As NHL Execs and union leaders prepare to meet in New York City to once again negotiate a cease-fire in the war that has destroyed at least half of an NHL season, Jordan Eberle seems to be more ready than ever to get back to work for the Oilers.
Playing in the American Hockey League during the lockout for the Oklahoma City Barons, where recently signed Oiler Justin Schultz has been turning heads, Oiler regulars like Eberle and Taylor Hall have been doing their part to remind us not just how bright the future in Edmonton is, but also how dangerous they can be in the Western Conference with a potentially shortened 48-game season.
On New Years Eve, Eberle celebrated 2012 with one of the best scoring feats of his career.
In a 5-2 win over the Texas Stars, Eberle, who leads the league in scoring with 49 points in 32 games, recorded a natural hat trick in only 2:43.
Eberle's first came at 15:44 of the first period on a feed from Hall. Eberle slid in behind the Texas defense and took the Hall pass between the circles, deking to the forehand to beat goaltender Yann Danis.
Nine seconds later, it was Hall setting up Eberle again. Eberle got the puck above the right face-off circle, carrying it down to the dot and lifting the puck over Danis' glove for his second goal of the shift.
At 18:27 on the powerplay, Eberle capped off his three minutes of dominance, taking a cross-zone feed from Schultz, driving the net and lifting a back-hander over Danis for the hat trick and his 23rd of the year. Eberle would later add an assist on Schultz's 17th of the season.
It remains to be seen whether or not the men behind the desk are ready to play hockey this season. Jordan Eberle certainly is.
They call him "Johnny Hockey" in Chestnut Hill. You can't go very far on Boston College's campus without hearing about John Gaudreau, the slippery sniper with the smooth hands. But in the first three games of the World Juniors, it was more likely you'd hear about him on the side of a milk carton than on the scoresheet.
In what became a must-win game against Slovakia after consecutive 2-1 losses to Canada and Russia, Gaudreau showed up in a big way. After being part snakebitten and part overpowered in the previous two games, the 5'8" Calgary Flames draft choice had three points through two periods as the Americans routed Slovakia, 9-3.
Getting Gaudreau going is an essential part of the Americans offense. No United States forward had scored since the 7-0 rout of Germany to open the tournament, and confidence was waning. Consider this: half of the Americans offensive production has come from the blue line. Prior to this game, Alex Galchenyuk was the only forward with more than three points.
This team was starving for goals. Looking ahead to the medal round, if Gaudreau, Jim Vesey and JT Miller can stay hot, the depth of the US forward group will no longer be an issue.
Accolades have followed him everywhere he went. In the USHL, he won the Rookie of the Year award as he helped Dubuque to the Clark Cup championship. As a freshman at Boston College, he won the Beanpot MVP, was named to the All-Hockey East team, and scored a pretty snazzy goal to seal the National Championship game. His pure ability has never been in question.
But finally faced with some adversity--and some defensemen that could handle his shifty moves-- it was unclear how Gaudreau would respond. Now, it seems Johnny Hockey may have finally arrived in Ufa.
One thing is certain in the unpredictable, topsy-turvy Group A: nothing is certain. That sentiment manifested itself in the first of two games in the final day of the preliminary round.
After a pair of dazzling assists from Dmitrij Jaskin that broke a 1-1 tie to give the Czech Republic a two-goal lead with just 20 minutes remaining, that unpredictability reared it's exciting head. Switzerland's power play struck twice in the final eight minutes to send the game to overtime. That gave the Swiss a point in the standings they desperately needed to pull ahead of Finland, the team who a pair of idiots picked to reach the Gold medal game.
But in the extra session, it didn't take Jaskin long to strike again. As the puck wrapped around the boards, Jaskin picked it up at the hash marks and showed the creativity that got him picked 40th overall in 2011 by the St. Louis Blues. Jaskin noticed Tomas Hertl was skating into the same corner he was facing, and as he reached the net, Jaskin threw the puck against the back boards.
The puck bounced perfectly onto Hertl's stick, who then beat Swiss goaltender Melvin Nyffeler to the far post for a wrap-around goal. The game-winner pulled the Czechs into a tie in points with Sweden for the moment.
In the second period, Jaskin helped the Czechs regain the lead with two plays that are sure to be on a highlight reel coming to you soon. Skating into the corner and holding a Swiss defenseman off with one hand, he slid a pass out in front of the short side of the net right on the tape of teammate Michal Svihalek.
