Wednesday, May 25, 2016

On the recently completed 2016 IIHF World Hockey Championships

Reprinted with permission from

I really hope that I never see a Buffalo Sabres roster player on Team USA again for the IIHF World's as I'd rather see them competing in the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs. Prospects? You Team USA can have all the prospects they want, and hopefully there will be many competing at the Worlds, but next year I want to see the likes of Ryan O'Reilly, Sam Reinhart, Jake McCabe and maybe even Hudson Fasching chasing Lord Stanley with the rest of the Sabres.

Canada and the rest of the world put their souls into this tournament

Matt Duchene (COL) scored an empty-netter with 0.9 seconds left in the gold medal game and the Canadian team rushed on the ice to celebrate. The horn didn't sound but they were so pumped they couldn't help themselves. After order was restored and Team Finland was forced to line up at center ice for the final puck-drop, the finality of emotions set in on the Finns.

NBCSN had shots of Team Finland fans weeping in the crowd while their dejected hockey club watched Team Canada rush back on the ice for a rather anti-climatic second celebration. It was a crushing blow for Finland as expressed by the emotions of their players during these few moments.

In the bronze medal game, Team Russia crushed Team USA 7-2. As the home team the Russians enjoyed a packed house cheering and jeering throughout the game and their players responded with a resounding victory over the Americans.

Except for the opening five or six minutes when the Americans took it to Team Russia, it was a pretty lame effort from the Red, White and Blue. They were playing, but you could see their heart just wasn't in it. Words like "waltzing through," "disinterested," and "ready for the off season" defined the emotional output of Team USA as a whole, even though there were a few players who played with heart. Even after two Americans, Jordan Schroeder (MIN) and JT Compher (COL) got leveled by the Russians, Team USA still didn't figure out that Team Russia was playing for keeps.

It seems as if there's not as much emotional investment from America in international competition (save for the Olympics) as there is in other countries. And that's too bad as the US is starting to produce quality and quantity from their hockey programs nationwide.

Kids vs. veterans

Whether by necessity or choice Team USA iced the youngest team in the tournament.

I'm pretty sure everyone outside their respective organizations would like to see players like Patrick Kane, Ryan Suter and Zach Parise competing for Team USA in these tournaments, but many of the top U.S. players are either opting not to participate, or they're still in the NHL playoffs.

That's fine.

I have no problem with Team USA having a roster filled with mostly young NHL'ers, prospects and college players competing against some of the best pro hockey players the world has to offer. It bodes well for the individual players and the entire program itself. Although it oft-times means that the Americans are at a disadvantage, as a product of Miracle on Ice and how those U.S. teams stacked up against international competition, I understand that medaling is difficult, but I also understand that young kids playing against superior competition helps them grow individually and in the long run only strengthens U.S. hockey.

On Jake McCabe

It's no mystery, but I've been a big proponent of Sabres defenseman Jake McCabe. The Wisconsin native has succeeded at every level of his hockey career so far and at 22 yrs. old just completed a strong rookie season for Buffalo.

Team USA head coach John Hynes paired McCabe with Connor Murphy (ARI) on the top-pairing five on five and on the penalty kill and they played very well.

The stocky, gritty 6'0" 214 lb. defenseman is known for standing players up at the blueline and being hard on the puck in all areas of the ice, especially in and around his net. Yeah, Pavel "The Magician" Datsyuk stripped him of the puck yesterday leading to a Russian goal, but Datsyuk has been doing that to nearly every NHL defenseman over the past 14 years so McCabe shouldn't feel alone.

It's hard not to have McCabe in a top defensive role in a tournament like this where he and Murphy are the best defensemen on the team. That said, I believe that he could contribute even more were he given more of an offensive role and with the way the US powerplay looked in the final two games, he couldn't have done worse than some of the players on those units.

Everyone seems fixated with the Paul Coffey-type offensive defenseman manning the point as a powerplay quarterback or having a Al MacInnis-type cannon of a shot from a d-man at the point. And that would be grand there was a player like Coffey available or if MacInnis' shot could actually get through these days. But players like that are far and few between and everyone seems to be thinking that they need that type of defenseman on the point.

Team USA's Noah Hanifan (CAR) is a fluid skater with offensive acumen and started out the tournament at the left point. It didn't work out and eventually, after sifting through some d-men, Hynes used four forwards out there, including phenom Auston Matthews.

