SASKATOON, Saskatchewan — There have been many Canadian cities that have hosted the World Junior Championship. How Saskatoon got to be the one that was first to host it twice will forever be a mystery considering Montreal, Hamilton and Halifax all were previous hosts. The building people have been great, the atmosphere has been great, but all things being considered it’s amazing how good Buffalo — the host city for next WJC — looks right now.
That being said, the tournament started for real for both Team USA and Team Canada when the hosts scored a shootout victory on Thursday to earn the bye into the semifinals.
Before a look at Team USA, some housekeeping to do.
The NHL Network and USA Hockey have partnered for the second time to broadcast the World Junior Championship exclusively to the U.S. market. The NHL Network has also shown three of the USA Women’s Olympic Teams’ pre-tourney games against Canada and will show a fourth just prior to Vancouver. Great work by our colleagues Jim Rich, Cammi Granato, A.J. Mlezcko and Shireen Saski on the broadcasts. Behind-the-scenes kudos to Lisa Seltzer and Chris Ebert.
USA Hockey also has distinguished itself here in Saskatoon as the always reliable Dave Fischer and newcomer Alex Clark have handled the media relations well. Dean Blais and his staff are as media savvy as any staff out there.
The Americans have four conferences represented, with the WCHA holding the top spot and Wisconsin holding three spots on the team. Captain Derek Stepan has been great on ice and off and he has played well in all three zones. Defensemen John Ramage and Jake Gardiner have also held up their end of the bargain. North Dakota’s Danny Kristo was moved off his normal line with Stepan and Rensselaer forward Jerry D’Amigo to see where else he might click and he responded with a dominating effort against the overmatched Latvians. Minnesota forward Jordan Schroeder has played very well with and without the puck and sits three points away from Jeremy Roenick for the all-time lead among American scorers at the WJC. Denver’s Matt Donovan has been awesome, and so has Denver recruit Jason Zucker.
David Warsofsky of defending champion Boston University has been very good and the staff thinks his best is still ahead of him. He and Brian Lashoff (OHL) have been probably the team’s best shutdown D, along with Ramage. Warsofsky’s leadership skills have been evident since mini camp in Grand Forks.
• Looked at the stats and was surprised to see Notre Dame forward Kyle Palmieri was second on the team in scoring. Palmieri, who has displayed great skill and hockey sense in the tourney is another forward whose best hockey should be ahead of him.
Best name for a line yet was “The Original Six” line of D’Amigo (Toronto), Stepan (New York Rangers) and Kristo (Montreal).
Last year, Kristo was the only player on the team not from the NCAA or CHL. He opened a lot of eyes with his poise and his penalty killing ability. The Kristo award this year goes to Zucker, who is playing for the NDTP in Ann Arbor. Zucker is playing like he belongs, and as assistant coach Tom Ward said, “You can see how he isn’t affected by the big stage. He is playing like its just another midget game.” Zucker hails from Las Vegas, so you can understand the poker face he plays with.
Ward had the line of the tourney. He runs the power play, the same one he uses at Shattuck St. Mary’s prep school, where he has had dominant teams for years and has coached countless NCAA and NHL stars. I asked him if this was the same power play he runs at Shattuck, and he said yes. I said with the talent you have had there (Sidney Crosby, Zach Parise, Drew Stafford, Jonathan Toews) this must be easy to use with this team. He said jokingly, “This might be a downgrade.” I repeat: He JOKED!!!!!