His second assist was a one-touch, backhanded pass to Tomas Hyka, the third man trailing on a 2-on-1, who essentially deposited the puck into a vacated net. Take your pick. One was prettier than the last.
With Russia, Canada and the United States all in Group B, no one was sure what to expect from Group A. But Jaskin's play has elevated the Czechs to the medal round, and a legitimate threat for a medal. Jaskin has been one of the more impressive players at this tournament on a team that features a lot of speed but not many household names. If he pulls off plays like that in the knockout stage, he may quickly become one himself.
Sample size. It's the new buzzword on the lips of every insider, scout and writer about the unlikely performances we've seen at this tournament so far.
It's why Malcolm Subban's stellar performance against the Americans on Sunday came as such a surprise after two "shaky" outings in which he allowed three goals to Germany and Slovakia. Nevermind that he's had a fantastic year to date with Belleville of the Ontario Hockey League. But more than anything, it's also being used as an apologetic crutch for the subpar play of United States defenseman Seth Jones.
Jones, who riled up a number of people outside USA Hockey by claiming the Americans were the team to beat heading into the tournament, has been a contributing factor to each one-goal loss his team has suffered in the last three days. Jones was beaten on what turned out to be the game-winning goal both times, but the consensus top-two pick in June's upcoming NHL Entry Draft is merely "not playing like himself."
Instead of putting his money where his mouth is, he opted instead to insert his foot.
Now, we all have bad days at work. Who isn't human? And to suggest that Seth Jones' gaffes are the only reason the Americans are looking at a win-or-go home game against Slovakia tomorrow would just be silly.
After all, has anyone else noticed that Jon Gaudreau has been virtually invisible now that he's not able to dance around everyone like he does in Hockey East? Or how about the onslaught of penalties the preceeded the United States' final power play with 1:37 to play? The power play itself, with the exception of Jacob Trouba, has been abysmal.
The point is, in the wake of a pair of one-goal losses finger-pointing is useless. But had it not been for John Gibson early, a few more mistakes by Jones and his defensive colleagues would've ended up in their own net and this game would've quickly become a rout.
Take a look at this end-to-end rush by 17-year old Valeri Nichushkin on Russia's game-winning goal in the third period on Friday. Granted, Nichushkin skates around four Americans as if they were traffic cones, including Jones. But to allow the player to beat you to the outside that deep in the zone with enough room to cut up through the crease and create havoc around your net is troubling for a player who's supposed to have such good hockey sense.
Now here's Canada's second goal in the first period on Sunday. Notice how before Ritchie goes around the net, Jones takes note that Strome is breaking toward the crease. He sees him there. Nothing to worry about, right?
Wrong. As the play develops and Ritchie emerges from the other side of the goal, Strome is left alone enough that he can get good enough wood on the puck to beat Gibson, even with Jones standing right next to him. Without putting a finger on him, Jones allowed Strome to give Canada a 2-0 lead.
The first video is an example of a physical mistake, which will happen from time-to-time at every level of hockey. That, as painful as it may be, is forgivable. But the mental mistakes are the ones for which players are most held accountable. He simply cannot continue to let that happen. Expect both of these plays to be part of a greater learning experience for Jones, even though it comes at the team's expense for now.
Jones rebounded nicely in the third period after taking a bad slashing penalty in the second. Head coach Phil Housley and the Americans are hoping he's found his way out of this slump. He may not have been wrong about the Americans being the best team in this tournament, but for that to be true, he's got to raise his level of play significantly from where it currently stands.
And...breathe. It was quite the day of hockey in Ufa, Russia. The Canadians had to overcome a pair of two-goal deficits to take down the Slovaks, who appear to be much more of a threat for a medal than originally thought.
Then, in the main event, the Americans and Russians put on a terrific display in what ultimately ended in a 2-1 victory for the host nation. With the game tied just a few minutes into the third period, 17-year old 2013 draft-eligible Valeri Nichuskin put together an end-to-end rush, dancing around four US players including star defenseman Seth Jones. The puck was jarred loose around the net where Vladimir Tkachyov hammered it past John Gibson for the game-winning goal.
