While watching the preliminary round of the 2002 World Junior Tourney, I found myself with the distinct feeling that the Canadian entry was going to win first seed as their play over Russia and other competition was dominant. Two LA prospects, small centre Mike Cammalleri and Rw Jared Aulin along with the likes of Jason Spezza, Steven Weiss, and top two 2002 projected draft picks Rick Nash and Jay Bouwmeester were methodical, smart players who were able to penetrate with scoring chances while never sacrificing defense.
Their game against Team Finland, led by Ruutu, Mikko Koivu, and top five pick number one ranked goaltender Kari Lehtonen showed Canada could be dominated. Ruutu was the main cog at both ends of the ice, with a fine continued performance that have to bring smiles to the Hawk fans everywhere.
Could we trust that Mike Smith and his penchant for Europeans over North Americans was correct this time, when the Hawk “farm” was desperately in need of a future stopper? Compounding our second guessing is the fact Blackburn showed enough to the New York Rangers to keep him around as an 18-year-old back-up and continues to excel at the major league level.
Will Ruutu be a bigger impact to the Hawks? At this point, it would be pure speculation as Tuomo Ruutu must do his military service and will not get a chance for possibly 2003-04 season.
The things we can say are what we see: He is a dominant player at World Junior, a head above the rest. He went where he wanted and did want he wanted to. He was force inside the team game.
He started the contest by staying close to Mike Cammalleri knocking to the wall of the Canadien defensive zone, and when down ice, it looked like Cammalleri would get a break to puck, he pounded him to the ice with a two shoulder back hand sweep. He was penalized but set the tone,ala Dirk Graham. Leaving the box to his bench, blasted puck carrying Brad Boyes, before getting there. . He came out two shifts later and hammered big Jay McClement to the boards to take another penalty. Errors? No, more like tone setters.
On his next shift which was a Finland power play, he scored with a slap shot from the left point, tying the score 1-1.
Later in the first he set up Joni Yli-Torkko from the face off with a nice shot, before taking his fifth shot of the 1st period.
In the second period, Mike Cammalleri took a penalty and on the second rush into the Finnish offensive zone, Koivu was looking to Ruutu on the wing but the puck hit a Canadien player causing transition, but that didn’t stop Ruutu from going to the front and knocking into a Canadien defenseman anyway.
On a penalty kill in his defensive zone, he bumped the puck away from Stephen Weiss causing a clear of the zone.
The third period began with Canada on a power play. Ruutu blocked successive point shots from Nick Schultz and Nathan Paetsch. He flew out from behind his blue line and flung his body into numerous Canadien puck carriers breaking the plays. Late in the third while killing a penalty, Finland icing and raced back to flatten Nathan Paetsch as he made a break out pass. In the final two minutes he along with his Finnish teammates pinned the Canada team in theire own end, and when Jason Spezza saw he was the next target of the high flying Ruutu, he put his elbow but up as high as his nose to stop the hit and was penalized, ending Canada’s scoring chances.
Tuomo Ruutu started his second WJC series with a tag as a guy unable to score many goals so far in the Tourney. So far he has two goals going into the semi-round part of the matches. Growing two inches in the year, it is pretty clear there is much more to his game that he brings his team victory. The rest of the Tourney will decide if it will bring Team Finland to the gold.
Next: How Hawk Prospects looked at the World Junior Tourney.