Cleat Geeks

International hockey at its finest

Anytime someone asks what my favorite sport is, I always tell them it’s international hockey. Usually that means the Olympics, or the World Juniors tournament that runs over the Christmas holidays. Mainly I like these tournaments the most because they pit the world’s very best hockey players against one another. Of course when the return of the World Cup in 2016 was announced, I was ecstatic. I thought this was for sure the next opportunity the world would have to see the best of the best representing their countries. In last year’s Winter Olympics in Sochi, hockey fans were treated to some of the most interesting story lines of the games. One of the things I enjoy most as a hockey fan and Canadian, is waking up early when the tournament is overseas (even if that means 4 a.m.) putting on my 30th anniversary Hockey Canada Program of Excellence jersey, grabbing an XL Tim Hortons coffee to complete my head to toe walking stereotype costume and watch Canada take to the ice.

Usually the World Championships at the end of each NHL season attracts little attention thanks to the non-committal of the league’s most talented players. No one can blame the world’s greatest though. After a long season, most of these athletes are mending their bodies after the wear and tear of an NHL season, or wherever they have played respectively (KHL, Swedish League etc.). Not to mention the amount of top talent still tied up in long playoff runs.

pThis year, however, was a different story. For the first time in a long time I found myself waking up early to watch international hockey. The past two weeks have not fit my usual m.o. I have been waking up early to watch any international hockey I could.

Hosted by the beautiful city of Prague, Czech Republic, anyone who tuned into the tournament and saw the spectacular fly byes of the historical European city undoubtedly added it to a bucket list of places to visit. In total, close to 750,000 people were on hand to witness the World’s this year. The packed venues greatly added to the grandeur.

In one of the most spectacular tournaments in recent memory, almost all of the world’s biggest stars made an appearance for their country at one point or another. Sidney Crosby, long believed to be the best player in the world and best chance for a Canadian medal since 2009, decided to accept his invitation after his Penguins were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by the New York Rangers. Alex Ovechkin and Tomas Plekanec each left North America the next day after being eliminated from the playoffs to make it in time for the Semifinal round of the World Championships. Ovechkin and team Russia eventually went on to win a bronze by edging the Americans then loosing in the final to Crosby and team Canada. Plekanec and the host Czech team failed to score a single goal in the final two games and finished fourth.

BRONZE MEDAL GAME

At 8:15 am Mountain Standard Time, the United States took on the Czech Republic for a chance at the first medal of the day.

Ostrava, 12.5.2015, Ice Hockey IIHF World Championships, USA - Slovakia, Jack Eichel (USA)****NO AGENTS----NORTH AND SOUTH AMERICA SALES ONLY----NO AGENTS----NORTH AND SOUTH AMERICA SALES ONLY****

One of the most intriguing story lines of this championship was the arrival of North Chelmsford, Massachusetts native Jack Eichel to the professional rank when team USA added the undrafted, high profile prospect to their roster. Not only was it a coming out party for Eichel, but also Detroit Red Wings first rounder Dylan Larkin. USA goaltender and future Winnipeg Jet Connor Hellebuyck also showed why he is becoming the red, white and blue’s best option in the years to come after backstopping the team to a shutout for a Bronze Medal.

Eichel had 7 points in 10 games, making a last ditch effort to be the first overall pick in this June’s draft. His most important point of the tournament came in the form of an assist to win over Slovenia. maybe equally important was his beautiful helper in the second period of the Bronze medal game when he showed how powerful of a skater he was in holding off a Czech defender in the offensive zone then breaking for the back of the net and finding a wide open Trevor Lewis for the team’s second of the game.

Team USA won three zip against the Czechs by keeping the hosts outside of the slot and forcing awkward shots. Hellebuyck had 39 saves.

GOLD MEDAL GAME

cwinMaking it just in time to help his team past the Czech Republic in the semifinals, Ovechkin joined the best Russia has to offer, present and future, in Evgeny Malkin, Vladimir Tarasenko and Ilya Kovalchuk. Another interesting element of international hockey is the talent you get to see outside of the NHL. Sergei Mozyakin led all Russians in scoring.

Unfortunately all that talent was not enough to match the over $90 million payroll of the Canadian team. In total, the Canadian team scored a record 66 goals. In the final against Russia, the Canadians cruised to a dominant 6-1 victory outshooting the Russians 37-12.

In his first World Championship in nine years Sidney Crosby helped the Canadian team win its first gold since 2009. Jason Spezza led all skaters with 6 goals and 8 assists for a total 14 points while Canadian forward and Dallas Star Taylor Sequin led the tournament in goals with nine.

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