JWC – Group A Day 4

By Peter Westermark

For the first time in the tournament the USA came to a game with less than
100% to give. They looked sleepy-eyed to start the game and were not as good
playing a team-defense as they have been in the past. Perhaps it is a needed
reality check for the Americans – they won’t beat opposing teams on skill,
but they can do it, and do it good, with a committed team effort. That being
said, the smallish Finns also came out with more jump than they had against
Canada and Slovakia as they faced a must-win situation. Finland switched
goalie from Antero Niitymäki (Philadelphia) to Ari Ahonen, a New Jersey
Devils firstrounder, and Ahonen looked very good under pressure. He made the
saves when the Finns needed it the most, although he wasn’t called upon to
make big saves until the Finns were ahead 3-0 in the third. The Finns also
got a good game from big defenseman Ossi Vännänen (Phoenix) who used his
body well and showed that he can make a very good first pass and unleash a
good one-timer from the blueline. Up front, smallish speedy 17-year old
Teemu Laine had a good game creating chances offensively along with tricky
forward Tomek Valtonen, drafted by the Red Wings. Valtonen scored the vital
first Finnish goal on a nice high wrist-shot. Centers Riku Hahl (Colorado)
and Mikko Kaukokari are dependable performers aswell, although they showed
little flash.

The Americans aren’t that skilled offensively when you get past Jeff Taffe
and Barrett Heisten (Buffalo). Heisten looks like a star in this tournament
and Taffe – although a bit ineffective at times – is a good offensive
threat. The line of David Inman (Rangers), Connor Dunlop and Dan Cavanaugh
(Calgary) tires to complement the Taffe-line, but has not been able to score
yet, or even create good chances offensively. The Americans can win if they
get back to the way they played Slovakia and the Czech republic, but they
can’t rely on team skill.

Team Canada beat Slovakia easily later in the day, 4-1. Ouellet again rock
solid when called upon to make the saves, and Canada was effective early in
the game when they got their offensive chances. Defenseman Mathieu Biron
(Islanders) looked good on the blueline and handles the puck well and skates
well for a player as huge as him. Ranger Manny Malhotra is an excellent
leader for an unexperienced team – he gives his all on every shift and
almost scored a goal on a breakaway in 3-on-5 play in the second period.
Canada’s checkinglines have proven to be a success in the past, and history
is about to repeat itself with the line of Tyler Bouck (Dallas), Manny
Malhotra and Chris Neilsen (Islanders). Jamie Lundmark (Rangers) scored
twice, once on a penalty shot, but disappears for long segments of the game.
Hawks prospect Mark Bell had his best game so far, but still has to improve
a lot. Bell must overcome his lack of speed with smarts to be effective, and
it remains to be seen if he can do that. 16-year old phenom Jason Spezza has
to be the story of the day for the Canadians though. Spezza got four shifts,
to bring his total up to five in the tournament, and Canada scored goals on
two of them. Spezza had a part in both goals as he screened to goalie very
well on the first goal, a shot from the blueline by Brad Richards (Tampa
Bay) on the powerplay, and made a very nice quick pass to Brandon Reid in
the slot on the second goal which Jamie Lundmark batted home after a shot
from Reid. The IIHF-rule of not allowing two assists to many goals hurt
Spezza here as he would have got his first point of the tournament had
NHL-rules applied, but that hardly matters much. Spezza should get an
opportunity to prove himself in the next game against the Americans. The
Canadians are now assured of finishing no worse than third in the group
after todays win, which means that they will avoid playing the Russians in
the quarterfinals. To avoid Sweden as well they have to get atleast one
point against team USA, and they have their own fate completely in their own
hands – a win against Team USA and the Canadians are winners of the group
and face Kazachstan in the Quarterfinals.

The tale is a much sadder one for Slovakia who will now face Ukraine in a
relegation-game. The Slovakians are far too good to get beaten by the
Ukraine, and they were close to get to the quarterfinals, but they can look
forward to next year as 17-year old forwards Tomas Kopecky and Marian
Gaborik will be a year older and more experienced and ready to lead Slovakia
back to the top 8 to begin with. Gaborik added the Slovakian goal today
after a very nice pass from Tomas Kopecky. Kopecky is a dependable center
and a good passer who has a very good chance of being drafted in the first
round next summer in Calgary.

That’s it for this millenim. Next report from the semifinals and finals.


USA - FINLAND 1-3 (0-1, 0-1, 1-1)

0-1 Tomek Valtonen (Arto Tukio) (PP)
0-2 Arto Tukio (Riku Hahl, Mikko Jokela) (PP)
0-3 Ville Hämäläinen (Mikko Kaukokari)
1-3 Adam Hall (Barrett Heisten, J.Leopold) (2-man advantage)

SHOTS: USA: 35, FIN: 25


USA: Rick DiPietro (25 shots, 22 saves)
FIN: Ari Ahonen (35 shots, 34 saves)

CANADA - SLOVAKIA 4-1 (3-0, 0-1, 1-0)

1-0 Chris Neilsen (Manny Malhotra)
2-0 Brad Richards (Jamie Lundmark, Brandon Reid)
3-0 Jamie Lundmark (Penalty-shot)
3-1 Marian Gaborik (Tomas Kopecky, Milan Bartovic)
4-1 Jamie Lundmark (Brandon Reid)

SHOTS: CAN: 34, SLO: 36


CAN: Maxime Ouellet (36 shots, 35 saves)
SLO: Ratislav Stana (34 shots, 30 saves)