Standout performances at the 2011 WJC

By Andrew Sykes

The 2011 World Junior Championships will go down as one of the most remarkable tournaments in recent memory. From the incredible contingent of Canadian fans, to the awe-inspiring comebacks by the gold-medal winning Russians, it was truly an amazing two weeks of hockey in Buffalo. Of course no tournament would be complete without some incredible individual performances and that is exactly what the following six players were able to deliver.

Brayden Schenn, C, Canada
Acquired 1st round, 5th overall in 2009 by the Los Angeles Kings
Aug. 22, 1991. Ht: 6’1, Wt: 190

In his second go-round with team Canada at the World Junior Hockey Championships, Brayden Schenn turned in a performance that will go down as one of the best by a Canadian player in tournament history. The Los Angeles Kings first-rounder came to team Canada as the only returning forward from last year’s silver medal winning squad and was expected to be a major catalyst and leader up front for the Canadians.

In the team’s seven games, Schenn scored eight goals and assisted on 10 others for 18 points which tied Dale McCourt’s record for the most points in a single tournament. His highlights included two five-point outbursts in consecutive preliminary games against the Czech Republic and Norway. Against the Czech’s, Schenn scored once and dished out four helpers in Canada’s 7-2 victory. Against Norway he reversed the order scoring four goals and assisting on another.

In Canada’s thrilling shoot-out defeat against Sweden in the final round-robin game, Schenn suffered what would later be diagnosed as a separated shoulder but was able to play through the pain in the final three games without letting on that he was injured.

In the gold medal game against the Russians, Schenn helped Canada get out to a 3-0 lead assisting on Ryan Ellis‘ opening marker and then scoring the third goal on a perfectly placed one-timer. That would be the last celebrating team Canada would do as the Russians quickly and swiftly erased the three-goal deficit scoring five times in the third period and shattering Schenn’s and Canada’s gold-medal dreams for a second straight year. Almost immediately following the game, it was announced that Schenn had indeed been playing through an injury since the Sweden game and that the injury was to his shoulder; particularly a separation.

In his two years with Canada’s junior team, Schenn racked up 26 points which places him in second on the all-time scoring list and in the process etched his name in the history books as one of Canada’s all-time greats at the tournament.

Evgeny Kuznetsov, LW, Russia
Acquired 1st round, 26th overall in 2010 by the Washington Capitals
May 5, 1992. Ht: 6’0, Wt: 175

Going into the tournament, Evgeny Kuznetsov was thought to be one of Russia‘s most dangerous players but because he plays in the KHL and receives very little exposure in North America, there simply weren’t many people who were familiar with his talents. Fast forward a couple weeks and that certainly is no longer the case. Kuznetsov’s play throughout the tournament and particularly in Russia’s final three games will go down as one of the most incredible three-game performance in the history of the WJC.

Kuznetsov’s magical run started in Russia’s quarter-final match-up with Finland. With his team trailing by two goals with less than four minutes to play in the game, Kuznetsov was able to jam the puck home in a wild goal-mouth scramble putting the Russians within a goal. Two minutes later he engineered the tying goal on a dazzling solo rush that ended with Maxim Kitsyn‘s equalizer with 1:30 to play. In over-time, Kuznetsov finished off the Finn’s with another individual rush when he skated into the Finnish zone, cut into the middle and then let go a perfect wrist shot that found its way past goaltender Joni Ortio.

After a second straight comeback win over the Swedes in the semi’s, Russia again found themselves in a major hole. This time they faced their biggest obstacle as they started the third period of the gold-medal game against Canada down 3-0. After an early goal put them within two, Kuznetsov went on another awe-inspiring solo rush, skating past several Canadian defenders and getting right in on goal before Kitsyn again finished off his work. The score now at 3-2, the Washington first-rounder saved his best for last. He setup Vladimir Tarasenko‘s equalizer with the pass of the tournament and then assisted on the insurance marker which all but locked up Russian gold.

What Kuznetsov was able to do in those two amazing comebacks equaled or perhaps even surpassed Jordan Eberle‘s heroics for team Canada the past two years. Still just 18 years old, Kuznetsov has another year of eligibility at the World Juniors which makes Russia’s chance at a repeat in 2012 that much more promising.

Vladimir Tarasenko, C, Russia
Acquired 1st round, 16th overall in 2010 by the St. Louis Blues
Dec. 13, 1991. Ht: 5’11. Wt: 192

A first round, 16th overall selection by St. Louis in the 2010 draft, Tarasenko entered the tournament as the most celebrated Russian player. Chosen to be the club’s captain, the 19-year-old centered what turned out to be the most dangerous line in the tournament. Playing alongside fellow first-rounder Evgeny Kuznetsov and Maxim Kitsyn (LA), Tarasenko did what no other Russian captain had done since the 2003 tournament; lead his team to the gold medal.