Gibson was a calming presence in net for the United States, stopping 28 of 30 shots. His counterpart, however, was even better. Andrei Makarov, the goaltender who was upstaged by Sweden's Oscar Dansk in last year's Gold Medal game, made 41 stops of his own including this fantastic sprawling save early on:
It was one of many big saves by Makarov, who helped the Russians kill off a penalty in the final 1:32 of the game. The Americans scored their only goal on the power play, but were unable to mount a legitimate rush in the waning moments.
Meanwhile, Slovakia gave Canada all it could handle in an earlier game, jumping out to leads of 2-0 and 3-1 before the Canadians and goaltender Malcolm Subban regained their composure. Subban faltered early, but seems to be learning on the job.
Unfortunately, the story surrounding the Canadian locker room after the game wasn't about their slow start, or even their shaky goaltender as a matchup with the Americans looms on Sunday. With Boone Jenner serving the second of his three-game suspension for an egregious hit in pre-tournament competition, Canada had two more players ejected from play for heavy hits on Friday.
In the first period, J.C. Lipon was given a five-minute major and a game misconduct for this hit to the head on Tomas Mikus:
Mikus, who was injured on the play, felt good enough to rejoin the action just moments later and good enough to score the Slovaks' second goal. Lipon will have a disciplinary hearing on Monday.
Then, in the second period, Anthony Camara was given another five-minute major penalty and a game misconduct for charging Patrik Luza:
Luza left the game on a stretcher, and while the severity of his injury was far worse than Mikus', he will not face any disciplinary action from the IIHF. In this age of heightened player safety, it seems as though any time your gut reaction is to cringe following a big hit, the referee's arm will go up. In this case, a five-minute major is excessive, but the referees are told to err on the side of caution.
With Jenner already out of the lineup on Sunday, it'll be interesting to see if the Canadians lose Lipon against the Americans as well.
For dedicated hockey fans, there couldn't be a more inopportune time for the World Junior Championships to be hosted by a country with such a significant time difference as North America.
Ufa, Russia, where the tournament is being held this year, is 11 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time. So even if your country happens to be playing in primetime over in good ol' Mother Russia, it's still 9 a.m. on the East Coast. If not? You may be looking at a 3:30 a.m. start time locally.
Now, in any year, the World Juniors is a big deal to many hockey fans. But this year? Of all years? This is all we have. As the lockout drags on into the New Year, we've found ourselves starving for hockey. Desperate to feed our ruthless withdrawal of the game we hold near and dear to our hearts. And so the odd hours in which this tournament is played this year merely twists the dagger dislodged in our hearts.
And let's not forget the poor men and women who've got the unenviable task of writing about hockey for a living. Those unfortunate souls aren't in it for the love of the game as much as they are for feeding their damn families. When will the madness end, for crying out loud?
Some of us--the stupid brave few of us who are willing to disrupt our daily routines in the name of fanatical dedication and/or professionalism--need all the help we can get. And so, I've compiled a list of five ways to retain some sense of normalcy in combatting a sadistic case of self-inflicted sleep deprivation:
The Americans got scoring from eight different players, including three defensemen, in a resounding 8-0 victory over Germany to open their 2013 World Junior Championship slate. Now keeping in mind that the Germans represent the smallest threat in the loaded Group B, this result was one that certainly shouldn't be looked at as unexpected, but there were a lot of positives to take away from the win.
First, and obviously foremost, the Americans got three points for a regulation win, something Russia failed to do in their opening game yesterday against Slovakia. The Russians won 3-2 in overtime, a result that yields two points rather than three. The Americans won't have much time to enjoy this win though, as the host nation lurks in advance of their meeting tomorrow.
A few things to take away from today's win:
There was a nauseating amount of talk in the NHL Network broadcast about last year's opening game, a 12-2 victory over Latvia, and how it can be deceiving after the United States' seventh-place finish in the 2012 tournament. While it's important to note that this win means ultimately very little, it's even more important to differentiate this year's team from last year's. A weakness has become a strength on the blue line, and there was nobody on last year's team with the offensive prowess that Alex Galchenyuk has.
