Rinkside Reflections (Playoffs)

By Lasse Johansson

The two semi-finals (USA-Czech Republic; Canada-Russia) were both even and entertaining. The Czech Republic got a very early goal by Michal Sivek against Team USA, and then showed off their defensive skills to keep the americans from tying the game. The Czech defense was easily the best of all the teams. With two goals seperated by only a minute and a half in the second period, the Czechs killed all american dreams of a place in the final. Still the americans fought bravely, and managed to get a goal early in the third period, but the Czechs scored the winning 4-1 goal in the empty net after a very foolish attempt to dribble on his own blue-line by american defender Jeff Jillson. Team USA owned the game, but the result wasn’t unfair, as the Czechs played an outstanding defensive game, and had a great goaltender in Zdenek Smid, who won MVP honours for his performance.
Canada vs. Russia was the second semi-final, some considered it to be the “real” final, saying that the team that won this game would have no trouble at all defeating the Czech Republic in the final. The game was the best of the tournament. Brilliant technique from the russians faced off against the physical Team Canada. Valeri Khlebnikov scored the important first goal for the russians after a magnificent display of technique. Oleg Smirnov made it 2-0 on a breakaway, but the canadians refused to give up and clawed one back by Dany Heatley, brilliantly assisted by Brandon Reid. 3-1 to Russia came early in the third period and decided the game for the russians. It finally ended 3-2.
Canada took the bronze after beating Team USA on penalties, a hint of what was to come in the final.
Russia was heavily favourized going in to the final, but the Czechs got the best start and controled most of the first period. The second period was scoreless even though more than thirty shots were fired! Both goaltenders, Zdenek Smid for the Czech Republic and Ilya Bryzgalov for Team Russia played exceptionally well. The third period belonged to the Russians, but the game was still scoreless. So the final of the 2000 World Junior Hockey Championships headed into a 20 minute sudden death overtime. The Russians were the better team in the fourth period, the Czechs prefered to defend themselves rather than attacking, but the best scoring chances belonged to the Czech Republic. Zbynek Irgl had a great opportunity in the slot but Ilya Bryzgalov made a big save. Michal Sivek was just inches away from becoming the big hero for the Czech Republic when a slapshot from center ice beat Bryzgalov and hit the post. Still no score after the fourth period which ment that the game and the championship was going to be decided on a penalty-shootout. Evgeny Muratov was first up for team Russia. Muratov is a sniper, and one of the top goalscorers of the tournament, and he made no mistake in putting the russians ahead by a goal to one. Sadly for the Russians that was the only goal they were able to score in the first four rounds of the shootout. The Czechs scored two, courtesy of Libor Pivko and Milan Kraft. Evgeny Fedorov was forced to score the final russian penalty to keep the russians in the game, but Smid saved and Czech Republic won their first World Junior Championships. The Czechs are now reigning World Junior Champions, World Senior Champions and Olympic Champions, as well as having (arguably) the best forward (Jaromir Jagr) and the best goaltender (Dominik Hasek) in the world.

Prospects Report:

Team USA (4th place)

#2 Ron Hainsey D – Big and strong, and with pretty good hockey sense as well. Got lots of playing time in crucial moments of the playoffs.

#3 Brooks Orpik D – Great size (like all american defenders). Brooks is a good 2-way defender eligible for the 2000 draft (should go in the second or third round). He has good vision on the ice and got lots of playing time.

#4 Jordan Leopold D – Named one of the three best americans in the tournament. He has a good shot and can be used in any situation. Scored the game-tying 3-3 goal against Canada in the end of the third period.

#5 Pat Aufiero D – Solid and reliable defender with a great shot. Scored the only american goal in the shootout against Canada. My personal opinion is that he is better than Leopold and should perhaps have been given the honour as one of the three star players on Team USA.

#6 Jeff Jillson D – Mean and strong, pretty good puck carrier as well, but sometimes he overrates his ability to carry the puck through dense crowds, which happened in the closing stages of the semi-final against the Czech Republic when an error by Jillson gave the Czechs an empty net goal.

