Wild.com At The World Juniors
Tuesday, 01.03.2012 / 1:21 PM / Features
By Glen Andresen - Manager of Social Media
With six Minnesota Wild prospects battling it out at the World Junior Championships in Calgary, Wild.com's Glen Andresen (pictured above as he tries to fit in) just had to be there. He arrived on Monday in time to catch Mikael Granlund's four-point (1-3=4) performance in Finland's 8-5 quarterfinal win over Slovakia.
Glen will be writing features on the Wild prospects throughout the week, but he'll be updating this page frequently as well with thoughts on his first World Junior Championship experience.
My first-ever World Junior Championship experience is complete, and what an experience it was. I highly encourage any hockey fan to put it on their hockey bucket list.
I believe the next two will be played in Russia, but you can bet it will come back to Canada soon, and hopefully Minnesota some day.
As you probably know, Team Sweden and its three Wild prospects - Jonas Brodin, Johan Gustafsson and Johan Larsson - took home the gold after a thrilling 1-0 overtime victory over Russia.
While the atmosphere would have been different had Canada been in this game, the house was still packed and the crowd was throwing all of its support behind the Swedes.
It was almost comical how much Sweden dominated this game, yet couldn't solve Russian goaltender Andrei Makarov. At the end of two periods, Sweden held a 39-4 shot advantage. That's right, Russia had four shots. I think the Australian World Junior Team could muster four shots in two periods, and this was Russia.
The Russians finally started fighting in the third, and that's when Gustafsson proved his mettle. It is very difficult for a goaltender to stay focused when there isn't any rubber coming his way, but he made some brilliant stops. His best came with less than two minutes when he slid to his left and robbed Nikita Gusev who was set up beautifully by Tournament MVP and Canadian enemy, Yevgeni Kuznetsov.
But Brodin was the player I came away most impressed with. He was absolutely stellar in shutting down Russian breaks, skating pucks out of the zone and making smart passes. He also generated a lot of offense in the late portion of the game, and that seems to be the one thing he needs to improve before coming to the NHL. His skating is already as good as almost anybody in the League.
So it was a great night, and all three Swedes were obviously ecstatic afterward. Gustafsson and Larsson were both asked about whether or not they're thinking about the NHL next year. Gustafsson said he hadn't thought much about it, but said his dream is to play in the NHL.
As for Larsson, it sounds like he's definitely coming over. He even said he may try to come over in the summer to practice here and get used to how things work.
Earlier today, Mikael Granlund and Finland lost in the Bronze medal game to Canada, 4-0. It was a disappointing end for Finland, but Granlund was named to the All-Tournament Team later in the night. His 11 points (2-9=11) ranked tied for second in the tournament.
So that concludes the WJC entries. I will have the transcript of a Q & A I did with Assistant General Manager Brent Flahr posted tomorrow. You can also read about Sweden's victory here and see the reactions from Brodin, Gustafsson and Larsson here.
Hello again, to my Wild friends in America and other parts of the world. While I haven't become a full-blown Canuck yet, I'm slowly starting to learn the rules here.
Here's another thing I've observed: nobody in Calgary jaywalks. If you're standing at an intersection and there's a don't walk sign flashing, nobody walks. Not even if there's not a single car within five city blocks.
There might be an APB out for my arrest and deportation based on how many times I threw caution to the wind and just made the trek, but I've received some strange looks so I've begun to follow the rules. Safety first.
There wasn't a ton of action in World Junior land yesterday. I decided to take a pass on the Latvia-Denmark game in the morning, and by the sounds of it, so did everybody else. I did head down to the Saddledome to watch Team USA take seventh place with a 2-1 win over Switzerland.
The Swiss have proven to be a difficult opponent at all levels of hockey, and they looked strong, but lacked some finish on offense. I thought Jason Zucker and Charlie Coyle both looked good. Zucker was robbed by the goaltender once and put another rocket off the post. Coyle looked impressive with the puck. He has that ability to carry it along the wall for an extended period and shield off defenders.
Afterward, Zucker admitted the tournament was a disappointment, saying the team didn't accomplish what it set out to. Still, Zucker retires from World Junior competition with a gold and a bronze medal in his possession.
I watched the Wild game last night on TV, and the team actually was in my hotel late last night and this morning, but I didn't see anybody. They're on their way to Banff, Alberta for a couple practices and team bonding. As for me, I'm going to bond with the most intense beat writer in the NHL, Mike Russo. We'll be heading over to the bronze medal game featuring Canada and Finland in just a bit here. Then, the three Wild Swedes will fight Russia for the gold medal. It should be a great finish to a great tournament.
Lastly, I want to send a shout out to Jack "Jabs" Jablonski. I've been following his story closely from Calgary, and so have many others. Some tough news came down last night with the prognosis of him likely not being able to walk again. Hoping and praying that's not the case. Get better Jabs!
I learned something last night: Canada loves hockey. I also know they do not like to lose. But hey, someone has to, and that's a life lesson you can teach to your kids. They'll learn a lot.
Tuesday was a long and entertaining day spent at Pengrowth Saddledome for this guy.
Once again, I made the mile or so walk to the arena because the weather here in Calgary is downright pleasant. I even kept my toque in my jacket pocket in case you were wondering.
Game one of the day was Team USA against Latvia. Team USA rolled in what was a pretty meaningless game, other than the threat of not being able to compete for a medal next year if they lost to Latvia, and on Wednesday to Switzerland.
Jason Zucker and Charlie Coyle both looked good, but honestly, so did everyone on Team USA. Latvia was a bit overwhelmed on this day, but they battled admirably until the end.
