Open Mike Night - 4/27/09
Two important tournaments are in full swing here in late April. Of course, the National Hockey League playoffs are nearing the completion of the first round. Three teams completed sweeps early on: Vancouver over St. Louis, Detroit over Columbus and Boston over Montreal. Meanwhile, the Penguins finished off the Flyers with a dramatic come-from-behind victory in six games. The Devils and Canes will take seven games to decide their series and the same may end up being true for Chicago/Calgary and San Jose/Anaheim.
On the other side of the (not so frozen) pond, the World Championships have begun. A tournament that is often over-shadowed by a) the coinciding timing with the NHL playoffs and b) the more popular Olympics and World Junior Championships. The World Championships incorporates the best players from each country’s respective national teams. Including NHL players that have had their season’s ended prematurely.
The World Championships are still in the preliminary round. The usual suspects head up the ranks: Canada, Russia, Finland, the Czech Republic and the United States are all undefeated through two games. The Hungarians, French, Austrians, Danes and Norwegians all find themselves pointless through two.
The biggest upset in recent hockey history nearly occurred when the Hungarians came back from 3-1 down to tie the Slovaks late in the third period after Lubos Bartecko took an ill-advised and ill-timed penalty. The Hungarians, woefully under-talented and overmatched, played the remaining moments in “not to lose” mode, which will be an increasingly familiar position for them in this tournament. A Slovakian onslaught in the last couple minutes resulted in a net-mouth scramble. Emerging from the humanity was a Team Slovakia goal by once-goat, now-hero Lubos Bartecko. A goal that saved the statistical face of the Slovaks.
A fairly monumental, though lower magnitude, upset occurred earlier today. The Latvians took the Swedes in a shootout 3-2. The Slovaks, who have been more than underwhelming so far, weren’t able to coast their way past Belarus – falling to them 2-1 in a shootout.
YouTube all-star and Swedish star Linus Omark is the early leader in points with six. Tampa Bay Lightning sensation Martin St. Louis and Senators playmaker Jason Spezza each have five. Former NHLers such as Petr Cajanek, Jaromir Jagr and Marcel Hossa have been prominent in the tournament as well.
Much maligned in North America, goaltender Martin Gerber has been excellent in Switzerland, for Switzerland. Toronto Maple Leaf breakout Mikhail Grabovski has been dazzling for Belarus. Despite suffering an injury that may keep him from completing the tournament, Russian star Danis Zaripov has been about the best Russian player in the WCs.
A couple of lower-level teams have been a bit disappointing to me in the tournament (besides the heartbreaking loss that the Hungarians suffered – my last name should help understand that though). The Danes are a good, up-and-coming hockey country but haven’t fared too well in this tournament – even against the declining Czechs. Stars prospect and Vastra Frolunda (SEL) defenseman Philip Larsen, Coyotes forward Mikkel Boedker and Senators forward Peter Regin head up an increasingly talented cast. As noted, the Slovakians have been awful in this tournament. Nearly getting embarrassed at the hands of the Hungarians and then getting shown up by the Belarussians. Despite having a number of current and former NHLers (Sekera, Valabik, Bartecko, Handzus, Nagy, Surovy, Radivojevic and Marcel Hossa to name a few), the Slovaks have not been able to cut it and our headed for an early exit.
The IIHF put out power rankings earlier today and while it was pretty obvious to see Canada and Russia at the top; I didn’t expect to see the Hungarians anywhere but 16th heading into the tournament – however, they surpassed the Austrians! Why is this penultimate ranking such an accomplishment? The Hungarians haven’t played in the top division of any tournament since 1939. Former Flames prospect Levente Szuper continues to give the Hungarians a chance and who doesn’t love rooting for the ultimate underdog?
Follow the World Championships through various internet streams and the IIHF website.