Some notes and quotes gathered during the preliminary round of the 2013 U18 World Junior Championship being held in Sochi/Adler, Russia.
Sochi is the official name of the site for this event and you see it being advertised everywhere, including on a popular line of clothing that is available for purchase nationwide. However, the Olympic grounds, and this U18 WJC tournament, are actually being held in a town called Adler, which is located roughly 30 km south of Sochi.
The Bolshoy Ice Dome is the big venue at this event. Every Russian game has begun at 8 pm in the evening and the crowds have been pretty much the biggest you’ll find outside of a North American venue (4’000-8’000 per). The games are being shown on television, which has been reporting very strong viewing numbers, helped in that Dynamo Moscow won the KHL championship on the night before the tournament began. This also paved the way for Valeri Nichushkin’s participation, as he was in the line-up for Traktor Chelyabinsk, who Dynamo Moscow beat on the way to the championship.
In the first press conference of the tournament, Russian head coach and former NHL defenseman Igor Kravchuk was asked a number of questions in Russian, but he continually answered in English. This wasn’t appreciated by the Russian media, to say the least. When asked the next day about this, he cordially apologized and explained that he didn’t even realize it at the moment, simply having answered with the first words that entered his head.
The rumor mill has it that top prospect Valeri Nichushkin made himself available to a small group of Russian journalists in a relaxed atmosphere and was asked about his take on the upcoming draft and any plans to go to North America. The information that he provided was as follows:
- He will attend both the NHL Combine and the NHL Draft
- He hopes he is drafted by the Philadelphia Flyers or the New York Rangers
- He will go the same route to the NHL as Vladamir Tarasenko, meaning he’ll spend the first two post-draft seasons in the KHL (as is stipulated in his current contract) and then go straight into the NHL.
- He has no plans to spend time playing in the CHL or even the AHL.
As expected, there’s been no lack of scouts or people from the hockey business in attendance here in Sochi/Adler, many of whom are themselves ex-players. If you don’t recognize them simply from having watched them during their careers, you quickly become aware of what activity they are up to here as many of them are wearing clothing issued by their NHL club.
Central Scouting just released its final pre-draft rankings. Of the top 15 North American Skaters, five are currently here in Sochi, namely Frederick Gauthier (8), Mirco Mueller (9), Shea Theodore (11), Zach Nastasiuk (13) and Chris Bigras (15). Of the top 15 in Europe, Valeri Nichushkin (2), Andre Burakovsky (6), Jacob de la Rose (7), Robert Hagg (8), Artturi Lehkonen (9), Pavel Buchnevich (10), Viktor Rydberg (14) and Wilhelm Westlund (15) are also here in Sochi. Of goalies ranked whatsoever, Canada’a Spencer Martin (5th in NA) and Philippe Desrosiers (7th in NA), Finland’s Juuse Saros (1st in EUR), Sweden’s Ebbe Sionas (2nd in EUR), Russia’s Ivan Bocharov (5th in EUR) and the Czech Republic’s Rene Svoboda (8th in EUR) are all in attendance.
After the 7-1 victory over Latvia, USA Coach Don Granato was asked what he was thinking in those moments where players made little, often unnecessary errors that have led to good opposition opportunities, if not directly to goals against. He responded with, “I’m thinking ‘How did THAT just happen?’. These seem to be simple things, simple breakdowns in things that would normally be routine for our guys. We’ve talked for a couple of years now about this stage. There’s an added anxiety for many of our players at this point, because they’re playing with tension. We hope that by playing over and over again in this environment, that that anxiety will fade away. And I think it will fade away. This is uncharacteristic of our boys and I think the anxiety and hype of this tournament is playing the biggest role in those kinds of errors.”
When asked what it’s like to be around Connor McDavid at this tournament, Canada Assistant Coach Ron Tugnutt cordially said, “Oh, he’s special. I have a 96-born son who played against him and we had to see him for a few years. I just kept saying ‘Wow, this kid is special! Maybe he’s going to get the exception rule for the NHL now?’ I think Canada is pretty excited about having him as part of their program for many years.”
Young William Nylander, son of ex-NHLer Michael Nylander, has flashed some skills at this tournament, but found himself on the bench for all but one shift in the third period of Sweden’s 5-2 victory over Slovakia. When asked if he was sending Nylander a message, Swedish Coach Rikard Gronborg replied, “Not really. It was one of those games where things were going back and forth. Especially when you’re holding a lead, and you’ve got to kill off 7 minutes of opposition power-play time – and Nylander isn’t a PK guy – you have to make decisions. He’s a PP specialist for us and there weren’t many power plays. At the end there we got a power-play, but with it being late in the game, we obviously opted to have two defensemen on the ice rather than one. It’s a normal coaching decision.”
When asked how he’s felt his defensive corps has done and if any of his defensemen have been surprisingly good in his eyes, Sweden’s Coach Gronborg said, “Our defensive unit has been quite good, but this can also be attested to the work our forwards have done in assuming their defensive responsibility and carrying it out properly. This said, Robert Norrell has been playing real solid. We knew about Hagg’s abilities. He’s brought them to the table. Wilhelm Westlund wasn’t even on the squad before the tournament. Then he came in late and has done really, really well.”
After Team USA’s frustrating loss to Finland in a game where they outshot their opponent 50-19, right winger John Hayden was asked why the U.S. doesn’t seem to change up its style in order to get a winning result. He said, “We’ve been together for 60 games this year. We’ve played USHL hockey, D1 colleges, international tournaments, you name it. What we do has been working for us. We play American hockey. There has been some serious success in doing things this way. We just have to bear down. It’ll come. The goals will come.”
After Switzerland’s 3-0 win over Germany – the country’s archrival – in the final game of the preliminary, Coach Manuele Celio was asked whether he had any special preparation for Germany’s Draisaitl line (consisting of Leon Draisaitl, Dominik Kahun and Parker Tuomie), which combined for five goals the night before. He stated, “Um, no. No special preparation. We started our best defensive line against them. We put our best defensive defensemen on the ice against them. We told the guys that hey, the guys on that line had four or five points each. They’re going to be dangerous, so be aware of when they’re on the ice. Be more careful. Still, our principle doesn’t change much. You play against this type of line in just about every game. Be aware, but don’t be afraid of two or three guys.”
Upon realization that Germany would open up the playoff round against Russia, Captain Erik Gollenbeck was asked whether he was confident Germany could possibly beat the hosts. He responded, "We have a realistic chance of beating them. We won 4-2 against them in a preliminary game at the last IIHF Under-18 World Championship, so we know what we have to do to win. We know their way of playing." Germany did not achieve their upset, however, as they lost to Russia, 8-4, in today's playoff contest.
TSN analyst Craig Button is in attendance and was recently interviewed by the local Olympic committee to get his insight on what scouting is all about. Asked about what type of information a scout has to take in, especially in light of scouting eight months a year and often going to up to 200 games, he responded, “You must be able to extrapolate. We try to zero in on the little pieces, little slices. If you’re trying to watch everything, you’re not going to see anything. For example, the other day, in the Swiss game against Sweden, a couple of goals went in, and the [Swiss] goalie got right up and said, “Let’s cut the crap”. You are looking for those types of things.”
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