Zucker scored a pretty shorthanded goal before crashing awkwardly into the net. Thankfully he was not hurt. I really like watching this kid play. He reminds me of how Zach Parise played at this age. Just relentless. Both players, by the way, own a gold medal from the World Junior Championshiops.
I got the chance to meet with both Zucker and Coyle after the game, and both were in good spirits despite the disappointing tournament. Both are great kids and fun to talk to. I'm looking forward to the day they're full-time Minnesotans.
Then the meaningful games started. Four Wild prospects were in action in the first semifinal between Finland and Sweden. This one took some time go get interesting, but it got there. Late in the second, Finnish forward Joel Armia scored a sick goal after picking the pocket of a Swedish defenseman and then roofed one over Wild prospect Johan Gustafsson.
Gustafsson was solid all game, but his Finnish counterpart Sami Aittokallio was stealing the show with 56 saves through regulation and overtime.
The Swedes overcame a 2-0 deficit in the third, the first goal coming off a wicked Johan Larsson shot that was knocked in on the rebound. Late in the game, Sweden tied it when Aittokallio's ring around the glass was picked off and sent to the front for an easy goal.
The shootout was highlighted by goals on the first three shots, and each skater trying to upstage the other when it came to celebrations. In the third round, Mikael Granlund had to score to tie it, but lost control on his move.
Granlund was visibly saddened after the game, but I really felt for Aittokallio, who was devastated as he talked to the media about missing the chance at a gold medal.
Now, the Swedes will have a chance at that gold. Larsson (who was stellar all game) and Gustafsson both came out to talk and were ecstatic. Though he speaks in somewhat broken English, Larsson is a funny guy. He talked about the second intermission and how the team said they were not losing that game. They didn't.
Then came Canada vs. Russia in the other semifinal. Even though there weren't any Wild prospects in this one, I was giddy to see what it would be like. I'd watched three games prior, and the crowd was relatively quiet without Canada playing in any of them.
It was different. The place was packed with red jerseys and the noise was unbelievable. But everytime Russia scored to build a 6-1 lead, you heard a collective gasp. I was disappointed, thinking that my first Canada World Junior game in Canada would be a blowout. Then, the Canadians struck for four third period goals to trim the lead to 6-5 with plenty of time remaining.
The place was absolutely rocking. There was no way Canada was losing this game, or at least I thought. Russia looked panicked. And, they pulled their goaltender. But the backup held his own, the Canadians hit the post in the final minute, and the place emptied out with disappointed people filing out.
So today's Wednesday. I plan on heading over to Team USA's game against Switzerland this afternoon, and then finding a place to watch the Wild game against Vancouver. The run of 2012 starts tonight.
Hello from Calgary, everybody! It's actually Tuesday morning and I'm writing this as I watch Team USA play Latvia in the relegation round, which is the equivalent of the toilet bowl in your Fantasy Leagues. Currently, the US is up on Latvia, 4-0 after one period. Jason Zucker scored a pretty shorthanded goal for the Americans' fourth goal. It was Zucker's third of the tournament.
Austin Watson scored a pure hat trick prior to Zucker's goal. He didn't celebrate once. Really, Austin? I get that it's the relegation round, but life is short, let's get somewhat excited, shall we?
As mentioned above, I arrived yesterday around lunchtime and that gave me enough time to check into the hotel (where the Wild will be arriving tomorrow after their game against Vancouver). I then made the walk to Pengrowth Saddledome to figure out my credential situation and then get settled for the Finland-Slovakia game.
Finding my credential was a bit of a task. While the friendly Canadian folks were looking for it, I saw Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher and Assistant GM, Brent Flahr. Besides Draft Week, this has to be the biggest two weeks of the year for Flahr and his scouting team. He looked positively giddy when I saw him, but Flahr is Canadian and Canadians are generally happy 100% of the time unless the USA finds a way to beat them in hockey.
I got in the building and made my way to my press box seat. They actually stuck me in a makeshift press box in the upper level seats, which is surrounded by the fans. It has some obstructed views (including the cotton candy vendor guy who likes to put his massive tray right in my line of sight), but considering the press box here is basically a catwalk suspended over the crowd, I'm more than okay with this.
Okay, quick thoughts on the Finland game: Mikael Granlund was as good as advertised. I saw him play a game in Finland last year, and I saw him in the Wild's Development Camp in July, but this was different. He looked like he wanted to take this game over, and he pretty much did. HIs goal was an absolute snipe that started a Finnish avalanche of goals in the second period.
He also showed some good chemistry with his brother, Markus, who scored his first two goals of the tournament. A reporter asked Mikael after the game about playing alongside his brother, and the Finnish captain downplayed it, saying he's just another linemate. That's some tough love right there.
I wasn't just impressed with Granlund in this one. The entire Finland team looked really good, other than some defensive breakdowns and spotty goaltending. This isn't just a Granlund team. I was really impressed with Joel Armia, who was a first round pick of Buffalo in last June's NHL Draft at Xcel Energy Center. I also really liked Teemu Pulkkinen, who was on a line with the Granlund's and can fire the biscuit. He's got six goals through five games. Pulkkinen is a fourth round pick of the Red Wings, and we all know about Detroit and their ability to pick up stud Europeans deep in the Draft.
I got the chance to speak with Granlund about this WJC experience after he was unable to play a year ago because of injury. He also talked about his year so far, and his thoughts about the Wild. You can read that feature here.
I didn't stick around for the Russia/Czech Republic game, but what a game that was. I will be setting up camp here all day today. After the US game, Finland will face Sweden and I'll have a live chat that you can participate in for the duration of that game. That game starts at 4 pm Central time.
I'm going to stick around for the second semifinal tonight between Canada and Russia. That should be an unbelievable atmosphere and an unforgettable experience. I'll post again after all is said and done in that one.