Brno, Czech Republic — Let’s move on with reviewing the 2012 IIHF U-18 World Championship, that took place in mid-April in the Czech Republic. In the first article of this series, we took a look at the two teams that made it to the finals – United States and Sweden. Now, it’s time to take a look at the two following teams – Finland and the one most of you might have followed the most – Canada.
Let’s start with Canadian players eligible for the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. In the goal crease, there was a pleasant surprise for Team Canada. Matt Murray grabbed a chance of being the number-one with high-ranked Brandon Whitney sidelined due to an injury and he made the best of it. Murray was one of the most consistent goalies in the championship and would deserve a rise in the draft rankings.
In front of Murray, there was one defenceman every fan of the Habs should know: Matt Dumba. A native of Calgary, Alberta, Dumba is considered a high-risk draft choice and the tournament only proved it. His hard-nosed play didn’t help him everywhere and sometimes, it just wasn’t enough. However, he showed the best of his offensive abilities – net-ripping one-timers, quick passes right on tape and carrying the puck in deep, mostly along the boards. Anyway, the kid should start developing those offensive skills and forget being a hard-hitter. One reason why: his borderline hits could be judged by a referee as charging or a hit to the head area.
Two players of Team Canada were real opposites of each other. While Brendan Gaunce is a touted must-draft-if-available-late prospect, Gemel Smith isn’t regarded by scouts as so impressive. In Moravia, however, Gaunce was the one failing to finish a lot of chances, while Smith made the most of his. So Gaunce might not be as great as it seems, but Smith has got the killer instinct and looked to be able to score against any goalie.
Out of three Québécois players in the tournament, Felix Girard is the only worth mentioning. Girard wasn’t the one who racked up points, but the one who was saving his team while it was one man down. Alongside American Quentin Shore, he was the best penalty killer I had an opportunity to see in April. What helps him a lot is his speed as he is as fast as a flash. By making two strides, he gets from one point to another amazingly quickly and if he ever makes it to an NHL All-Star Game, he’s must-pick for the fastest skater competition.
Also, Scott Laughton and Troy Bourke played solid hockey for Team Canada.
Now, let’s move to Finland, the country that’s famous for its great goaltenders. And now it seems yet another rising Finnish goalie star is making his way up – Joonas Korpisalo. In my opinion, he was the best goalie in the championship and if it wasn’t for him, the Finns wouldn’t have beaten Canada in the group stage. He controls most of the shots against and if he can’t, he just makes a huge desperation save. He reminds me a little bit of Tim Thomas.
The Finnish defence looked much better than the Swedish, especially when it came to contact. Both 2012-draft-eligible 6-foot and more tall defencemen, Esa Lindell and Mikko Vainonen, the team’s captain, were a physical force on the ice and when some pushing and shoving needed to be done, they were at the scene taking care of the nasty opponents. If these guys make it to the NHL, they might become new Kronwalls, but expect them to drop the gloves more often. Almost all offensive support from the Finnish defence was provided by Ville Pokka, a smallish blueliner who played a lot like Dumba, minus the hard hits.
Also, Finland has their Filip Forsberg and his name is Teuvo Teräväinen. The comparison to Forsberg was born only thanks to their potentials, which are simply close to each other. Teräväinen is more skillful than Forsberg, but isn’t a physical force at all. Henrik Haapala, the point-scoring leader of the team, along with Teräväinen will have to work on their English. Haapala is a guy who has great positioning and great passing. He just racks up points while playing mediocre hockey.
Backup goalie Jean Aurén got to play in two games and showed some solid netminding.
In the next article in the series, we’ll take quick looks over Russia, Germany and Denmark. I didn’t see neither Switzerland nor Latvia in any of the championship games, but when it comes to Switzerland, I saw a lot of those guys at the 2011 European Youth Olympic Winter Festival, when they won bronze medals. Plus, there will be a special part only about prospects from the Czech Republic.