Russia’s Chances in 2014 Olympics?

This past weekend the Russian Mens National Ice Hockey Team won the Channel One Cup which is the second stage on the Euro Hockey Tour. The tour consists of the national teams from Russia, Sweden, Finland and the Czech Republic and has four events in which each team plays host once. Shortly after Russia ended the weekend undefeated, former international russian legend Vladislav Tretiak was asked if Russia could contend with the Canadians in the 2014 Winter Olympics.

“Beating the Canadians? Why not?” Tretiak said. “This team can win. With slick, clinical and stable play, of course it can. There are mistakes, and the team is not finalized, it’s hard to predict who’ll play in Sochi. But the team has its signature, and the players are maintaining the correct course.”

-Vladislav Tretiak

**Although winning the Channel One Cup means absolutely nothing compared to an Olympic Medal, it is a step in the right direction for a Russian national team that finished 6th in the 2010 Olympics. The Russians need to build as much confidence and momentum as possible heading into the 2014 Olympics where as the hosts they will have added pressure to redeem their 7-3 Quarterfinal loss to the Canadians in 2010 and bring home the Gold.

**On paper, Russia has the talent to compete with any other national team and is definitely in the mix for the gold medal in 2014. Stars such as Alexander Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, and Ilya Kovalchuk will be under heavy pressure from the home crowd, but that might be just what this Russian team needs. Often time russian stars are accused of taking shifts off or not playing two-way hockey: Ovechkin was benched for this in Washington, Malkin is often criticized for playing one way and Alexander Radulov has continually struggled with discipline problems with the Nashville Predators. Added pressure from the home crowd may just be the fire this Russian National Team needs to push past the Canadians and return to their previous form of international dominance.

International Ice Hockey Competition Increasing

Interesting article from Lucas Aykroyd at IIHF.com about International Hockey becoming more competitive at the junior level and the influence that a cancelled season would have on the 2013 World Junior Championships.

It might seem like the race for gold at the 2013 IIHF Ice Hockey U20 World Championship is as wide open as it’s ever been.

Look at the list of the last four winners, which features no back-to-back titles: Canada (2009), the United States (2010), Russia (2011), and Sweden (2012).

In the tournament’s history, dating back to 1977, we’ve only seen one other sequence of champions like this: Canada (1997), Finland (1998), Russia (1999), and the Czech Republic (2000).

Recently, however, the Canadians, Russians, Swedes, and Americans have separated themselves from the rest of the U20 competition. (In fact, not one medal has been awarded to a nation outside that foursome since Finland’s bronze medal in 2006, which came largely courtesy of the heroics of starting netminder Tuukka Rask in Vancouver.)

But are the Big Four truly neck-and-neck heading into the 2013 showdown in Ufa, Russia? That’s a difficult question. The answer is probably no.

Certainly, Canadian fans, who take the World Juniors more seriously than their counterparts in any other country, are agonizing over their team’s inability to bring home the expected top prize. Especially since Canada has lost in such heartbreaking fashion in elimination games the last three years.

There was John Carlson’s OT goal that gave the Americans a 6-5 gold medal victory in Saskatoon 2010. Then came the stunning five-goal, third-period rally by the Russians to beat Canada 5-3 in the 2011 final in Buffalo. And memories of surrendering a 6-1 lead to Russia in last year’s semi-finals and falling short with a four-goal comeback in the third are still fresh and painful.

Yet even when you acknowledge a pattern of Canadian goaltending woes in these must-win matches, it’s pretty obvious that Hockey Canada’s program has not fallen apart. Not by a long shot.

The Canadians, after all, made the final every year from 2002 to 2011. That’s a record of consistency that no other U20 nation can rival.

Historically, most NHL clubs either refrain from releasing their top U20 talent to appear in the World Juniors or only do it if they’re struggling in the NHL. However, if the league is not in action, then Canada, which already enjoys the deepest program, will have even more talent to choose from.

In 1995, Canada earned a perfect 7-0 record en route to gold under coach Don Hay in Alberta, benefiting from the presence of NHL-ready skaters like Jason Allison, Bryan McCabe, and Eric Daze. 2005 witnessed what was arguably the most dominant squad in World Junior history, as Sidney Crosby, Corey Perry, and Ryan Getzlaf helped power Canada to another spotless golden run.

Of course, other countries could also take advantage of the availability of NHL-ready sprospects this time, like Russia with Nail Yakupov and Mikhail Grigorenko.

But it’s only scraping the surface of possibilities for the Canadians to point out that they could potentially dress a player who has already competed in a senior IIHF World Championship (2012), former Calder Trophy candidate Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of the Edmonton Oilers.

