The World Junior Championships are always enjoyable, but when you get USA-Canada in a meaningful game like we saw last Thursday, it takes things to a whole new level. What unfurled was a game that many on both sides of the rivalry will talk about and remember for some time.
The tournament had its fair share of surprises, from strong play by Denmark and Switzerland to Finland’s meltdown landing them in the relegation round. It was an entertaining 10 days that culminated in Troy Terry becoming a household name among hockey fans and non-hockey fans alike, and the United States bringing home gold.
With that, let's take a closer look at some of things that we learned (Canes and non-Canes related) during the 2017 WJC.
Julien Gauthier possesses a skill set that the Hurricanes need
We knew this already but it was re-affirmed in a big way during this tournament. Last week, the Canes finished off a 40-shot, one goal performance in Chicago that unfortunately has come to feel all too familiar. Eventually, Gauthier is the type of player who can start turning those type of games into a different result.
Is the 6’4” winger a 100% polished player in all three zones at this point? No. Is he going to put up staggering assists numbers as an NHL player? Probably not. Can he score? You bet he can.
Gauthier showed an ability throughout the tournament to pick up the puck in the neutral zone and drive down the wing in transition to create scoring chances for himself and his linemates. When he is at his best, he's challenging defensemen in one-on-one situations, using his speed and size to get to high-scoring areas of the ice and setting himself up for scoring opportunities. He willingly goes to the net, where he seems to have a nose for goal. Having a player that dangerous offensively in so many different ways is something that will only help the Hurricanes as they continue to grow with their young roster.
Nicolas Roy proved he belonged
There were plenty of players on Team Canada’s roster with more name recognition coming into the tournament, but Roy was one that everyone knew after it was over. Throughout the World Juniors he was one of Canada’s most consistent forwards, playing in all situations and producing no matter which linemates he was he was paired with.
My favorite thing about Roy is how persistent he is on the forecheck and winning board battles. Although he has a solid frame, he doesn't win all of his battles due to brute strength. Instead, he uses terrific body position and puck skills to hold off defenders until he is able to either stickhandle out of trouble or get the puck to an open teammate.
The goal he scored against Team USA in the final was NHL-level, and he was a good distributor of the puck below the circles throughout the tournament. He will likely become yet another strong possession option to add to Bill Peters’ system when he is ready to make the NHL jump.
Jake Bean had a quiet tournament, and that is completely fine
Typically, the World Juniors have been a 19-year-old dominated tournament. However, recently we have been spoiled with the Connor McDavids and Auston Matthews of the world dominating the tournament in their draft years. For Bean, a player that had been injured for the majority of the season, just getting on the ice — never mind playing as significant of a role as he did — was a success.
He showed flashes of his elite-ceiling game with his crisp breakout and stretch passes, his ability to rush the puck and control on zone entries, and his puck control on the blue line in tight spaces. Bean still needs to continue to develop in one-on-one defensive situations and will become more comfortable positionally as he gets older, but he has all the ability to be a game-breaker. I fully expect him to have a strong finish to the year for Calgary (WHL) and to be a staple on next year’s Canadian WJHC team as a 19 year old.
The IIHF has to do something about the shootout situation in the gold medal game
Look back at Twitter following the completion of the overtime period in the Canada-USA game. Could you find one person who was excited for the game to be ending in a shootout?
I completely understand the ramifications of injury and the amount of hockey that these kids play in a ten-day period. Thomas Chabot played 71 minutes in a back-to-back situation in the medal rounds, and Tyson Jost was one of many who played three games in three nights, returning to play for North Dakota on Friday evening. That's an insane amount of hockey.
However, what sense does it make to end a game (and tournament) like that with a coin-flip skills competition. It just feels.....wrong.
Personally, I hope that the IIHF goes back to four-on-four overtime for the medal rounds if they are not going to allow the games to be played out. Although the Troy Terry/Tyler Parsons storyline ended perfectly in the shootout, there's nothing like an OT golden goal.
College and Junior Hockey is alive and well
Every year, more and more fans get the ability to find out how exciting junior and college hockey is to watch through the World Juniors. The product is high-paced, offensively minded, physical and passionate.
If you enjoyed watching this tournament, check out college or junior hockey on television or in your area. There are multiple games shown weekly that feature many of these same players, and a similar style of play that you watched over the last couple weeks. The 2018 version of the tournament will be held in Buffalo, where the Americans will look to defend their gold medal on home soil.