After seeing his squad get off to a rocky 0-2 start, Tarasenko’s play began to flourish. He had a goal and an assist in a crushing 8-2 win over Norway and then turned in his best statistical performance of the event with a goal and three assists in their final preliminary game against the Czech’s.

In the semi-finals Tarasenko scored the opening goal of the game as the Russians went on to upset Sweden on the heels of Denis Golubev’s shoot-out winner.

Trailing by three goals against Canada in the gold medal game, Tarasenko was involved in a collision with a Canadian player and looked woozy as he was helped off the ice. Appearing no worse for the wear, Tarasenko came out to start the third and rallied his troops to the greatest comeback in the history of the tournament. He was on the receiving end of a gorgeous feed from Kuznetsov to tie the game on a rocket one-time shot that left little chance for the Canadian keeper. He then set-up Artem Panarin on what turned out to be the gold-medal winning tally.

After dropping their opening two games, Russia went on to win five straight including three consecutive come from behind wins in the medal round. The epic third period comeback in the gold medal game capped off a two-year world junior career for Tarasenko, in which he will forever be remembered as the player who captained his Russian team to one of the country’s most memorable international victories.

Dmitri Orlov, D, Russia
Acquired 2nd round, 55th overall in 2009 by the Washington Capitals
July 23, 1991. Ht: 6’0, Wt: 200

From the opening face-off of their tournament opener right until the final buzzer in the gold medal game, Orlov showed the defensive prowess and the offensive skills of a future NHL all-star defenseman. His combination of strength and stability in his own zone coupled with outstanding poise with the puck and a rocket of a point-shot, made Orlov the stand-out defensemen for the Russians.

Finishing the tournament with one goal and eight assists, Orlov was the second highest-scoring defenseman of the tournament behind Canada’s Ryan Ellis, while his plus-10 rating tied him for first in the tournament with Canadian forward Brayden Schenn. His tournament highlights included a two assist performance in the opening game loss to Canada, three assists in an 8-2 route of Norway and another three-point game against the Czech’s in which Orlov scored his only goal of the tournament.

In the medal-round, Orlov notched just a single assist which came in the semi-finals against Sweden, but he was still very much a dominant player in all three of the tightly contested games.

Like his teammate and fellow tournament all-star Evgeny Kuznetsov, Orlov is property of the Washington Capitals and it doesn’t figure to be long before they are both wearing Washington red alongside Russian superstar Alex Ovechkin.

Ryan Ellis, D, Canada
Acquired 1st round, 11th overall in 2009 by the Nashville Predators
Jan. 3, 1991. Ht: 5’10, Wt: 172

Playing in his third consecutive World Junior Hockey Championship, Ellis became one of Canada’s most decorated players in their storied history at the tournament. Having won gold as a 17-year-old in 2009 and a silver medal a year ago, Ellis was selected to captain the team for his third and final appearance with Canada’s U-20 program.

As was the case in the previous two tournaments, Ellis once again spearheaded the Canadian attack with his exceptional offensive skills, particularly with the man advantage. With three goals and seven assists, the 19-year-old led all blueliners in scoring, and in the process became the highest-scoring defensemen in tournament history.

In Canada’s four preliminary round contests Ellis racked up eight points, but was held to just two points through Canada’s final three games. In the gold medal game Ellis played with more desire and determination than perhaps any other Canadian player, repeatedly throwing his undersized frame in the line of fire. He opened the scoring for Canada with a power-play marker and then saw his team-mates score twice more to stake Canada to a 3-0 lead through two periods. But hockey, like any sport, can be cruel and Ellis saw his gold medal dream collapse in front of him for the second straight year as the Russians stormed back with five unanswered goals to snatch victory away from the Canadians in the blink of an eye.

It was another painful ending to a tremendous three-year run for Ellis at the World Juniors but the future Nashville Predator will undoubtedly go down as one of the greatest performers in the history of the competition.

Jack Campbell, G, United States
Acquired 1st round, 11th overall in 2010 by the Dallas Stars
Jan. 9, 1992. Ht: 6’3, Wt: 175

Campbell burst onto the scene a year ago when he came on in relief to backstop the U.S. to the gold medal. This year he was the undisputed number one goalie playing every minute of the Americans six games and was a major reason why they were able to capture a bronze medal. The 18-year-old led the tournament with a .940 save percentage and a 1.70 goals against average and joined Finnish net-minder Joni Ortio and Swiss keeper Benjamin Conz as the only goalies to play every game for their respected team.

Campbell’s play was the biggest reason for the Americans first-place finish in Pool B as the team in front of him simply was not as strong as last year. His only slip-up came in the semi-final showdown against the Canadians when he surrendered four goals, although he certainly couldn’t have been blamed for any of them.

Although the result of this year’s tournament for the U.S. did not quite go as planned, Campbell’s performance was a definite bright spot as he once again proved that he is a clutch goaltender capable of holding his team in any game. As a 1992 birthdate, he is eligible to return next year and should once again give the Americans a good chance to win gold.