"It shows how strong the rest of the world is" ~ Steven Hodges
For Canadian hockey players losing to the Russians in this mini-tournament is perhaps just what they need, ahead of the World Junior Championships in December. Heading into the tournament knowing they have some stiff competition from both the Americans and Russians should help force them to work hard and come into the tournament ready to work. The days in which the Canadian mens hockey team dominated at World Championships seem to behind us; There was once a time when Canada could coast right into the finals and expect to play a strong American team, but now Russia offers some stiff competition and stands a good chance of making it to the finals themselves.
To say I'm surprised that the Russians won the 6 game mini-tournament would be a lie. Over the last 5 or 6 years we've seen a resurgence of Russian hockey players and a lot of that stems from the super star Russians that are becoming high profile players in the NHL. While it's typical to see the Canadian born boys dominate the NHL draft, at last years draft it was a Russian who earned the honour of being taken first overall, Nail Yakupov. The Russians bring their own style of fast passed, hard hitting hockey that leaves fans and scouts alike speechless, their high scoring impact makes them instant fan favourites.
None the less this years mini-tournament showcased some solid talent from future NHL stars, some of which already drafted and others fighting to impress and one day have their names called on draft day. Although the Russians came out on top, they didn't exactly run away either narrowly skating away to a victory after a 3-2-1 record. For the Russians it was a final tune up to their national team before the World Junior Championships, a chance for the boys to build chemistry and work on their game plans ahead of time. But for the 86 different Canadian players it was a chance for many to make lasting impressions and earn an invite to play for team Canada at the World Junior Championship.
What surprised me the most about this years tournament is the lack of scoring; 3 of the 6 games ended in a 1 goal difference and there were only 28 goals scored throughout the 6 games, the lowest amount of goals scored ever in the tournament. Is this a sign of things to come for hockey fans come boxing day, are we going to see a defensive World Junior Championships?
Either way it was fantastic to see these young players in action battling it out for their countries, they played with heart and gave it their all each and every game. But like any tournament or set of games they are always players who stand out from the rest, so I'm handing out my 3 stars of the tournament.
3. Goaltender Andrei Makarov- Team Russia
The Russian netminder had a solid tournament and came up big when he was tested for the Russians, including a shutout in game 5 at the end of regulation. Makarov played in 2 games and stopped 57 of 59 shots fired his way for a .966 save percentage, the best numbers of any of the 3 Russian netminders. Makarov hopefully did enough to earn consideration to be the starting netminder for the Russians come boxing day. He showed flashes of brilliance in his 2 starts and showed that he can compete against some of the top players in the world.
2. Nail Yakupov- Team Russia
For Yakupov the tournament wasn't exactly what he was hoping for, putting up only 4 points in the 6 games. While the Canadians new to keep an eye on the Russian superstar and first overall pick, his showing was disappointing and has many fans and scouts wondering what happened? Even though Yakupov didn't exactly "show up" for the Subway super Series he's still managing to show his talent playing in the KHL a league right now hot with super stars. My best guess is there isn't anything wrong with the Russian superstar who is out scoring Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin in the KHL, when you're the best player on the ice the other teams tend to pay extra attention to you and thats what happened. Yakupov had little room to move and show his true potential, something the Russians will look to change for the World Championships.
1. Jonathan Huberdeau- QMJHL
When you lead the entire tournament in scoring after only 2 games you know you've done your job. Huberdeau suited up in the first 2 games of the series when his fellow QMJHL all-stars played in two lopsided matches. Huberdeau managed 2 goals and 3 assists for 5 points and finished on top of the statistic list when the tournament concluded.
It was interesting to see young Connor McDavid play with the OHL all-stars, the 15 year old held his own and didn't look out of place, but the 15 year old isn't holding his break to be wearing red and white at the WJC. All in all it was fantastic tournament between the Canadian players and the Russians and a little taste of whats to come at the end of the year. If these two teams met again in the gold medal match it'll be interesting to see who comes up and helps their team win.