The line of Galchenyuk, Riley Barber and Sean Kuraly was buzzing all day. The trio combined for eight points, including a goal by Kuraly that started the scoring just 19 seconds into the game. Kuraly also won 10 of the 14 faceoffs he took. Galchenyuk earned Player of the Game honors for his three-point effort, thanks in large part to this fantastic shot (h/t to @dr_habs for the video):
John Gibson was good when tested, as infrequent as that was. He was lifted after the second period to get Jon Gillies some work, but he'll be back in net tomorrow against Russia. Gibson showed that there's no longer reason to be concerned about a hip flexor issue that had some inside the US camp worried earlier this month. He slid side-to-side very well, making four saves on a five-on-three disadvantage.
Speaking of that five-on-three, it wasn't the only time the Americans were forced to play down two men. Penalties continue to be an issue for this team, and while they got away with it against Germany, they likely won't have the same luck against the potent power plays that Russia and Canada feature. Often times it's the most disciplined team, not necessarily the most talented one, who prevails in international competition.
The Americans did score with the man-advantage power play in the second period, on a goal by Shayne Gostisbehere, but could've had two or three more. The devil is often in the details with special teams, and the United States is promoting quality scoring chances. This could grow into a strength as the tournament wears on.
In addition to Gostisbehere, Team USA also got goals from each of their two big-name defenders, Seth Jones and Jacob Trouba. Defensemen on the offensive will continue to be a theme for this team if they're to be successful. Both of these future stars have blistering shots that must be unleashed. Don't believe me? Fine, see for yourself:
One play that will likely go overlooked was a strong backcheck and diving poke check by Rocco Grimaldi to neutralize a German breakaway. At the time, the score was 8-0 and the game was well in hand, but Grimaldi's motor never turns off. Attitudes like that are infectious, and it seems as though this entire American team is catching a bit of it.
There's a full slate of action ahead for tomorrow, including the showdown with the US and Russia at 9 a.m. EST. Follow @The_Scratches on Twitter for updates on all the action!
This year's time difference between North America and Ufa, Russia doesn't allow for much time for the Christmas hangover to wear off in time for the start of the World Junior Hockey Championships. In fact, already at noon on December 26 on the East coast, four games have already gone final. So yes, you may criticize the fact that this isn't actually a "preview" in it's purest form, but we were busy pleading with Santa for some playing time.
This year's tournament features some of the most talented rosters in recent memory, thanks in large part to Mr. Bettman. Consider this his Christmas present to everyone who loves watching junior hockey, I guess.
The 2012 results yielded some rather interesting groups for this year's tournament as well. In one group, the three traditional hockey superpowers, Canada, Russia and the United States, wil all jockey for position, while defending champion Sweden will wrestle with the upstart Finns and Czech Republic for Group B supremacy. The entire groups are as follows:
Heading into the 2013 World Junior tournament, Team Canada had a boon to ask of the IIHF- namely, to keep Boone.
But such will not be the case after Canadian forward Boone Jenner received a three game suspension from the IIHF Monday for his hit on Swedish defenseman Jesper Pettersson during an exhibition game on December 22nd. The hit earned Jenner a five minute major and a game misconduct, and sent Pettersson from the ice on a stretcher.
Oh, hello there. If you've found your way back to our site after all this time, well then we're as surprised as you are. It's safe to assume that the majority of our money last year was made on our second-to-none (except for, uh, most) coverage of the 2012 World Junior Championship.
We had wall-to-wall coverage of teams, players, results, you name it. Unfortunately, any money we did make was given to us in Canadian dollars, so we mistook it for Monopoly money and threw it away.
With that in mind and a certain professional hockey organization's unwillingness to budge in a mind-numbing labor dispute, we plan on diving head first into this year's tournament once again. Hopefully we can work on some kind of exchange rate this time around.
There was a lot to be learned from yesterday's game, and surely even more coming in tomorrow's final tuneup against Finland. Head coach Phil Housley (pictured right) will make his final cuts after the game as he and his 23-man roster will fly to Ufa, Russia while three players head home for the holidays.
Now, if you watched yesterday's exhibition game between the US and defending-champion Sweden, there was a lot to get excited about. The Americans pulled out a 3-2 overtime victory despite not dressing their entire first line, two top defensemen or starting goaltender. This team's great, right?
Well, not quite. But we'll know more about their definitive strengths and weaknesses after the final roster is announced. Each player considered to be "on the bubble" has played well, making this decision a tough one. But it's an enviable spot to be in for coach Housley and the Americans. Here are some of the things we learned from yesterday's game:
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