#7 Willie Levesque RW – Physical player on the checking line

#8 Brad Winchester LW – Hyper-aggresive, checks everything in sight. Decent hockey sense too.

#9 Connor Dunlop C – Centers Levesque and Winchester. One of the best face-off men of the tournament, he won almost every one in the game against the Czech Republic. In the bronze game against Canada he was pretty anonymous, but got plenty off ice-time because of his face-off skills.

#10 Mike Stuart D – Played awfully when the Czechs scored the all important 2-0 goal in the second period of the semi-final. Played better against Canada. Strong skater.

#11 Brett Henning RW – Failed to impress. Anonymous in both games

#15 Daniel Cavanaugh C – Came into the team at the very last minute. Scored the goal against the Czech Republic. Speedy player with good work ethics. Didn’t play as well against the canadiens. He missed the decisive penalty.

#16 John Sabo C – Small, speedy. Saw very little ice-time against the Czechs. Next to none against Canada.

#18 Adam Hall RW – Team captain with Mark Messier-type leadershipskills. Playmaker with exceptionally good vision. One of the three stars of Team USA. Should be captain in the NHL in a few years.

#19 Andy Hilbert C – Speedy playmaker with good hockey sense. Seemed frustrated in the end of the semi-final against the czechs and didn’t produce. Played well in the bronze game but missed his penalty.

#21 David Inman C – Saw very limited ice-time

#22 Doug Janik D – A big dissapointment. I had expected him to be the star defender of the americans, instead he was the opposite. Responsible for the second Czech goal were he and Mike Stuart, his partner on the D let Irgl shoot three times to score an easy goal. Seems unreliable, was benched through most of the third and fourth periods against Team Canada. Slightly inconsistent, showed some flashes of brilliance, but they were few and far apart.

#23 Jeff Taffe LW – A big surprise for me. Jeff is big but surprisingly technical, and is arguably (along with Hilbert) the best stickhandler on Team USA.

#25 Pat Foley LW – Rugged winger that saw limited ice time towards the end of the bronze game.

#26 Brett Nowak LW – Anonymous in the semi-final. Showed more against Canada. Not sure about him.

#27 Barret Heisten LW – The best american forward if I may say so. Great skater that dares to drive for the net instead of going around it. Willing to take a hit to make a play or score a goal. Impressed me very much against Canada, was more anonymous in the semi-final. Aggresive forechecker. Will be in the NHL pretty soon.

#29 Rick DiPietro G – Deserved his award for best goaltender of the tournament. Was solely responsible for the win against Sweden. Great skater, outstanding stickhandling (best I’ve seen from a junior) combined with good positional play and very few rebounds allowed. Shoud have jumped high on everyones ranking right now. The best netmionder of the tournament!

#30 Phillipe Sauve G – Played very well in the round robin game between USA and Canada, and was once again called upon to play Team Canada in the bronze game. Unfortunately he wasn’t as good as he was in the first meeting between the two, and he seemed pretty unreliable. Didn’t have good stickhandling or good skating and wasn’t any good in the penalty shootout (though that is fairly unsignificant). Made some big saves, but these were often the result of him being out of position in the first place. Still a pretty good goaltending prospect though.

Team Canada (Bronze medal):

#1 Brian Finley G – Had a decent game against Team USA in the bronze game, but allowed an alarmingly high rate of rebounds that often were pointed right into the crease. I had expected him to play better. Outshined by Ouellet.

#2 Matt Kinch D – Small 2-way defender paired with the much bigger Biron.

#3 Jay Bouwmeester D – Wow! He didn’t get much playing time in the first game against Finland, but in the playoffs he was definately one of the better defenders out there. Given his birthdate (late september 83) I’m not sure if he’ll be drafted in 2001 or 2002. Either way he is definately an early candidate for the number one pick. earned MVP honours in the semi-final against Russia. He is a very good puckhandler, good speed and a hard, but not always accurate shot. Plays very mature for his age. Good both in offense and defense. The next Phil Coffey?

