Saint John\'s Jonathan Huberdeau is expected to be picked in the top five of the NHL draft this summer. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
Author: The Hockey News
NHL prospects shine at Memorial Cup
By: Ryan Kennedy
May 30, 2011
MISSISSAUGA, ONT. - The Saint John Sea Dogs brought the Memorial Cup back to the Quebec League and became the first Maritime franchise to do so in the process. But what can we take away from this year’s showdown?
Starting with the victors, the Sea Dogs proved what a juggernaut they were this season and in having seven first-time eligible draft prospects in the regular lineup, did it with youth. Center Jonathan Huberdeau led the way and, as the tourney’s MVP, did his best to make the decision at the top of the NHL draft board that much more difficult. The question now becomes one of how high he will be selected? Based on his offensive arsenal and big-game ability (his highlight-reel tally in the third period iced the game for Saint John), third overall is not out of the question.
“He’s obviously an amazing player,” said linemate Zack Phillips. “He’s going to be a top-five pick in the NHL. One of the most premier players I’ve played with and ever will.”
The tournament cemented the status of Huberdeau, Phillips, Nathan Beaulieu and Tomas Jurco as first-rounders this summer, a feat that has rarely been accomplished over the years. But on top of that, the second tier of prospects - Scott Oke, Ryan Tesink and Gabriel Bourret - also got to show their stuff on the big stage.
“They’ll all be drafted,” said Beaulieu. “I’ll guarantee it right now, I’ll call it. Ryan Tesink is the most underrated player in the draft. He should be a second-rounder in my eyes.”
That would challenge last year’s Portland Winterhawks in terms of draft excellence and speaking of that Western League team, I can’t help but wonder how different a Memorial Cup it would have been had the Kootenay Ice been defeated by this year’s Portland squad in the WHL final. The Ice came in red-hot, but were underdogs most of the way through the WHL playoffs. In Mississauga, the Ice were silenced until the last game of the round robin when Saint John rested several key players and still took them to overtime. A team with few NHL prospects (though Cody Eakin and Brayden McNabb looked good), the Ice did have a showcase player in 6-foot-5 netminder Nathan Lieuwen, who likely won’t be passed over in his final shot at the draft.
In a similar position is Owen Sound sparkplug Andrew Shaw, who ended up leading the tournament in scoring with seven points in four games. The Attack center was a daunting penalty-killer and plays a very rugged game; with the spotlight left open thanks to injuries to Joey Hishon and then Garrett Wilson, Shaw did what he could for Owen Sound.
And though the Attack were exposed with their two best players out for the tiebreaker loss to Kootenay, the decision by coach Mark Reeds to play Scott Stajcer in net in front of draft eligible Jordan Binnington was curious. Binnington pulled the team to wins in the last two games of the Ontario League final and played excellent in the round robin. In fact, he ended up with the best stats in the Memorial Cup with a 1.42 goals-against average and .951 save percentage, en route to being named goaltender of the tournament.
As for host Mississauga, the lack of flash from the Majors did nothing to dampen their future NHL prospects. Defenseman Brett Flemming (Washington), captain Casey Cizikas (NY Islanders) and left winger Devante Smith-Pelly (Anaheim) all proved they had pro-style games and there was no shame losing to Saint John in the final.
Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Fridays and The Hot List appears Tuesdays Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/THNRyanKennedy.
Team Canada can be better, much better, and that's a scary thought
By: Ken Campbell
Sep 27, 2016
Team Canada played arguably its worst best-on-best game since the 2006 Olympics and still came out on top by a comfortable margin. It won't happen again.
The stark contrast between Team Canada and Team Europe was not reflected in the flow of the play or in the score of Game 1 of the World Cup of Hockey final. It was, however, on full display after the game ended.
At one gathering in the media room, Team Europe captain Anze Kopitar had this to say after his team’s 3-1 loss to Canada: “I thought this was our best game so far in this tournament.”
Contrast that with Steven Stamkos and Drew Doughty right at the next pod. If you hadn’t seen the scoreboard, you would have sworn that they were on the losing end of the equation. “It wasn’t our best,” Stamkos said. “I think we all realize that. At this time of the tournament, a win is a win, so that’s a good thing.”
