Finland has won gold again – get used to it.
Led by superstar 2016 draft prospect Jesse Puljujarvi, the Finns dusted off archrival Sweden in the final of the World Under-18 Championship in North Dakota on Sunday. Puljujarvi scored a hat trick in the 6-1 demolition, while the home-side Americans earned bronze with a 10-3 walloping of a disorganized Canadian squad.
If it sounds like the Finns have been on the podium a lot lately, it’s because they have. This is the third junior-level gold in three years for Suomi, when the 2016 and 2014 world junior titles are added in. So how are they doing it?
Sadly, we cannot ask Pat Quinn what he thinks of the NHL’s implementation of a coach’s challenge for offside calls. As it was with almost any subject from World War II strategy to the neutral zone trap, it would have been very interesting to hear the former coaching great’s perspective on it.
Your trusty correspondent has been covering this game for almost 30 years and they have never seen a coach who had a deeper disdain for officials than Quinn did. And the roots of that go back to May 24, 1980. And if you want to talk about how one of these overturned calls can change a game or a series, consider the fact that not one, but two were not overturned that day had an enormous impact on a series, a career and a legacy.
The three top prospects for this year’s NHL draft all played in Europe this season and they’re all projected to become enormous stars in North American and make millions of dollars over the course of their careers. And if things go as planned, they’ll be a cash cow for their NHL employers, as well.
But what about the teams they’re leaving? In the case of Patrik Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi, the Tappara and Karpat teams in the Finnish League will not only be losing their best players, they’ll also be parting with two young men in whom they’ve invested an huge amount of resources. And once they sign deals with the NHL teams that select them, they’re receive a one-time payment of about $240,000. That’s it. Nothing more. Do not pass Go. Do not collect any more money. And in the case of the Zurich Lions in the Swiss League, they won’t receive a cent.
Two days after news broke that the U17 Russian team would be replacing the U18 squad at the U18 World Championships due to a meldonium doping scandal, the Russian Ice Hockey Federation (RIHF) has acknowledged that the swap was made in order to “protect the athletes.”
The official statement from the RIHF says that players training with the U18 have used mildronate, which is the trade-name for meldonium, “as to protect the heart muscle in periods of high exertion. Supplies of the drug were carried out officially in accordance with the Federal Medical-Biology agency.”
However, the RIHF said reports that as many as half of the Russian U18 team tested positive for meldonium are false, and said the players have not been using the drug since fall 2015, when the World Anti-Doping Agency made the decision to add meldonium to the banned substances list. That ban took effect Jan. 1. Read more
Ken Hitchcock’s St. Louis Blues have given up seven goals in their past seven games. But there was a time, almost 30 years ago to the day, that a team coached by Hitchcock gave up that many goals in just a touch more than a half of one game. Then it scored nine of its own in just over 26 minutes.
In one of the more wild games in Western League history, heck in the history of the game at any level, Hitchcock and his Kamloops Blazers went into the Seattle Center Ice Arena leading their best-of-nine – yes, best-of-nine – playoff series by a 2-0 margin over the Seattle Thunderbirds on the night of April 3, 1986. To give you an idea of what junior hockey was like at that time, the Blazers went into the playoffs with 449 goals in 72 games in the regular season. That’s an average of 6.23 per game, which is more than both teams in the NHL score in a game these days.
Everything is happening right now, as Bob Cole would say. You’ve got the Jimmy Vesey saga in Nashville, Zach Werenski signing with Columbus and Pittsburgh grabbing college free agent Ethan Prow out of St. Cloud State. Plus, the CHL playoffs are in full swing, with a couple upstarts threatening the top seeds. In the OHL for example, Sarnia is in trouble thanks to a surging Sault Ste. Marie squad, while Edmonton is giving powerhouse Brandon fits in the WHL. Oh, and the Frozen Four is set, with Quinnipiac, Boston College, North Dakota and Denver all in the mix for April 7. Let’s keep the prospect party going:
You can’t always get the narrative you want. The St. Louis Blues spearheaded an effort to get their city the world juniors in 2018, but fell in the final round to Buffalo, which has quickly become a hub for big events in the hockey world thanks to Sabres owner Terry Pegula’s building spree.
The Sabres will again do an excellent job with the WJC, just as they did in 2011. But when you consider how good grassroots hockey has become in St. Louis, it’s too bad the U.S. doesn’t have another event for the Gateway Arch city.
Take a look at this year’s draft rankings and you’ll find Missouri flavor. Matthew Tkachuk leads the way as a top-five prospect, while fellow first-round hopefuls Logan Brown, Clayton Keller and Luke Kunin, plus potential second-rounder Trent Frederic, all hail from the area. Drafted natives include goalie Luke Opilka (St. Louis) and Ryan MacInnis (Arizona), both of whom play for the OHL’s Kitchener Rangers. Simply put, it’s getting hot in there.
The NHL trade deadline had plenty of ramifications in the prospect world, with a slew of draft selections going to new teams and some actual players changing organizations as well. One situation to keep an eye on? Conner Bleackley, now of Arizona. The Colorado first-rounder would net the Coyotes a compensatory second-round pick if he doesn’t sign with his new team and based on his fractured kneecap and uneven career to date, that could be a real possibility.
Here’s a look at some of the other prospects you should know about right now: