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.
Every year we as hockey fans get all worked up over the World Junior championship. It seems like a nice way to spend the week between Christmas and New Years and it offers a tantalizing look at the future of hockey unfolding right before our very eyes.
The problem with the tournament, and I say this a lot around this time of year, is that it's constructed in such a way that it is completely unentertaining, pointless until the final two or three games and cruel.
We know who's going to be there at the end. Three of six teams typically compete for the gold, three for the silver, and maybe, at the best of times, four for the bronze. I looked it up last year and only once in the entire 35-year history of the tournament has a team that was not Canada, Russia/USSR, the US, Sweden, Finland and a country that was not once part of Czechoslovakia won a medal.
I watched that 16-0 Canada game on Saturday and it was a grotesque show of power. The Canadians had more goals than the Latvians had shots.
Why play these games?
[Coming up: More complaining about teenager; a look at Brent Sutter's plan to ruin the Flames; Dater damns Avs fans with faint praise; Miikka Kiprusoff(notes) loses one in the sun; Lambert solves the mystery of "Nicklas Bergfors and the Disappearing Ice Time"; Justin Williams(notes) horrifies everyone with his broken leg; we grow ever closer to Henrik Lundqvist(notes) considering thinking about mulling over taking a night off; and Mikael Samuelsson(notes) with perhaps the best response to an Olympic snub ever recorded.]
The teams that have medaled in the past four years have outscored their opponents 39-6 in four games on the first day of competition, and literally half those goals wouldn't have happened if U.S. goaltender Mike Lee hadn't had an uproariously bad day behind a team that piled into the penalty box like it was a clown car (the US won 7-3 after starting in a 2-0 hole).
The sides fielded by those teams favored to win medals are like the one athletically- precocious seven-year-old on every youth sports team who's a head taller than everyone else around him -- and whose game is at least two levels above his current league. The Canadians' skill was so evident from the outset that when Gabriel Bourque -- he of the record-tying seven-point night -- scored 36 seconds into the Latvia game, I honestly wondered what had taken so long.
Similarly, the USA's physical edge over a clearly overwhelmed and intimidated Slovak side was such that many of the penalties the team incurred (like Jason Zucker's game misconduct for cleaning out some poor Slovak) were for the hockey equivalent of being mean.
The countries that win medals every year have at least one of the following three things going for them: the game as a part of sporting culture, gigantic talent pools and the socioeconomic means to produce players that are, on average, bigger, faster and stronger than their Eastern European counterparts.
Yesterday's Bruce Peter column says that the reason these games happen like they do (i.e. embarrassingly) is because goal differential is the official IIFH tie-breaker in determining seeding. I'm sure that matters a lot to the kids from Belarus, who fly halfway around the world, watch a bunch of future NHLers fly past them to score goal after goal after goal every day for a week, then go home.
I'm not saying I feel badly for them in that "won't someone please think of the children!?" way. I'm saying it makes half the games in this tournament painfully dull and superfluous.
Let's just go straight to the medal round from now on.
What We Learned
Boston Bruins: Stanley Cup of Chowder held a poll to determine the best Bruins fighter of the decade. At last check, PJ Stock had a healthy lead, but my vote is for Krzysztof Oliwa, who had 12 fights and 110 PIMs in just 33 games.
Buffalo Sabres: The Sabres got defenseman Chris Butler(notes), who had missed most of this month, back from injured reserve and immediately placed Nate Gerbe on it. This has been your very important Sabres Injured Reserve update for the week of Dec. 28, 2009.
Calgary Flames: Brent Sutter had the perfect plan to solve Calgary's scoring woes: Put Craig Conroy(notes), who hasn't scored all season, on the top line with Jarome Iginla(notes), who had two goals in December, and Olli Jokinen(notes), who is given to fits of usefulness when not completely and utterly useless. It kinda worked: Iginla scored at least, but the Flames got demolished by the Canucks. So back to the drawing board, again.
Carolina Hurricanes: These are the best stories to read. The "I know I have no chance of making Team Canada but y'know, there's always a chance," types. No, Cam Ward(notes). No there is not. You and Mike Fisher(notes) can spend the break hangin' out and watching all the players that deserve to play for the team actually do it.
Chicago Blackhawks: This is pretty interesting, but I guess not that surprising: Chicago and Nashville have met just twice while occupying the top two spots in the Central Division. The second was last night, obviously, and the first was earlier this month.
Colorado Avalanche: Big congratulations from Adrian Dater to all the Avalanche fans for making it out to the game and banging out the Pepsi Center. For the second time this season. Way to go, everyone. Drinks are on the guy who made suggested the league contract Nashville for not drawing.
Columbus Blue Jackets: Calling up Alex Picard could only mean one thing: Ken Hitchcock is very upset with his team and is going to bench one of the club's several underachieving star players to see if that doesn't kick-start the struggling franchise. Yeah, I'm not holding my breath.
Dallas Stars: Marc Crawford believes his team needs to compete harder, especially given what he saw on Saturday against the Avalanche. So during "compete drills" (whatever those are), Stephane Robidas(notes) attempted to block a shot from Mike Modano(notes), and took a puck in the side of the head. He's probably fine.
Detroit Red Wings: Saturday was the first game back for both Brian Rafalski(notes), who has been out the last few days with the flu, and Valtteri Filppula(notes), who has been out since late October with a broken wrist. Both Danny Cleary(notes) and Henrik Zetterberg(notes) are back skating as well. Great news for the Wings. Not so much for the rest of the Western Conference.