Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend's events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.
So the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship is underway in Buffalo, and many Americans may not know a whole heck of a lot about it because it's one of those things Canadians get really jazzed up for but we don't get.
Hopefully, this can crystallize things for you.
The first thing to keep in mind about the WJCs is that the U.S. has won it every year it's ever been contested: 2005 and 2010. Every other year the games were canceled because no one wanted to deal with Canadians being smug over anything. Remember the Olympics? That was a dark time for the Western world and they didn't even win the most medals (the U.S. did, obviously).
So what do you need to know about this year's tournament? Well, the Canadian media would have you believe that this is America's for the taking after years of swearing up and down that they had never even heard of hockey being played on the nice side of the border. And why not?
(Coming Up Peter Forsberg(notes) is finished until his next comeback attempt; the NHL rejects the Islanders snow plea; Derek Roy(notes) is done for the year; Milan Lucic(notes) has friends in high places; debating Marco Sturm(notes) as a top-liner; the Red Wings complain about scheduling; Bergfors on the block; Jordan Staal(notes) targets Classic; Couture looks good for Calder; and JovoCop reaches 1,000.):
The U.S. is the reigning gold medalist, has eight players from last year's team and is coached by a guy whose college team is No. 1 in the country. They're great and deep and skilled at every position, and that's without having brought the myriad NHL talent it has still eligible (John Carlson(notes) and Derek Stepan(notes) spring eagerly to mind).
Yes, the media has done a good job taping a target to the backs of the American juggernaut which dodged some weak officiating and Canadian-quality finish from Kyle Palmieri(notes) to edge a tenacious Finnish team in overtime. Florida draft pick Nick Bjugstad had the winner, which was as ugly as the Finns wanted the whole game to be, and only required one goal disallowed by what I can only assume is the worst official the IIHF could scrounge up for this one.
As for Canada this year? It's the Hockey Superpower That Could, or so they'd have us believe. The media -- and, revoltingly, the team itself -- has repeatedly referred to a Canadian squad with 15 former first-round picks (and another who's going to go top-2 in June) as "lunchpail."
I get that. It's about dampening expectations and really just reminding everyone that this, like every other year, is one in which all Canadians should expect infinite disappointment.
Of course, they don't tell you that four of these air-quote Canadians were actually born in the United States of America, which goes a long way toward explaining how they ever planned to assemble any type of credible claim to a medal this year. Dylan Olsen? Born in Salt Lake City. Marcus Foligno(notes)? Born in Buffalo. Curtis Hamilton? Born in Tacoma. Sean Couturier, the kid that could be the top pick in this year's draft? Born in Phoenix. I get that too. Try to get some of that American magic rubbing off on an underwhelming Canadian side.
But still, they rolled past an underwhelming Russian team that features names like Kalinin, Berezin and Voronin. None of them, unfortunately, are related to the good ones who actually played in the NHL. That they did so on a steady diet of lucky goals and running Ruskie netminder Igor Bobkov will likely go unmentioned by Canadian historians. But we'll know the real story.
Then there are other teams too, I'm sure. Not that they'll be important or noteworthy in the slightest, except that theirs are the dreams with which America will pave its road to glory. Sweden's playing I think. Maybe Latvia? That doesn't sound right but whatever.
The important thing to keep in mind is that, as with both of the previous two World Juniors tournaments that have ever been held, the gold medal game will come down to the United States and Canada. And Canada, with its hardhat-wearin', blue collar ultra-skilled yeomen, will never be given a chance to win by the media in their country.
Though I guess that's only fair, since they don't have one and never will.
What We Learned
Anaheim Ducks: Hey, it's Matt Beleskey(notes)! Recalled Sunday to play against the Kings, after a concussion held him out of the lineup since October 26. During his assignment to the AHL, he had six goals and six assists in 14 games and generally looked pretty solid. So that's always good news after a kid gets his bell rung like that.
Atlanta Thrashers: Remember when Ondrej Pavelec(notes) collapsed on the ice? That just happened to be the night Thrashers' personnel, including doctors, trainers and paramedics had trained for an on-ice medical emergency. "It was just ironic," said Tommy Alva, the Thrashers' head athletic trainer who has a rather Alanis Morissette-ish idea of what irony is.
Boston Bruins: Milan Lucic didn't get suspended for this:
I wonder if that has anything to do with a certain teammate he has, whose dad is in what we'll call a position of influence within the league's supplementary discipline system
Carolina Hurricanes: Last night, the Hurricanes switched Jeff Skinner(notes) to center, his natural position, for now and into the future as well. Yeah, I guess running Staal and Skinner 1-2 up the middle is a pretty decent way to approach the game.
