The first tournament of the new international hockey season is in the books, with Canada beating the Americans 1-0 in Piestany, Slovakia. It's the fourth different international tournament in 2010 where Canada and the USA have squared off in the final, and this victory gives Canada a 3-1 advantage overall. The Americans beat the Canadians at the U20 World Junior Championships in January, while Canada won the double gold at the 2010 Olympics, beat the Americans in both the men's and women's finals. An early goal by Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, one of the top prospects for the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, was the only one that got by either goaltender on Saturday. Tyson Teichmann, a goaltender for the Brampton Battalion of the OHL, got the shutout as Canada won the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament for the third straight year.
In the bronze medal game, Sweden beat the Czechs 6-1 in Breclav, Czech Republic. The Czechs had gotten to the semifinals on the strength of a lot of one goal games, but once the playoffs kicked in were blown out twice, giving up 6 goals in each game. The Swedes boasted the most potent offensive weapons of the tournament, with Joachim Nermark leading the tournament in scoring with 11 points, including 5 goals. Pontus Aberg was the tournament's co-leader in goals with 5 (tied with Canada's Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nermark), while Oscar Klefbom led all defenceman in scoring.
So what does this all mean? Well, the tournament itself failed to capture much of the hockey public's imagination, although the victory was mentioned and highlights were shown on sports networks in Canada. The IIHF, who do not sponsor this tournament, haven't mentioned it at all on their website, while the Final was sparsely attended in Piestany. I assume the bronze medal game was relatively well attended, with the host Czechs competing, but U-18 hockey simply has yet to catch on to the general population. While Canada sends full broadcast crews to cover their U20 summer evaluation camps, the job of reporting on the U18s is left to bloggers and the Hockey Canada website. A big thank you to Dan Sallows and Neate Seager of Buzzing the Net for providing coverage of this event.
In hockey terms, it gives us a shortlist of players to follow in their draft years. As junior seasons start up, both in North America and Europe, we're already have a small body of evidence to draw from in this best on best competition. It's particularily important for Canadian players, as they are less likely to make their U20 teams due to the depth that the country possesses, and also might be involved in the CHL playoffs when the IIHF's official U18 tournament takes place in Germany next April. It should also be noted that a solid performance here could translate into a chance to compete at the U20s in December and January, but that is more the exception rather than the rule.
For some, there is no rest. The 'draft year' is a hectic enough schedule for 17 and 18 year olds, but the NHL decided to add yet another event on their schedule: participation in the NHL's R&D camp to test out some proposed rule changes.
There will be more international hockey tournaments before the end of the year, but this is the only one to include all the top nations before the U20s kick off on December 26 in Buffalo and Niagara, New York.