JWC – Group A Day 3

By Peter Westermark

All of those complaining of low scoring in the NHL wouldn’t have had a very
good time in Skellefteå today. A grand total of three goals was scored in
the two hours of hockey that was played, but still the games were exciting
and the quality of play was the highest so far in the tournament. The scores
? USA beat Slovakia 1-0 with a goal late in the third period, and Canada and
the Czech Republic tied their game 1-1.

First things first, it’s official now: Team USA is the darkhorse team of the
JWC’s. It is not a stretch to see them in the final and winning the
goldmedals this year. They are receiving great goaltending from Rick
DiPietro, solid defensive play from the skaters, and just about enough
offense to be able to win. Team USA look very committed to playing a team
game, and all players take their defensive assignments seriously. That, and
the play of Rick Dipietro, were the two most important factors in USA’s win
today. The Slovakians did not play as well defensively and had poor marking
on US-forwards in front of the net at many occasions in the game, and the
Americans scored their goal in a situation where Nashville draftee captain
Adam Hall was given lots of time unchecked in front of the net to put a high
wristshot past Slovakias good goaltender Ratislav Stana (Washington). For
the Americans, they have a real star in net in Rick DiPietro. He is very
good at handling the puck, manages to cover a lot of the net and is quick.
DiPietro should be a high draftpick next summer. He is also receiving good
help from his defensemen: Jeff Jillson was the best player, other than
DiPietro, on Team USA today and got lots of ice-time in both offensive and
defensive situations. Jillson is a more clever stickhandler than one would
think, a very good skater for a player his size, and it’s not hard to see
why San José drafted him 14th overall last summer. Unheralded Doug Janik
(Buffalo) is a good team-first player who plays a solid game and always
keeps it simple and plays by his limitations. Jordan Leopold (Anaheim) is
expected to provide flair and offense, but he was more quiet today than in
previous games. Beyond those three, USA is getting good defense from their
other defensemen as well with Brooks Orpik looking to be the one that could
add more to his offensive production than the fluke goal he got against the
Czechs in the Americans second game. Offensively, there isn’t a lot of top
offensive threats other than the pair of Barrett Heisten (Buffalo) and Jeff
Taffe. Taffe is a tall slick center who is a good stickhandler and passer,
while Heisten is more physical and plays a good allround game and looks to
have good hockeysense. In 5-on-5 play they are joined by Willie Levesque
(San Jose), a 6’0, 202 pound checking forward who supplies good defensive
play. The Americans are stocked with team-first players with limited
offensive ability – the exact type of player needed to win a short intense
tournament like the JWC’s. Having said that the Americans could win it all,
they could just as likely be knocked out in the quarterfinals if they finish
third or fourth in the group. The teams looks very even in quality, and to
me, the worst team in the group after everyone has played atleast two games
are Finland. The Slovaks then, one thing sticks out when you look at them
compared to the Americans: They are much better receiving passes, especially
on the backhand. They played a pretty good game again only to lose by one
goal to the tight-checking American team. Gaborik had a more quiet game
today than against the Finns and Milan Bartovic (Buffalo) was the best
forward. Bartovic is an excellent skater who can carry and handle the puck
at top speed. He is not very big or physical (5’11, 178) but he uses his
speed well to get scoring-chances. Islanders draftee Branislav Mezei, who
was unbeatable in one-on-one situations, looked good on the blueline along
with two-way defender Rene Vydareny (Vancouver). When Slovakia tried to tie
the game at the end they put two 17-year olds on the ice – Gaborik and
Kopecky along with Bartovic, Mezei and smallish defenseman Ladislav Harabin.

In the second game Group A was plagued by the Swedish zero-tolerance rule
for the first time in the tournament. Swedish referee called everything –
big and small – and there was little even strength play in the game. For
example, Canada played 17 minutes and five seconds of the game shorthanded,
and the Czech’s were shorts handed for 10 minutes and 52 seconds. That’s
pretty much half the game spent on specialty teams. That battle ended a 0-0
draw as both teams failed to score. Canada did a good job of keeping the
powerful Czech’s on the outside and letting excellent goaltender Maxime
Ouellet see the shots he was facing, while the Czech’s killed off their
penalties more easily as Canada doesn’t have a potent powerplay yet. Mike
Ribeiro (Montreal) showed good intentions as playmaker on the Canadian
powerplay but all in all it was too slow and predictable to be really
dangerous. Canada took the lead after having been outplayed by the Czech’s
for the first ten minutes of the game after a nice drop-pass from Dany
Heatley gave Brandon Reid a chance to shot it in the slot and Reid picked
the corner nicely. The Czech’s tied the game after Barrett Jackman went for
the big hit in the neutral zone, half missed, and put himself out of
position. That play by Jackman created a 2-on-1 for the Czech’s which was
finished nicely into the open net by Martin Havlat (Ottawa) after a nice
pass from the best Czech on the day Josef Vasicek (Carolina). Vasicek was a
force all night and has emerged as an offensive force for the Czech’s in
this tournaments. Pittsburgh draftee Milan Krafts offensive efforts have
been somewhat spotty since his hat-trick in the first game against Slovakia
and he has been outshined by Vasicek especially. Big defenseman Petr Svoboda
played a good game on defense for the Czech’s and used his size to his

Canada’s best player was the goalie Maxime Ouellet (Philadelphia) who looked
rock solid making his saves, unlike counterpart Zdenek Smid in the Czech
net. Captain Manny Malhotra has excellent work-ethic and lead the way for
Canada with his hard work during the many short-handed situations. Dany
Heatley was the forward with the best offensive intentions – he looks quick
despite being 6’3, 200, and has good hockey-sense. 16-year old defenseman
Jay Bouwmeester got more ice-time in this game and did not look out place at
all. He passed well, and is an excellent skater. More is expected of Jamie
Lundmark (Rangers) and Mark Bell (Chicago) – neither made an impact
offensively today. Mike Ribeiro showed flashes of offensive creativity at
times. Little Brandon Reid, Canada’s only scorer, is a relentless worker who
can’t possibly be 5’11, 178 as listed. He is smaller than that.

After todays games all teams except Slovakia still have the chance to finish
first or second in the group and avoid Sweden and Russia in the
quarterfinals. Sweden and Russia may have breezed through the group play,
but they will get a tough test against whoever they have to face in the
quarterfinals. If I were Sweden or Russia I would hope to face the Finns in
the quarterfinals. They have looked to be the weakest of all five teams so


USA - SLOVAKIA 1-0 (0-0, 0-0, 1-0)

1-0 Adam Hall (Andy Hilbert)

Shots: USA: 29, SLO: 27


USA: Rick DiPietro (27 shots, 27 saves)
SLO: Ratislav Stana (29 shots, 28 saves)

CANADA - CZECH REP. (1-0, 0-1, 0-0)

1-0 Brandon Reid (Dany Heatley)
1-1 Matrin Havlat(Josef Vasicek)

Shots: CAN: 23, CZE: 35


CAN: Maxime Ouellet (35 shots, 34 saves)
CZE: Zdenek Smid (23 shots, 22 saves)