Colorado Avalanche: It's your bi-weekly Adrian Dater Breathless Peter Forsberg Update! This time the comeback is over for sure. Maybe. Probably. Potentially.
Dallas Stars: The Stars' PK has been very, very good this season. Since November 16, they've killed all but 10 penalties and jumped 30 points in the standings. One gets the feeling those two things are related.
Detroit Red Wings: This week in Things the Red Wings are Bitching About: Scheduling. They have a road back-to-back after the Christmas boo hoo hoo. "It shouldn't be like that," whimpered the now-injured Danny Cleary(notes). "To be honest, it's terrible scheduling. We should have had a home game at least one of the two."
Edmonton Oilers: The Oilers are "learning to compete." How many times do you think we're going to see this column this season? How many are going to run after stretches where they lose four of five? Only time will tell, I suppose.
Los Angeles Kings: Marco Sturm played with LA's top line last night. I like Sturm and all, but I'm not sure what it says about your team's left wing depth if a guy you just acquired for literally nothing, whose knee is held together envelope glue and paper clips, is getting time with Anze Kopitar(notes) and Dustin Brown(notes) in just his second game with the squad.
Minnesota Wild: The Wild are among several teams to which Rick Dudley has offered Thrashers forward Niclas Bergfors(notes). Unfortunately, the Wild have mediocre, underachieving one-dimensional forwards coming out their ears.
Montreal Canadiens: In a game between the Habs and Isles, which one would you have guessed would be losers of four from their last five? Or to have won seven of a possible eight points in their last four? Very weird.
Nashville Predators: Preds CEO Jeff Cogen on why they're selling more tickets: "Blah blah blah, marketing and sales. Blah blah blah Pens and Caps in October. Blah blah oh we're also winning a lot." That doesn't hurt.
New Jersey Devils: "It's nice to be able to work with them a little bit because I think this is what we need: practices," said Jacques Lemaire. And here I thought what they needed was wins. Six of one, half dozen of the other, I'm sure.
New York Islanders: The Islanders wanted to postpone last night's game due to a blizzard that covered pretty much the entire northeastern US, but the NHL wouldn't let them. As a result, attendance dropped from the usual 1,500 to 1,491.
New York Rangers: Poor Mats Zuccarello(notes). Called up, plays well, Rangers lose an 11-round shootout, and he gets returned to the AHL immediately. But the good news? The first four words of a New York Times story about him were, "The Norwegian Hobbit Wizard."
Ottawa Senators: Here's the funniest thing you'll read all day: "Brian Elliott will be in goal and Mike Brodeur(notes) will again be his backup as the Ottawa Senators try to stop Sidney Crosby(notes) and the Pittsburgh Penguins tonight at Scotiabank Place." Oh man, that's rich... what? They did? Go figure.
Philadelphia Flyers: The Flyers are now on their annual post-Christmas west coast road trip. At Vancouver tomorrow, at LA two days later, at Anaheim the day after, at Detroit next Sunday. Not an easy stretch.
Phoenix Coyotes: Last night was Ed Jovanovski's(notes) 1,000th game. I know that's a big deal, as only 255 guys have ever done it, but doesn't it seem like this has been happening an awful lot the last few years? He's the fifth one to do it this season alone.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Jordan Staal actually practiced yesterday. First time he's done so since Nov. 1. He might be back for the Winter Classic, he says.
Tampa Bay Lightning: The Bolts set up an outdoor rink for locals to go skating over Christmas. And you know what that means: The Lightning hosting Sidney Crosby and the Penguins in the 2012 NHL Winter Classic.
Vancouver Canucks: The Canucks should consider loaning Raffi Torres(notes) to every NHL team for a day or two this season. Five of his 10 goals this season have come on the road against teams he used to play for. Two at Columbus, three at Edmonton.
Gold Star Award
Nick Bjugstad proved once again that America is the best.
Minus of the Weekend
Seriously, how does the NHL not suspend Milan Lucic for that suckerpunch? I mean, okay, Meyer wasn't hurt or anything by it, but it's stuff like this that validates every claim that the NHL's supplementary discipline system totally stinks. If that's not a suspendable offense, nothing is. Sorry. (Photo Days of Y'Orr)
Play of the Weekend
Guarantee Kovy saw Ovechkin drop ‘em on "24/7" and said "I'll wake the boys up the same way." Not that he'd ever admit it. And not that it helped, as Toronto (of all teams) beat the Devils 4-1.
If I ever stop loving violence, I want you to shoot me.