WJC – Group A Day 2

By Peter Westermark

The Czechs and the Americans skated to a 2-2 tie in the first game of the day, and the Finns and the Slovaks tied 1-1 after Finland almost won the game with a shot that hit the crossbar in the final second of the game.

Team USA looked good in exhibition against Sweden playing a disciplined game, and they did the same again today. They didn’t allow many good scoring chances for the Czechs and when they did goalie Rick DiPietro was there to make the save. The 1981-born DiPietro appears to have assumed the role of starting goaltender ahead of Colorado Avalanche draftpick Philippe Sauve, and DiPietro certainly deserves it. Goalies who like to handle the puck are plentiful, but goalies with the hockey sense to actually do something good with the puck and help his team out with his puckhandling are more scarce. DiPietro is in the latter group – he almost never handles the puck without purpose, which is refreshing to see. DiPietro also looks very solid making his saves, and it shows that he has earned the trust of his defense. He could well be a star of this tournament. Almost all of Team USA’s offense was generated by center Jeff Taffe and winger Barrett Heisten (Buffalo). Heisten scored the first goal of the game on a nice move in close on the power play, and the pair seemed to have good chemistry all game. Taffe is tall center with good puckhandling skills, and Heisten more of a shooter. For all of the third period they got a defenseman for a left winger as defenseman Pat Aufiero (Rangers) lined up besided them. The Americans also recieved good penalty-killing a checking efforts from forwards Brett Henning (Islanders) and Willie Levesque (San Jose) who supplies the American team with grit and energy and good defense.

Jordan Leopold played a good game. He can skate very well and is a good passer who gets lots of ice time in all situations. Jeff Jillson shined on occasion with good defensive play and puckhandling ability, and had a breakaway in the second period. Jillson tried to deke the goalie, but he was too slow to execute his move and Czech goalie Zdenek Smid had no trouble making the save. Jillson showed poor decision-making ability on occasion, but all in all he was USA’s second best defenseman.

Captain Adam Hall (Nashville) had a rough game. First, he probably cost his team a goal when he pushed down the Czech goalie who was underneath him inthe middle of the faceoff circle after colliding with Hall after he had gone out to play the puck. The Americans had possesion of the puck at the time, and hall was called for a totally unnecessary interference. Then Hall got a glorious scoring chance with lots of net to shoot at, but totally missed his shot.

The Czech’s power play scored the goal that tied the game, and it was their first unit who scored three goals in yesterdays game against Slovakia who scored. Martin Havlat (Ottawa), who scored on a nice individual move earlier, made a nice pass from behind the net to pinching Josef Vasicek (Carolina) who roofed the shot leaving DiPietro without chance. The Americans had done a very good job of shutting down the Czech powerplay up to that point. Milan Kraft (Pittsburgh) did shine on a few shifts, but was not a force in today’s game. Instead, Martin Havlat had a good game along with tricky forward Jan Sochor (Toronto) who used his skills to get past American defensemen to get opportunities for shots at net. Defenseman Petr Svoboda, also a Leafs pick, looked very solid in the game. He is very big,
listed at 6’3, 210, but he skates well and passes well. Certainly a key performer for the Czechs in this tournament. Defenseman Angel Kristev also noticable in a solid game for him.

In the second game of the day, the Finns nearly won with one second left, but if they had won they wouldn’t have deserved it. Just like against Canada the Finns looked to be without that extra edge until they scored a goal with eight minutes left in the game. The smallish Finland team had trouble with the bigger and more physical Slovaks, but enthusiasm has nothing to do with size and if the Finns don’t find their game soon they will find themselves on the outside looking in when the quarterfinals start. Edmonton first round draft pick Jani Rita had no points today, but a better game than yesterday as he tried to lead his teammates and created second-rate scoring chances on his own. Center Riku Hahl (Colorado) was good at passing the puck and had many passes that momentarily raised the pace of the game. Antero Niitymäki (Philadelphia) got the nod in goal again ahead of New Jersey devils first rounder Ari Ahonen, and did a good job.

The Slovaks swtiched goalies today, from Karol Krizan to Ratislav Stana (Washington), and he looked better than Krizan, and had a good game. Highly touted Marian Gaborik had a very good first period but faded somewhat after that. He used his exceptional talent to hold the puck for a long time during a Finnish power play, and created a couple of decent opportunities for shots on goal for himself and his teammates. Gaborik also had an assist for Slovakia’s 1-0 goal from Branislav Mezei as they got a 3-on-1 after a very poor line change by the Finns. Give most of the credit to Branislav Mezei (Islanders) though – he made a perfect wristshot high in the left corner of
the net, leaving Niitymäki without chance. D Rene Vydareny (Vancouver) also
had a good game for the Slovaks, with good passes and good defensive play. Some mention also for center Josef Mrena who works hard and seemd more
involved in the game today than yesterday.

WHERE ARE THE FANS ?
The games in Skellefteå so far has
drawn an average crowd of 603 people, and yet the Sweden – USA exhibition
game in the week leading up to the tournament drew 2400 people, and the clubteam Skellefteå AIK, no better than sixth in Sweden’s second league, has drawn an average of 3000 fans every game, most in the Allsvenskan. Make no mistake, Skellefteå is a classic hockey community, and they will support their team always and the reason why they haven’t come out to the game yet is this: Being drafted in the first round of the NHL Entry Draft doesn’t say much for most people in Skellefteå. Most people don’t follow the NHL closely at all, and if you ask the 3000 people that show up at Skellefteå’s homegames who Manny Malhotra is, probably the most famous player in the tournament who is not a Swede, maybe one in 300 would get the right answer. So, for most fans in Skellefteå, it’s just names on the back of a jersey and not potential NHL stars they are watching. Also, junior hockey isn’t nearly as big in Sweden as they are in Canada – never has been, never will be. The fans will come out as soon as the quarterfinals start, but leading up to that the announced crowds in Group A will probably hover around the 1000-mark.

Kudos to whoever it is playing the music in the Isstadion for playing the
worlds greatest Elvis impersonator Eilert Pilarm from Husum (just outside of
Örnsköldsvik). If the Canadians following the JWC’s via TSN listen closely
you might hear Eilert working his magic on the Elvis-classics.


GAME SUMMARIES:



CZECH REPUBLIC - USA 2-2 (0-1, 1-1, 1-0)



0-1 (PP) Barrett Heisten (Jeff Taffe)
1-1 Martin Havlat (Josef Vasicek, Jaroslav Svoboda)
1-2 Brooks Orpik
2-2 (PP) Josef Vasicek (Martin Havlat)

Shots: CZE: 29, USA: 31

Goalies:

USA: Rick DiPietro (29 shots, 27 saves)
CZE: Zdenek Smid (31 shots, 29 saves)

SLOVAKIA - FINLAND 1-1 (0-0, 1-0, 0-1)



1-0 Branislav Mezei (Marian Gaborik)
1-1 (PP) Arto Tukio (Tuukka Mäntylä)

Shots: SLO: 21, FIN: 38

Goalies:

SLO: Ratislav Stana (38 shots, 37 saves)
FIN: Antero Niitymäki (21 shots, 20 saves)