So there you have it. Team Canada played a terrible game, probably its worst best-on-best effort since the seldom-spoken-of disaster at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino. And it won. Team Europe, played the absolute best game of its very short, but illustrious history. And it lost. Which is pretty much what everyone expected before the drop of the puck.
These two teams clearly were not playing to sell tickets, as evidenced by the shocking number of empty seats in the Air Canada Centre, the bargain basement prices for ducats on the secondary ticket market and the almost as shocking dearth of people gathered in Maple Leaf Square outside the arena. And they weren’t playing to entertain, as evidenced by the fact that this gave the Sweden vs. North America semifinal a very spirited run for its money as the most turgid game of the tournament. (It also, by the way, affirmed this columnist’s long-held notion that the better the players, the worse the game from an entertainment standpoint.)
So here Canada sits, one win away from capturing the World Cup, which is essentially where things figured to be at this point in the proceedings. Canada displayed, more than any other time in this tournament, that it is simply too good for all the other countries - and in some cases combination of countries – in the world. There is no expecting Canada to let up here. So now it’s up to the other countries to start getting better. Dynasties usually inspire those chasing them to be better. We’ll see in coming years whether that is indeed the case on the world stage. It certainly hasn’t been the case in women’s hockey, so it’s hardly a given that Canada is going to relinquish its stranglehold on the hockey world anytime soon.
(As an aside, it would be really nice to see a country like Sweden realize that it is producing some outstanding and creative players and start playing like it, instead of relying on the passive style they played in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s when they had almost no hope of defeating the Soviets.)
Team Canada coach Mike Babcock had to be pleased with the victory, but not the way it was chalked up. His team looked uninterested in competing through large swaths of the second period. There were uncharacteristic turnovers all over the ice surface and on the first shift, Team Canada was caught watching the game while Team Europe blew by, drawing a penalty on the first shift. By the same token, when Team Canada made the decision to dial in – usually when Sidney Crosby’s line was on the ice – the game was not even close from a possession standpoint. As bad as Team Canada at times, Team Europe was even worse on turnovers that led to goals. The problem is that Team Europe needs about five 10-bell chances to get a goal, while Team Canada only needs one or two.
“We got two points, we had a good third and we scored timely goals on their turnovers,” Babcock said. “I thought they were better than (we were) for large stretches of the game at times. I thought they executed and played fast. I didn’t think we moved the puck at all at times. They looked quicker than they probably were and we looked slower than we probably were. We need more guys on deck than we had tonight. We just weren’t as good as we have been and we’ll be a lot better next game.”
And that’s what’s so scary about this. Babcock is exactly right. Team Canada will almost certainly be better in Game 2 than it was in Game 1. And that is terrible, terrible news for a Team Europe that might have just inadvertently poked the bear a little too much.
NHL further away from Olympic participation, optimism in short supply
By Ryan Kennedy
Sep 28, 2016
But taking a pass on South Korea in 2018 may be the best thing for the sport, given how Canada has mopped up at the World Cup
As the World Cup of Hockey winds down in less-than-dramatic fashion, thoughts are already turning to the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea. And those thoughts aren’t necessarily that positive. Reporter Chris Johnston tweeted out NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly’s thoughts on the matter yesterday, with Daly noting that he is more down on the possibility of NHLers going than he was two weeks ago.
There are myriad reasons why the NHL shouldn’t go to Korea, but the one that might spike it for real involves money. Shocker, I know – usually the International Olympic Committee doesn’t care about cash at all, right?
Staying on topic, the issue involves insurance and transportation costs for the NHLers. That can be pricey for the IOC, but it’s the cost of doing business if you want the best hockey players in the world to travel across the world, interrupt their own quests for the Stanley Cup, and entertain the planet for a couple weeks.
Daly (via Johnston’s Twitter feed, again) raised the possibility of NHLers returning to the Olympics in 2022, when the Games will be held in Beijing. I can see the pragmatism there. It’s still going to be super-inconvenient for the NHL, but China is a huge potential market and the KHL already planted a flag in the nation with the Kunlun Red Star franchise. If the NHL could get even a fraction of the market that the NBA has already tapped into, you’d never have a lockout again (ha ha, just kidding – Bettman’s still here).
