Brno, Czech Republic — In the previous two articles of this series, we have taken a look at four of ten teams that participated at this year’s U-18 World Championship in the Czech Republic. This time, we’ll cover almost entire rest of the berth, five teams in total, ranging from Russia to Denmark.
Team Russia ended the event in the fifth place drawing a lot of disappointment from scouts, journalists and fans. Just like usual, Russia had one big problem – lack of team play.
The Russians consisted almost exclusively of players that are considered talented and slick-handed. That doesn’t make a good team since players like that are known to be selfish and who want to shine individually. This type of play can work in Russian leagues, where 95 percent of players do not possess much skill.
It means that highly-ranked prospects for the upcoming draft prospects like Anton Slepyshev, Daniil Zharkov and Vyacheslav Osnovin didn’t show much at all — the team was carried on shoulders of other players.
Goalie Andrei Vasilevsk played very well in January at the U-20 Worlds in Alberta, where he led his country to silver medal. However, playing at a category lower this Spring, he couldn’t prove his number-one seed among European goalies for the 2012 draft. It might have been his state of mind that prevented Russia from reaching medal rounds. Vasilevsk just might have considered the championship below his level.
As we near the end of this team’s quick analysis, I have some kind words left for defenceman Alexei Bereglazov. Even though his size makes you think of him as a defensive, Alexei Emelin-like rearguard, he actually provided good feeds from the blue line, whether setting someone up in front, dodging a bullet on the opposing goalie or sending in a redirection-seeking missile.
Team Germany was so young that their coach Jim Setters reminded us of his youthful team on every interview we did with him. That’s why most German prospects will find their way into this series in its fifth installment. The only 2012-draft-eligible German that impressed me was Patrick Klopper who got scoring chances despite his low ice time, partially thanks to his great speed and positioning. Also, Klopper is one of only Germans ranked so it is possible that he may be selected by the Habs.
Denmark can be considered an exotic country when it comes to hockey as most of its inhabitants are avid soccer and handball fans. Ice hockey just isn’t the most popular sport there, but the influence from Sweden is seen more and more with every year. It is apparent not only on the international stage, but also in the NHL where Lars Eller is one of many examples of still a rare NHL nationality.
This U-18 Championship was the first for Team Denmark and for now, also its last. Even though pulling off great offensive and defensive efforts, the country failed to overcome Switzerland in the survival game. The Denmark – Switzerland match ended in a huge brawl, in which both benches participated including goalies. The mass altercation lasted for about a minute, with the number of minutes handed out by referees was much higher. Nevertheless, the Danes showed one thing – their country is growing and might become a part of the European elite very soon.
Now, let’s get to the players of Denmark. The defence was led by Swedish-based blueliner Christoffer Lindhoj, who might one day become a really good player, but the Danes are not known for great defence, which this tournament proved. Why? Because the Danish defence got better only after the forwards started more solid backchecking.
It was guys like Yannick Vedel, who plays for the Culver Academy in the U. S., and Nikolaj Zorko who showed the defensive ability, leadership and willingness to pay the price for success. They also excelled on the penalty kill.
The overall team leader was, however, Kristoffer Lauridsen. He was the captain of the team and one of its most experienced players, getting on scoreboard pretty often and making his team a problem for even such teams as the Czech Republic.
Latvia and Switzerland were the only teams I didn’t have a chance to see. They played all their games in Znojmo where I wasn’t assigned. I can’t tell you much about Latvian players, but I saw some Swiss combatants at the European Youth Olympic Winter Festival where they were part of the U-17 national team a year before. A year is a long time, but Anthony Rouiller played with so much patience and experience that I couldn’t believe his young age.
Next time, we’ll go all the way back to the top teams, taking a look at those, who will get drafted in 2013 or later. Stay tuned!