#6 Manny Malhotra C – Arguably the best center of the tournament. Hard working star of Team Canada that seems to do everything right. He already has NHL experiance from the New York Rangers, and if he continues to play like this it wont be long before he’ll play on their second line. He will never be a big scorer, but he manages the offensive game pretty well, atleast on this level. Willing to sacrifice himself for the team, always blocking shots and getting tons of playing time when killing penalties.

#7 Eric Chouinard C – No, this was not the Montreal prospects tournament. Didn’t get much playing time in either game. Has a pretty good shot, played the point in the closing stages of the game against Russia. The only canadian to miss a penalty in the shootout against the americans.

#9 Brad Richards LW – Lots of playing time, and making the most of it. Unspectacular but effective.

#10 Chris Nielsen C – Tough, with good hockey sense and as I discovered in the bronze game – a pretty good leader as well (I was sitting right behind Team Canadas bench). Scored a well deserved goal against USA.

#11 Dany Heatley LW – Sniper, scoring goals in both games.

#12 Tyler Bouck RW – Highly praised by many but I wasn’t overly impressed by him. The coaches seem to have faith in him, giving him ice-time in crucial situations.

#16 Mark Bell C – Skating is a flaw, sometimes he made some errors.

#18 Steven McCarthy D – Big surprise for me. technical and offensive. Very good puck handler and puck carrier, which he displayed numerous times against the russians, but not as often in the bronze game.

#19 Jason Spezza RW – “The next Wayne Gretzky” according to the program. Well, I’m not convinced of that by what I’ve seen, but I am convinced that Jason is a rare talent with an offensive gift. Needs to work more on his defensive skills. Played almost exclusively in power play. Got some ice-time when the canadians were down by 1-2 against the americans. I had hoped to see him take a penalty in the shootout, but he didn’t. Doesn’t have the maturity of Bouwmeester.

#20 Barret Jackman D – Seemed to crack under pressure. Didn’t play well neither against the russians or the americans. Made a very stupid play in the final seconds of overtime against Team USA, when he with five seconds to go and with full control of the puck behind his own goal opted to shoot the puck down the ice for an icing instead of holding the puck behind the goal.

#21 Joe Rullier D – Great size

#24 Kyle Rossiter D – Perfect size. Willing to block shots. Severly outplayed by Khlebnikov on the first russian goal. Never say die type player.

#25 Brandon Reid C – Best offensive canadian. Plays more like a russian than a canadian. Small and extremely quick. Great technique, displayed on his penalty against Phillipe Sauve. To small for the NHL though?

#27 Michael Ryder C – Anonymous

#30 Maxime Oullet G – Solid in goal. Played very well against team Russia in the semi-final. Should have saved the third Russian goal though, the first two came on breakaways and were not his fault. I was really looking forward to seeing him against the russians, and he impressed me pretty much. Good positional goalie.

#31 Jamie Lundmark C – Tough, physical but didn’t accomplish much, I had expected more of him. Nice penalty-shot though.

#33 Mathieu Biron D – Already in the NHL with the New York Islanders and to be honest, it’s mainly his size that has put him there. Displayed some offensive skills against Team USA.

#35 Mike Ribeiro C – One of the best canadians against Russia. Speedy and mean. Plays for the Montreal Canadiens. Should probably benefit more from junior or minor league hockey.

Team Russia (Silver medal):

#2 Alexander Lyubimov D – One of many fine russian defenders. Didn’t excel in any field, but is adequate in all fields.

#3 Mikhail Balandin D – Very good. Good shots gives him lots of time on the power play. One of the best players in the final.

#4 Igor Schadilov D – Good size, plays very physical for a russian defender. Saw less playing time towards the end of the games.

#6 Kirill Safronov D – Dissapointing to me. I had expected more from a first round draft pick. Didn’t play bad, just didn’t impress. Good defensively.