I know the players love the Olympics and fans do too. My hang-up has always been that it forces the NHL to associate with the loathsome IOC – of course the hockey is good once you get to the medal round. But right now, as we have watched Canada stomp the field at the World Cup, I have to wonder how competitive the 2018 Games would even be. Sure, Team USA doesn’t botch its roster and have John Tortorella behind the bench (you would hope), but the Americans might be the only rival for Canada, which would add Connor McDavid and Aaron Ekblad to a core featuring a still-excellent Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews and Patrice Bergeron. Russia’s defense will still be threadbare in two years, while Sweden likely won’t have a dominant scorer (and perhaps no No. 1 goalie, depending on how Henrik Lundqvist ages). Maybe it’s all for the best to skip Korea, money issues or not.
Of course, a lot can change in time. The NHL doesn’t have to make a final decision until January 2017, when the 2017-18 schedule is imposed. Perhaps cooler heads will prevail and the IOC will pony up. Otherwise, Korea will basically be the Spengler Cup Part Deux and it won’t even be worth covering.
Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky celebrate the Game 2 overtime winner at the 1987 Canada Cup.
Author: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
Down Goes Brown: What was the best Game 2 in World Cup history?
By: Sean McIndoe
Sep 28, 2016
Five out of seven World/Canada Cups have been best-of-three finals, so let's take a look back at those five games, and rank them from worst to best.
Tuesday night's Game 1 of the World Cup final, which saw Team Canada earn a 3-1 win over Team Europe, sets up a do-or-die Game 2 Thursday night. A Canada win would end the tournament, and the trophy will be in the building, unless the league has come to its senses and thrown that ugly thing into a raging bonfire instead.
There have been seven World and Canada Cups in international hockey history, but we didn't get to see a Game 2 in all of those. Twice, in 1981 and 2004, the format called for a one-game final. But it's been best-of-three in the other tournaments, which gives us five Game 2 to work with. So today, let's take a look back at those five games, and rank them from worst to best.
As always, this is opinion only, and if you disagree, then you're wrong.
No. 5 – 1984: Canada 6, Sweden 5
The road there: Canada stumbled through the 1984 tournament, going 2-2-1 through the round robin and barely making the playoff round as the fourth seed. But Team Canada earned a trip to the final thanks to an overtime win over the Soviets in the semi-final, and they were facing an upstart Swedish team that had beaten them in their round robin meeting and had just embarrassed the Americans with a 9-2 blowout. The Canadians took the opener by a 5-2 final, but the second game proved closer.
Game 2: The game looked like a laugher early on, with Canada scoring four times in the first seven minutes and adding a fifth before the first period was over. A Paul Coffey goal early in the second made it 6-1, setting the stage for a furious Team Sweden comeback. They scored three unanswered goals to close out the second period, and draw to within 6-5 early in the third. But that was as close as they came, as Canada held on for the win and the series sweep.
The aftermath: This turned out to be the first of three straight Canada Cup wins for Team Canada, and remains the only finals appearance by Team Sweden.
The bottom line: What looked like a laugher wound up being a reasonably entertaining contest. But the game everyone remembers from the 1984 Canada Cup will always be that semi-final thriller with the Soviets.
No. 4 – 1991: Canada 4, USA 2
The road there: Coming on the heels of the 1987 tournament, fans were probably hoping for yet another final between Canada and the Soviets. But with the team in turmoil, partly due to the political situation back home, the Soviets failed to even make the playoff round. That left Canada looking for a new challenger, and the Americans were happy to step in for their first ever Canada Cup final appearance. The two teams met in the round robin, with Canada winning 6-3 to hand the Americans their only loss of the stage, and Canada followed that up with a 4-1 win in the opening game of the final.
Game 2: This game may best be remembered for who wasn't playing. Team Canada captain Wayne Gretzky was knocked out of action in Game 1 on an ugly hit from behind by Gary Suter. The check left Gretzky unable to suit up for Game 2, and contributed to the back problems that slowed him down for much of the early 1990s.
