January 03, 2010
SASKATOON -- According to some, the World Junior Hockey Championship tournament is too large for the likes of a ninth-ranked country like Switzerland. But even without their top two defensemen (Luca Sbisa(notes) and Roman Josi), the Swiss have come up with wins on the backs of two of the tournament's brightest stars:
No. 1 Star: Nino Niederreiter, F, Switzerland
To quote a classic sports movie, "Do you believe in unlikelihoods?" Nino Niederreiter, the youngest player on the Swiss roster, turned what should have been a close loss into giving ninth-ranked Switzerland a chance at a medal. With 32.3 seconds left to play, and the Swiss net empty, Niederreiter fired a high wrist shot past Russia's Igor Bobkov to send the game to extra time.
In OT, chants of "Let's Go Nino" reigned down from the crowd, and with 48.6 seconds to go, he came close, foiled by Bobkov from the side of the crease. Just when a shootout seemed inevitable, Niederreiter cut through the high slot and fired a desperate shot on goal, which bounced its way past Bobkov as Switzerland shocked Russia with a 3-2 win. While he was the crowd favorite tonight, he probably won't be tomorrow as Switzerland faces Canada in the semifinal.
No. 2 Star: Benjamin Conz, G, Switzerland
Switzerland being in the Division 1B group last year probably prevented Conz from being drafted, but it's doubtful he'll slip through the cracks again. After another ho-hum fifty save effort against Russia, Conz is generating buzz that he'll be named the tournament's top goaltender. His exploits were highlighted by a great breakaway save on Russian star Nikita Filatov(notes) in the second period.
No. 3 Star: Jordan Schroeder, F, USA:
The USA hasn't had many high-end performances so far, as they have gotten well balanced scoring throughout the tournament. On Saturday night, it was the man pegged to be the team's offensive star that shone brightest, as the diminutive Vancouver Canucks draft pick notched three assists in the USA's 6-2 quarterfinal win. His three points put him ahead of Jeremy Roenick(notes) for most points all time by an American at the U20 level.
Play of the day:
Kyle Palmieri's opening goal for USA to finish a three way passing play was my favourite, although TSN liked the Schroeder to Donavon feed on the second goal better:
Honorable Mentions: G Mike Lee (USA) stopped 42 of 44 Finnish shots. ... F Tomas Tatar(notes) (SVK) had a goal and an assist in Slovakia's 3-2 win over Austria, all but ensuring they will not be relegated this year. ... F Jerry D'Amigo (USA) scored twice, scoring both the game winner and empty netter. ... F Danny Kristo (USA) showed some slick moves and notched a goal and an assist.