#8 Denis Denisov D – 2000 draft eligible and should go in the late first or early second round judging from his play in the semi-final and the final. Offensive, yet intelligent in his own zone. Could gain a few pounds of muscle, but is by no means to small for the NHL.

#9 Valery Khlebnikov RW – Oh, what a goal he scored against Canada! He made Kyle Rossiter and Maxime Ouellet look like complete fools in a very important stage of the game. Technical player often used in power play. Actually played better in the final than he did in the semi-final, but it’s his goal against Team Canada that everyone will remember. 2000 eligible, but he’s pretty small and that could be a problem.

#10 Artem Mariams D – Solid defender for the russians. Played with maturity. Along with Safronov the best defensive players in the squad.

#11 Denis Shvidki RW – The winger from Barrie was outstanding in the round robin games in UmeĆ„ (from what I’ve heard since I only witnessed their game against Sweden on TV). The canadians knew about him as he plays in North America and effectively took him out of the game. Played better in the final against the Czech Republic but all in all I had expected more from him. By the way; is it just my imagination or isn’t Shvidki a Ukranian citizen??? I know Tvedovsky and Vishnevsky are, but they still played WJCs for Russia, and Kasparaitis is a Lithuanian citizen but plays for Russia internationaly. Strange…

#12 Oleg Smirnov LW – Scored the 2-0 goal against Canada and earned MVP honours in the final. Has decent size so I see no reason why he shouldn’t be an NHLer in a few years.

#13 Sergei Zinoviev RW – Played in both games but failed to impress alongside the other extremely talented russian forwards.

#14 Evgeny Muratov LW – My favourite russian player. Has good vision and technique. Acts as both a playmaker and a sniper. Hyper-offensive. Quarterbacks the russian powerplay. Scored their only goal in the penalty-shootout in the final. I was surprised that he wasn’t named one of the three russian stars. Will probably be the big star of next years WJCs if he’ll play.

#18 Anton But LW – Good size, one of the few powerforwards on Team Russia.

#19 Evgeny Fedorov C – Not as talented as the Detroit center with the same name, but still a player for the future. Strong on the face-offs and a versatile center with both defensive and offensive qualities. Missed the decisive penalty in the final.

#20 Ilya Bryzgalov G – At first I didn’t approve with the russian head coachs decision to put Bryzgalov in goal in the final instead of Volkov, but as the game went on my opinion changed. Deserved MVP honours in the final, and ended up leading all of the goaltenders in the tournament in save percentage. One of the three russian stars, Bryzgalov loves to make a glove save, tries to make EVERY save with his glove, which could be a problem, though so wasn’t the case in the final. Alarming though; Michal Sivek almost scored from center ice in sudden death overtime in the final, and both of the penalty goals were scored through his very big five hole. Ilya was then benched as Alexei Volkov came in to save the fourth Czech penalty.

#21 Dmitri Afanasenkov LW – Moncton is his team so he was very familiar to the canadians who didn’t let him get into the semi-final game at all. Played much better in the final together with fellow North American Shvidki. Very good on the power play, but unfortunately no goals for Afanasenkov in the playoffs.

#22 Alexander Ryazantsev D – Earned honours as best defender of the tournament, but wasn’t one of the three russian stars. Didn’t play as good in the playoffs as he supposedly played earlier. Has a killer slapshot and is a very good two-way defender with emphasis on offense.

#23 Andrei Yesipov D – Big and strong, together with Schadilov the most physical Russian defender.

#24 Evgeny Lapin C – Way too small for the NHL. Or is he? All of his skills are of NHL quality, including defensive play and faceoffs. Interesting to see what the future will bring to Lapin, as he definitely has the talent required to play in the NHL. Did I mention that he has great leadership qualities as well?

#27 Alexei Tereschenko C – Captain and one of the key players on the russian team. Great work ethics earned him MVP honours against Team Canada. Tons of ice-time and made the most of it. One of my favourite players.

#29 Pavel Duma C – Power-forward style player in the playoffs, though I’m not sure if that’s the way he normally plays.