Looking for the sweep, Canada jumped out to a 2-0 lead before the Americans clawed back with a pair of second-period goals. But Steve Larmer earned some revenge on Suter by stripping him of the puck during an American powerplay and then scoring on a breakaway for the winning goal.
The bottom line: This game, much like the 1991 tournament itself, was an entertaining one that for some reason isn't all that well remembered by many fans.
No. 3 – 1996: USA 5, Canada 2
The road there: The Americans swept through the round robin with a perfect 3-0-0 record, including an impressive 5-3 win over Canada that featured a wild early brawl. That win earned them a quarter-final bye, and after knocking off the Russians 5-3 in the semis, Team USA came into the final looking like they had a real shot to wrestle the international crown away from Canada. But Steve Yzerman's overtime winner in Game 1 in Philadelphia handed the Americans their first loss of the tournament, and left them needing a pair of wins in Montreal to take the tournament.
Game 2: Team USA jumped out to an early lead, but Canada came back to tie the game before the first intermission. Goals by John Leclair and Brett Hull gave the Americans a 3-1 lead, and Mike Richter stood on his head to keep it that way until a late powerplay goal by Joe Sakic made it 3-2 with five minutes to play. That was as close as they came, and a pair of Team USA empty net goals padded the final score to 5-2.
The aftermath: Team USA completed the comeback in Game 3, winning by another 5-2 score to capture their first (and so far only) best-on-best championship.
The bottom line: Despite the two empty netters making the score more lopsided than the game was, this was a fun matchup that featured lots of star power, some bad blood, and a raucous Montreal crowd. You can watch the highlights here.
No. 2 – 1976: Canada 5, Czechoslovakia 4 (OT)
The road there: Four years after the legendary Summit Series, the Canada Cup was born in an effort to create the first true international best-on-best tournament. There was no semi-final back then, with the top two teams heading directly to the finals. Canada grabbed one of those spots, finishing first in the round robin with a 4-1-0 record. But while many had expected a Summit Series rematch in the final, the Soviets were edged out of a spot by Czechoslovakia.
The opening game of the final was a blowout, with Canada earning a relatively easy 6-0 win. Game 2 ended up proving to be a bigger challenge.
Game 2: Canada grabbed a 2-0 lead just two minutes in, but Czechoslovakia fought back to tie the game early in the third. A Bobby Clarke goal restored the Canadian lead, but two quick Czechoslovakian goals gave them a 4-3 lead with four minutes to play. Bill Barber tied it with two minutes left, and that set the stage for Darryl Sittler to deliver the first ever Canada Cup with what still stands as one of the most famous goals in the tournament's history.
The aftermath: To this day, Sittler and Team Canada assistant coach Don Cherry are still arguing over who's idea that move was.
The bottom line: You could make a great case for this game being No. 1 on the list. I think it’s a coin flip, but I'll take the game that directly led to one of the greatest moments in hockey history.
1987: Canada 6, Soviet Union 5 (2OT)
The road there: Canada and the Soviets finished in the top two spots in the round robin, then knocked off Czechoslovakia and Sweden, respectively, in the semi-finals to set up the first best-on-best multi-game series between the two rivals since the 1972 Summit Series.
Game 2: With the Soviets looking to clinch their second Canada Cup in three tournaments, the series shifted to Hamilton for the second game. The two teams resumed the all-out offensive pace, with Canada leading 2-1 before the game was even four minutes old. Then it got better.
Canada took a 3-1 lead to the first intermission, but the Soviets tied it in the second before Mario Lemieux quickly restored the lead. The Soviets tied it again early in the third, but Lemieux scored again midway through. That set the stage for a frantic end to regulation that saw Valeri Kamensky score with a minute left to send the game to overtime.
With the trophy on the line, the two teams went back and forth through one scoreless extra period. But midway through the second overtime, Canada finally ended it. Guess who.
The aftermath: This game was so good that the hockey gods decided to re-use the same script for Game 3: A back-and-forth thriller that ends with a 6-5 Canada victory on a Mario Lemieux winner.
The bottom line: The series finale was quite possibly the greatest international game ever played. And it was made possible by this one, which was almost as good. That's enough to earn it the top spot on our list, narrowly ahead of Sittler's fakeout.
