand has a scary first PP-unit led by Milan Kraft. The Czechs line up with
center Josef Vasicek (Carolina) on the point along with D Petr Svoboda
(Toronto), and the big and skilled threesome of Kraft, Sivek (Washington)
and Havlat (Ottawa) up front. The Czech’s scored two powerplay-goals, and
one goal just after one powerplay ended. That’s your three-goal difference
right there. The Czech’s also received a strong effort from smallish forward
Zbynek Irgl (5’11, 170) who is quick and creative and also is a capable
worker. Jaroslav Kristek (Buffalo) played with Kraft and Havlat in 5-on-5
situations and did a good job on the strongest line on the ice.

The Slovakian team weren’t bad, other than on special teams where they were
thoroughly outmatched, but they have to be disappointed by the play of
center Josef Mrena who looked like a leader in the exhibitiongames and
Islanders first rounder defenseman Branislav Mezei. Mrena was completely
invisible while Mezei played an inconsistent game with some poor
decision-making. The other Islanders first-rounder, Kristian Kudroc, easily
outshone Mezei this game, although that wasn’t very hard to do. Kudroc
atleast played a physical game, although he was over-anxious at times which
left him out of position two or three times, and used his size to his
advantage and had a length-of-the-ice pass to Marian Gaborik which sent him
in alone on the goalie. Gaborik was tripped and the referee had no choice
but to call a penalty shot. Gaborik took the penalty-shot himself, and he
didn’t disappoint anyone. He set top speed right from the start, deked the
goalie with a world-class move and fired a high shot past Czech goaltender
Zdenek Smid, who was swimming on the ice. Gaborik certainly showed that he
is exceptionally gifted with that move. The potential #1 overall pick at the
NHL Entry Draft in Calgary next summer had a stronger game than in the two
games leading up to the tournament where he didn’t shine. Gaborik had a lot
of good creative intentions offensively, but could not get the top offensive
chances. He should still be able to raise his game a level or two.
2000-Eligible center Tomas Kopecky also look like a solid player. He takes
good care of his own end and plays for the team, but does he have a
NHL-caliber shot ? He let two wrist-shots go during the game and both were
weak and wobbly. His shots were of that caliber in the exhibitiongame
against the Swiss too, and this may be a cause for concern. Other than that,
it’s hard not to like a player like Kopecky. Milan Bartovic (Buffalo) is an
exceptional skater and used this to his advantage to get five shots on net
during the game.

In the second game of the day, Canada beat Finland 3-2 after a late rally
from Finland almost tied the game. This game had another face than the
previous one as this was a more physical contest with more forechecking from
both teams. Rangers Manny Malhotra got a close-range shot on Finlands goalie
Antero Niitymäki early, but Niitymäki made an easy save, Finland also had a
decent scoring chance early, but didn’t capitalize as Maxime Ouellet made a
solid save. Both goalies are drafted by the Philadelphia Flyers.
The Canadians got a chance to play 5-on-3 in nearly two minutes early in the
game, but the way Canada played during those two minutes, Niitymäki could
just as well taken the chance to doze off, as they didn’t create anything
other than a shot from a poor angle from 16-year old Jason Spezza. This was
also Spezza’s first and last shift of the game. The score remained tied
until Brandon Reid scooped up a puck in his own zone during a penalty kill
and used his good speed to create a 2-on-1. Then he slid a perfect pass to
Chris Neilsen (Islanders) who scored the easy goal as Niitymäki couldn’t
cover the net quick enough. The second period started on a high-note for the
Canadians as they got goals from Eric Chouinard (Montreal) and Matt
Pettinger to take a commanding 3-0 lead. After the second goal Canada got
the game right where they wanted and seemed happy to run away with the
victory. The Finns seemed discouraged and also got the chance to get in the
game when Canada ran into penalty-trouble and played 5-on-3 for about two
minutes without coming close to scoring. Canada looked solid and calm until
the Finns scored their first goal, almost midway through the third period.
The Finns started played with passion again, scored another goal to make it
2-3, and Canada got sucked into the Finns trap instead of keeping calm.
Defenseman Kyle Rossiter who had looked impressive so far in the game
suffered through a disastrous shift at the end of the game when the Finns
were pushing to tie the game: Rossiter first missed the puck on two
occasions and then ran around, totally out of position, for the rest of the
shift. Many other Canadians also got nervous and ran around, somewhat out of
control after the Finns got their second goal. One who kept his cool though
was captain Manny Malhotra, who played the final 2 minutes and 30 seconds of
the game, and did a marvellous job along with feisty winger Tyler Bouck
(Dallas) keeping the puck in the finnish zone in the final minute of the
game.

16-year olds Jason Spezza and Jay Bouwmeester got a total of five shifts
combined in the game.

Prominent Canadians in the game was goaltender Maxime Ouellet, who looked
solid, forward Eric Chouinard and defenseman Barrett Jackman (St.Louis) who
can pass the puck well and has done a good job adapting to the bigger
ice-surface while keeping his physical edge. There is not one single team
who wouldn’t like to have a Barrett Jackman on their team the way he played
today. Canadas defensemen as a whole didn’t allow any breakaway for the
Finns, which is the sign that they atleast defensively can handle the
no-redline rule, but they didn’t use the rule to their advantage much
either, which is as much the forwards fault. Jamie Lundmark and Mark Bell
should be able to do more. For the finns, defenseman Ossi Väänänen had a
good game distributing the puck, and the line of Jani Rita (Edmonton), Jari
Viuhkola (Chicago), Antti Miettinen who got Finland back into the game with
two goals.


Game Summaries:



Czech Rep. – Slovakia 5-2 (1-1, 1-0, 3-1)



Scoring:

1-0 (PP) Milan Kraft (Petr Svoboda)
1-1 Martin Cibak (Roman Kumumberg)
2-1 David Hajek (Milan Kraft, Jaroslav Svoboda)
3-1 (PP) Michal Sivek (Petr Svoboda, Josef Vasicek)
4-1 Milan Kraft
4-2 (PS) Marian Gaborik
5-2 Milan Kraft (Michal Sivek, Martin Havlat)

SHOTS: CZE: 27, SLO: 24

Goalies:

CZE: Zdenek Smid (24 shots, 22 saves)
SLO: Karol Krizan(27 shots, 22 saves)


FINLAND - CANADA 2-3 (0-1, 0-2, 2-0)



Scoring:

0-1 (SH) Chris Neilsen (Brandon Reid)
0-2 Eric Chouinard(Jamie Lundmark)
0-3 Matt Pettinger(Brad Richards)
1-3 Antti Miettinen (Jani Rita)
2-3 Antti Miettinen (Jani Rita)

SHOTS: FIN: 31, CAN: 21.

Goalies:

FIN: Antero Niitymäki (21 shots, 18 saves)
CAN: Maxime Ouellet (31 shots, 29 saves)