There are a few things about McCabe in the offensive zone that seem to go unnoticed--he gets his shot through from the point, he has the innate ability to sneak in on the weak side and find open ice and he doesn't often panic with the puck when the pressure is on. Plus his passes are almost always sent with authority.

Sure, he's no Coffey, MacInnis or Denis Potvin, but with traits like the aforementioned, he should have gotten some time on the second powerplay unit at least. If one needs film on what he can do in international competition, go bact to the 2013 World Juniors when he scored two from the point against Team Canada in a 5-2 U.S. win as he captained the team to the gold medal that year.

Team USA notes.

--I understand that Keith Kinkaid is on the NJ Devils roster and that Hynes is his head coach, but Mike Condon (MTL) is no slouch. Would he have made a difference for Team USA in the bronze medal game? Who knows, but at least he should have gotten a shot by getting the start. Kinkaid played well throughout the tournament, but I though Condon looked a little bit better. And with the coach/player relationship between Hynes and Kinkaid, it would have taken a lot more that "a little bit better" for Condon to get into the medal games.

--On many occasions I jotted down this little tidbit on U.S. forward Patrick Maroon (EDM,) "waste of a roster space." Outside of that first goal for Team USA against Canada to open the tourmanemt, Maroon, in the words of Bugs Bunny, was "a maroon" as he was either in the penalty box, getting called for crease violations, fumbling the puck, or getting beat. Maroon found himself glued to the bench during the latter part of the tournament and justifiably so.

--Buffalo's Hudson Fasching had a good tournament. The 19 yr. old gained some valuable experience playing against high-caliber opponents and acquitted himself well in a fourth-line role. He was hard on the puck and even got some time on the penalty kill. Although you could see how wet behind the ears he was, he grew as the tournament wore on. Those 10 games will only help him as he begins his first full professional season next year.

--As mentioned earlier, as a whole the Americans came up pretty lame against the Russians. One player who gave it his all throughout was defenseman Chris Wideman (OTT.) After Russia made the score 4-0 just over half-way through the second period, Wideman, who was caught in no-man's land with no help, slammed his stick on the crossbar sending splinters of frustration everywhere. The 5'10" 189 lb. right-handed d-man was selected 100th overall in the 2009 NHL Draft by the Senators when Sabres GM Tim Murray was still with the organization. Robin Lehner, whom Murray traded for last year, was selected two rounds before him while Mike Hoffman, a player whose name keeps popping up in Buffalo rumors, was selected in the round after Wideman. Those are some pretty good picks outside the first round and I wouldn't mind seeing one or both of Wideman and Hoffman join Lehner on the Sabres.

--JT Compher was a 2103 second round pick of Buffalo (35th overall,) but was a key piece for the Colorado Avalanche in the Ryan O'Reilly deal. Compher's looked every bit the hard-working, quick-skating, top-nine, two-way player he was said to be.

Other IIHF notes

--O'Reilly did for Team Canada what he did all season for the Buffalo Sabres. The two-way forward chipped in two goals and added six assists, finished with a plus-9 rating and took almost every key faceoff for Canada on their drive to the gold. Sam Reinhart was relegated to fourth line center duties for Team Canada and had four assists in limited duty. Both played their roles rather nicely.

--Team USA defeated Team Hungary 10 days ago rather resoundingly by a 5-1 score, but Hungary goalie Adam Vay was still impressive despite giving up five goals. Buffalo has a hole or two to fill in the goalie ranks and I felt he might be a nice addition, but the Minnesota Wild signed Vay to a two-year entry level deal on May 18th. It's said he'll compete for a spot in the minors.

--Another goalie that piqued my interest was Team Czech's Dominik Furch. The 26 yr. old had a whale of a game against Team USA before losing it in the shootout. At 6'2" Furch has the size Murray covets in net and at 26 he's right in that "young-vet" range Murray seems to like. He finished the World's with a .940 goals-against average and a .960 save percentage. Although he's never crossed the Atlantic to play, Furch seems as if he'd have a good shot of making it in the NHL. Wouldn't mind seeing him do so in the Blue and Gold either. He's under contract in the KHL next season.

--Finally, it wasn't until last season when Jack Eichel was playing for Team USA that I became interested in the IIHF World's and as I mentioned when I began the piece, I hope I never see a Sabres roster player in the world's again, meaning they're deep into the playoffs. That said, it's a good tournament and I hope NBCSN continues it's coverage. Next year I hope they continue their coverage and hopefully NBC will see fit to run Team USA games on one of their family of networks instead of infomercials. I think there are a lot of fans who feel the same way.

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