Sean McIndoe has been writing about the NHL since 2008, most recently for ESPN and Grantland. He spends most of his time making jokes on twitter, where you may know him as @downgoesbrown. He appears weekly on TheHockeyNews.com.
It was good start for the modern incarnation of the World Cup of Hockey. What lessons can we apply from 2016 to improve the format in 2020?
The World Cup of Hockey was what we thought it was, at least among the level-headed crowd who didn't foolishly decry the idea as a crime against humanity. The stakes weren't high enough to rival the thrill of Olympic competition, but even the grumpiest detractors must admit the hockey was good. That's what happens when you get 184 of the best players on Earth competing in the same tournament. It was impossible for the product not to be entertaining as heck most of the time.
Technically, 2016 marked the third World Cup, but since it was the first in 12 years, it felt like a franchise reboot. And with anything new comes a few bugs to work out. The tournament was fun but not perfect. I've spent the last few days pondering tweaks to improve the format in 2020. The NHL has already announced plans for a followup event then, so why not explore how to make it even better?
1. START THE PLAYOFF ROUND WITH A QUARTERFINAL, NOT A SEMIFINAL
Call it the North America Rule, and it's not just because the team was so darned exciting to watch. The North Americans played very well throughout the 2016 World Cup, beating Sweden and Finland and losing a nailbiter to Russia. The kids looked like a top-three team in the tournament and had a .667 win percentage yet didn't even qualify for the playoff round because only two teams from each group made it. That was unfortunate, especially since the North Americans, being the fastest and most unpredictable team in the field, might have given Canada its toughest test.
Next time, let's transition from the round-robin to a quarterfinal instead of a semifinal. It would feel too warm and fuzzy, however, if all eight teams qualified and the last-place finisher got a chance to upset the first-place team. Instead, how about the second- and third-place teams from each group advance to a quarterfinal while the two group winners get byes to the semifinal? Or, better yet…
2. EXPAND THE FIELD TO 12 TEAMS
The World Cup and the Olympics are different beasts, but the IIHF was still involved in organizing the World Cup, so what's wrong with duplicating the Olympics' tournament format? Let's go with 12 teams, with three groups of four in which each team plays a three-game round-robin. Under this format at the Olympics, the bottom eight teams play qualification matches to earn berths in the quarterfinal against the top four teams. Maybe a pre-playoff round is too much hockey for September, so how about the top eight teams straight-up qualify for the quarterfinal, with no byes handed out, while the bottom four head home?
And if this setup still apes the Olympic tourney too closely for your taste, not to worry…
3. DON'T JUST KEEP THE UNDER-24 TEAM…ADD ANOTHER UNDER-24 TEAM
Team North America made the World Cup must-see TV. The likes of Connor McDavid, Johnny Gaudreau and Auston Matthews dazzled viewers so much that it felt like many fans were cheering for the kids over their own countries. It would be silly to scrap that idea for 2020, as gimmicky as it was. How about double down and insert an under-24 Euro team? A similar setup in 2016 would've created a squad featuring Patrik Laine, Jesse Puljujarvi, David Pastrnak, Leon Draisaitl, Nikolaj Ehlers and Ramus Ristolainen, among others. Like with Team North America, the Euros 2.0 will be allowed to draw from every nation on its continent, meaning young Finns, Swedes, Russians, Czechs and so on will have to play for this squad.
4. ELIMINATE THE CURRENT VERSION OF TEAM EUROPE FROM THE FIELD
'Team Europe' still exists in my proposed format, but only in the same sense as Team North America, as Europe 2.0 will be a young-stars squad. My timing is odd for this suggestion, sure, as Europe just reached the tourney final, legitimizing the team's concept and skyrocketing Ralph Krueger's stock as a coach. But when this tournament concludes, how many of us will look back and marvel at the way Team Europe captured our hearts and brought us to our feet? Team North America won the unofficial Gimmick Bowl. And while the Euro players have banded nicely together under Krueger, most or all would rather suit up for their individual countries. So let's imagine a group layout looking something like…
Europe (23 and under)
North America (23 and under)
More teams, more countries represented, more playoff rounds, plus all the gimmicky fun that stole the show in 2016. How about it for 2020?