#30 Alexei Volkov G – Solid and a great positional goalkeeper, the best the russians have produced in years. Played oustandingly against Canada not to be blamed for any of the goals. In the final he only made a brief appearance as he saved the fourth Czech penalty and kept the game alive for one more penalty, although unfortunately for the russians, Zdenek Smid managed to save to win the tournament for the Czechs.

Team Czech Republic:

#1 Zdenek Smid G – The true hero of the first Czech gold medal in the WJCs. Zdenek is not drafted yet, though he has been eligible twice. Should go next year after his play in the playoffs (He has been arguably the best player in the entire playoffs). If he gets drafted he’ll go in one of the later rounds though, and I’m not sure if he’ll ever make it to the NHL. It’s really difficult to tell since I’ve only seen him in two games all together. Very good positionally, doesn’t make spectacular saves, but the important thing is that he doesn’t allow goals. Only one goal against Team USA, on a goalmouth scramble, and he shutout the goal-scoring machine of Team Russia for four periods, and only allowed one goal on four penalties, scored by sniper Evgeny Muratov. It must be said however that he got a lot of help from the Czech defense, the best defense in the tournament.

#3 Petr Svoboda D – Played very well in the beginning of both of the games and then later he dissapeared. Strong effort none the less, and one of the key factors that brought the gold medal to the Czechs.

#5 David Hajek D – One of the more prominent of the Czech defenders, frequently making great plays and important checks. Paired with Petr Svoboda for most of the two games.

#7 Josef Jindra D – Another solid defender. The czech team is filled with them.

#8 Zdenek Kutlak D – Fairly anonymous against Team USA in the semi-final. One of the best players on the ice in the final. Good in both zones.

#9 Martin Holy D – Hard to notice as he doesn’t play spectacular, but often makes good plays, and is rarely out of position.

#13 Angel Krstev D – Anonymous in the game against USA and in the first three periods of the final, then in overtime he made a great plays, stealing the puck from Tereschenko, carrying the puck down the boards past another russian, before delivering a perfect pass to Zbynek Irgl in the slot who should have scored the game-winning goal.

#14 Milan Kraft C – The Pittsburgh prospect was chosen as the best forward in the tournament. Kraft is a very good skater and a 2-way player. He is also very smart and knows when to push and when to wait out his opponent. His time in North America shows on his aggresive forechecking.

#15 Martin Havlat RW – Speedy winger that played very well in the final and pretty well against Team USA. He also has great work ethics, something that the czechs traditionally lack.

#16 Zbynek Irgl C – Lightning speed and soft hands. To selfish at times. One of the best players in the playoffs.

#19 Vaclav Nedorost C – One of the more interesting 2000 eligible players in this tournament. Played better than both Gaborik and Kopecky. Played very good in the final and in the first two periods of the semi-final. Extremely gifted technicaly and with good playmaking skills combined with decent size and some defensive responsibilities. Nedorosts play in the playoffs is that of a top five pick in the draft, I’m not so sure that he will end up there though, but a first round choice is a big possibility, judging from his play in the playoffs.

#22 Josef Vasicek C – Named MVP of the finals. The kind of player that every coach wants to have in his team. Vasicek is a non-stop worker.

#24 Jaroslav Kristek RW – Played together with more known prospects Kraft and Sivek, and didn’t look too bad in comparison to those guys. Anonymous for the better part of the two games, but every now and then he shows flashes of brilliance. Good size and not a bad skater.

#25 Michal Sivek LW – Good size, good shot, good technique and a good scoring touch. And atleast in the WJCs a good defensive player.

#26 Jaroslav Svoboda RW – Had a great game in the final. Good skater like most of the czechs.

#28 Libor Pivko LW – Technical and speedy. Very tall winger. Scored one of the two penalty goals.

Well, that’s it for now, it’s 2:25 A.M in Sweden, and I want to get some sleep tonight… It’s been a marvelous experience for me to witness the WJCs live. I’ll report back later with a roundup of the tournament.