** Interesting point made by Aykroyd regarding the impact that an cancelled season would have on this years Junior Championships. Teams are often unwilling to let top draft picks head to these kind of tournaments because they would rather have them playing in the NHL or AHL. As always Team Canada is the best team on paper for the 2013 World Junior Championships, with 13 players on the roster that were taken in the first round in the 2011 or 2012 draft.

** In response to the point that international play is becoming more competitive, I think this is completely true and will hold at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games. In 2006, Sweden lost twice before coming back to win gold and in 2010, Canada went into the elimination rounds as the 6th seed of the tournament behind USA, Sweden, Russia, Czech Republic, and Finland.

** John Carlson’s double overtime game winning goal in the 2010 World Junior Championship is up there as one of the greatest USA hockey moments of all time.

NHL: Top 5 under 25 That Will Have Greatest Impact in 2014 Olympics

Over the past few days countries such as Czech Republic, Finland, Latvia, Russia, Switzerland, USA and Canada all releasing the rosters for the 2013 IIHF Ice Hockey U20 World Championship in Ufa, Russia. I thought this would be the perfect time to look back at guys who played in recent U-20 World Championships and rank the top five players under-25 based on their projected impact in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

5)Jonathan Toews- Canada

Toews has the best resume of any player on this list, he has a gold medal from every single level of international play from U-17 to the 2010 Winter olympics and won the Conn Smyth Trophy as the captain of the 2010 Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks. However Toews will fight for ice time on Team Canada in 2014, as the center position has players such as Claude Giroux, Sidney Crosby, Steven Stamkos, Jason Spezza, John Tavares, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Ryan Getzlaf and both Jordan and Eric Staal fighting for a spot.

4)Ryan Mcdonagh- USA

In just his first full NHL season, Mcdonagh scored 32 points and finished fifth in the league in plus/minus rating. Mcdonagh has also developed into one of the games best shut-down defenseman, he showed flashes of his talent last season but by 2014 Mcdonagh will likely become the New York Rangers top defender- ahead of Daniel Girardi, Marc Staal, and Michael Del Zotto. Team USA does not have the offensive firepower to rival teams like Canada or Russia, so if the americans hope to challenge for the gold they will need a strong performance on the back end which will rely heavily on Mcdonagh and Jack Johnson.

3)Patrick Kane- USA

In the 2010 Olympics Kane finished with five points in six games, but he will need to take his game to another level in 2014 if he wants to lead team USA back to the championship game. In his five years in Chicago, Kane has consistently proven that he was worthy of the first overall pick in the 2007 entry draft and he is no stranger to the spotlight after scoring the overtime game-winning goal in Game 6 to win the 2010 Stanley Cup.

2)Steven Stamkos- Canada

Although it is hard to make an impact in your first Olympics on a team that is as offensively stacked as Canada will be in 2014, Stamkos has the talent to justify first line minutes and powerplay time. Although he only scored one goal while playing for Canada in 2008 World Junior Championships, Stamkos has scored 156 in the last three seasons and is poised to break out on the international stage.

1) Erik Karlsson- Sweden

In the 2009 IIHF World Junior Championship, Karlsson was voted the top defenseman by both the media and the tournament director. Karlsson lead the team in assists and led the tournament in plus/minus rating.
In just his second full NHL season, Karlsson broke out for 78 points which earned him the James Norris Memorial Trophy as the league’s top defenseman. Karlsson had 7 points in just 8 games in the 2012 World Championships and is ready to step into the spotlight as the backbone of the Swedish defense in 2014. If Karlsson can keep up his current level of play, he will be considered the worlds best defenseman by the start of the 2014 Winter Games.

P.S if Carey Price starts for Team Canada, he would be number 1 on this list easily. However with the goaltending talent that Canada has it is far too early to tell.

Owners and Players to Meet without Bettman or Fehr

Talks between the NHLPA and the owners broke off after just two day’s with federal mediators who acknowledged that the sides were too far apart for a deal to be struck. After months of going nowhere, reports say that the next round of negotiations will now take place solely between the owners and players. Stephen Whyno of the Washington Times reported:

NHL owners and players will meet Tuesday in New York City as the sides try to find common ground amid collective bargaining talks aimed at ending the lockout.

The league proposed to the NHL Players’ Association last week a meeting without commissioner Gary Bettman or NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr in attendance. Deputy commissioner Bill Daly confirmed in a statement Sunday afternoon that the meeting will take place “some time on Tuesday afternoon in New York.

Ron Burkle (Pittsburgh Penguins), Mark Chipman (Winnipeg Jets), Murray Edwards (Calgary Flames), Jeremy Jacobs (Boston Bruins), Larry Tanenbaum (Toronto Maple Leafs) and Jeff Vinik (Tampa Bay Lightning) are the owners expected to be in attendance.

Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis is on the league’s negotiating committee. As of Sunday evening he was not on the list of owners who will be at the Tuesday meeting in New York. Jacobs and Edwards are the owners from the negotiating committee set to be there.

“The NHLPA has agreed to a meeting on Tuesday in New York that should facilitate dialogue between Players and Owners. Neither the Commissioner nor I will be present, although each side will have a limited number of staff or counsel present,” Fehr said in a statement. “There will be Owners attending this meeting who have not previously done so, which is encouraging and which we welcome. We hope that this meeting will be constructive and lead to a dialogue that will help us find a way to reach an agreement.”

** Can’t see what a meeting between the owners and players will be able to accomplish that federal mediators couldn’t. Hopefully the players don’t just head into this meeting and get behind a bad deal just because they want to get back on the ice, because that is clearly Bettman’s intentions here.

** Exactly my point, putting players in the room alone will not help move towards a fair deal for both sides; just another tactic used by the NHL and owners to try and come out of this lockout with more cash in their pockets.

2014 Ice Hockey World Championship in Danger of Being Cancelled

Interesting release from Belarus news source Charter’97, which writes that the IIHF may cancel the 2014 Ice Hockey World Championship.

The IIHF may cancel the Ice Hockey World Championship in Minsk.

The Winter Olympic Games in Sochi may cause reviewing the concept of the ice hockey world championship, which is to be held in Belarus in 2014. It is possible that the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) will have to cancel the tournament, Izvestia writes.

“Of course, the interest to the 2014 world championship in May, only three months after the Olympic Games in Sochi, may be very low. The IIHF Congress has discussed this problem. A new format of the world championship is considered as one of the variants to solve the problem,” Russian Hockey Federation executive director Valery Fesyuk said. “It’s an open question. No changes have been made so far. A lot of countries propose either to replace the world championship by a European tournament, because, for example, the US and Canada are unlikely to send their teams, or to cancel it.”

The only fear of the Belarusian authorities is that some countries may boycott the tournament. However, the press service of the Ice Hockey Federation started to speak about adjusting plans on the world championship.

“A format of the world championship in Belarus will be approved in 2013 at a meeting in Sweden, which is traditionally held after each world tournament. The format is most likely to be changed,” the press service of the Belarusian Ice Hockey Federation says.

It should be reminded that human rights activists and international organisations stand against holding the 2014 IIHF World Championship in Minsk. The idea of moving the event to another country was supported by a number of European and American politicians. Some countries threatened to boycott the championship due to repression carried out by the Belarusian authorities.

**Absolutely no need to hold any kind of international ice hockey competition just three months after the 2014 Olympics. Especially when you have multiple countries threatening to boycott due to moral issues with the Belarus government.

**You often hear about countries threatening boycotts due to political differences, but I could actually see multiple countries holding out participation. The last time that the IIHF World Championship occurred this close to the winter olympics was 2010, take a look at the rosters of Team Canada and Team USA (links included below) Would anyone really be shocked if Canada and USA decided to make a political statement instead of sending their “B” teams to Belarus?

Team Canada Roster

http://www.hockeycanada.ca/index.php?ci_id=14990&la_id=1&season_id=259&team_id=714&ss_id=73556

Team USA Roster

http://www.usahockey.com/Template_Usahockey.aspx?NAV=TU_01_03&id=285864

Sochi 2014 Ice Hockey Venue Almost Complete

Amazing to see an arena go from that stage to the amazing pictures below in just two years.

**The 2014 Olympic venue for ice hockey is near completion and is on track for the U-18 hockey world championships in April of 2013.

**Venue is shaping up to look absolutely amazing… much better than some of “the warehouse” style rinks in the NHL.

2013 International Ice Hockey Federation Hall of Fame Class

The IIHF recently announced its 2013 class inducted into its Hall of Fame. The 2013 honorees were headlined by players Peter Forsberg, Danielle Goyette, Paul Henderson, Teppo Numminen and Mats Sundin.

The full list of the 2013 Class:
Players Category

Peter Forsberg (SWE)
Danielle Goyette (CAN)
Paul Henderson (CAN)
Teppo Numminen (FIN)
Mats Sundin (SWE)

Builders Category

Jan-Åke Edvinsson (SWE)

PAUL LOICQ AWARD
(for outstanding contributions to international hockey)

Gord Miller (CAN)

Milestone Trophy

1954 Soviet Union World Championship team

**Great to see big names such as Forsberg, Sundin and Numminen honored but Jan-Åke Edvinsson was one of the most influential men in international hockey history. Edvinsson oversaw the IIHF’s operations from 1986-2006 and expanded the federation from 34 members to 64 member countries and raised the budget from just 3.5 million to over 50 million annually.

**Gord Miller is also another person very deserving of this international honor. Miller pushed hard as a broadcaster to spread the influence of the U-20 IIHF tournaments.

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