Saturday, December 21, 2002

The Russians' blue-line
Igor Knyazev has been a member of the Russian Junior National team since 1998 and during the 1999-2000 season was appointed its captain. The responsibility was a heavy one, but Igor Knyazev handled it well and the 1983 Team Russia dominated most tournaments. Despite a strong showing with Spartak Moscow this season and representing his country in two prior tournaments, Igor was not invited by Petr Vorobiev to the training camp of the Russian National Team prior to the 2001 Under 20 World Junior Championships. This came as a surprise to many. A Russian hockey expert and one of former greats in the USSR, Vyecheslav Anisin, said that Igor Knyazev was “stronger then anyone who made the team [for the 2001 U20 WJC – EB]. It is possible that this was the element that the Russian National Team was missing: the mental stability and physical presence of this capable young defenseman. At the 2001 Under 18 WJC he showed just what the Under 20 team missed out during the tournament a few months earlier. Not only was he one of the top people in PIM with 24 minutes, but he also had a +16 rating and registered 5 points (1+4) in 6 games.
Post Script: For those who do not remember Anisin, it was Winnipeg in September and it was 1972.
The line of Vyacheslav Anisin, with Yuri Lebedev and Alexander Bodunov on the wings, averaging just 21 years of age, produced two goals in the final six minutes of the second period to earn the Soviets a 4-4 tie, leaving the series tied at one win apiece, with one game tied.

If Soviet coach Vsevolod Bobrov had a headache when Canada moved in front 4-2 on Paul Henderson's goal at 13.47 of the second, Anisin certainly relieved by setting up markers by Lebedev at 14:59 and Bodunov at 18:28. While most of the Soviet players were selected from the perennial champion Central Red Army Club of Moscow, Anisin's troika hailed from Wings of the Soviet, a less prominent Moscow-based squad.

"They put out that young line we hadn't seen before and they dominated us," lamented Canadian coach Harry Sinden.

Alex, Andrei, it's all Medvedev to the Star.
Talent Analysis:

Andrei Medvedev’s size is his big weapon and is also his enemy. At 6’1 and 210 pounds he covers the net well, but is overweight for his frame. Andrei is unusually fast for a guy his size and often relies on his reflexes instead of positional approach to goaltending. Playing the game of reflexes, Andrei’s weight may cause him more problems down the road. He also possesses solid hockey sense and is able to read plays as they develop. He is quick on his feet and is able to make a toe save here and there when needed in the clutch. Andrei’s stamina could use some improvement. He has not really been tested with a busy road trip where he had to play 2 games in 3 days. When such an opportunity came about at the Junior World Championships in Moscow, he looked tired in the match against Switzerland and made some uncommon errors. At many games he does not participate in the warm-ups and a very likely reason for this is that he is concerned to leave too much energy and not have enough to complete the game.

Andrei Medvedev’s mental game is also a double-edged sword. On one side he is very calm. During a game it is difficult to break his concentration. On the other hand, he seems to have a conflictive personality which sometimes causes friction with he management and the coaching staff. For example, during the summer of 2001 he attempted to leave Spartak Moscow, who he is under contract with and join CSKA Moscow. He did it because of the lack of playing time with Spartak, but he still was under contract with Spartak. In the end of that particular incident he returned to Spartak and will fulfill his obligations.

Friday, December 20, 2002

The Star also says the Rooskies will walk with the gold

Russia (1st)

The defending champions like to beat teams by winning the one-on-one battles with their speed and skill. They have won two gold medals in the last four years, beating Canada in the final both times.

The Russians' blue-line will be anchored by Igor Knyazev, the top defenceman in last year's tournament, Denis Grebeschov, a Los Angeles Kings draft pick who will play in this third straight world junior tournament and former Guelph Storm defenceman Fedor Tjutin.

Goaltender Alex Medvedev, a Calgary Flames property, is a lot more mobile than he looks at 216 pounds. Offensively the Russians will rely on forward Nikolai Zherdev, who was a force at the world under-18 championships scoring 11 points in 8 games. A rising star in the Russian system is 17-year-Alexander Ovechkin, a fast-skating, high-scoring forward.

The dark horse this year - the Swiss, at least according to the Red Star.
Russia the team to beat for gold at the world junior hockey championship

So says DONNA SPENCER of the Guelph Mercury -

(CP) - Russia has often stood in the way of Canada's bid for gold at the world junior hockey championship and the Russians again pose the biggest obstacle to Canada taking the title on home soil.
With several returning players from the team that won gold in the Czech Republic last January, the Russians are heavy favourites again at the 2003 tournament that opens Dec. 26 in Nova Scotia. But the world junior tournament is a strange animal. A country's fortunes can turn on a dime in its short, intense format as Russia demonstrated last year when it was average during the round robin, but went on to beat Finland and Canada en route to gold.
Not much of a warm-up

Jordin Tootoo scored two goals and Marc-Andre Fleury earned the shutout as the Canadian junior hockey team beat Slovakia 5-0 in an exhibition game Friday night.

Canada outshot Slovakia 51-11 in a warmup to the world junior championships, which run from Dec. 23 to Jan. 5 in Halifax and Sydney.
Canadian World Juniors’ Coach Marc Habscheid made his goaltending selection for Canada’s first match, Marc-André Fleury. He provided an insight as to why during an interview on Sportsnet. “The Europeans”, Habsheid said, “attack the net East/ West and they’re great with the one-timers”. East/West is the NHL hockey vernacular for what Ron Johnson calls,“a horizontal attack - parallel to goal line”. This approach demands that the goalie also move horizontally across his crease prohibiting him from squaring-up to the shooter. To make matters even more difficult for the goalie, the “one-timer” means release of the puck by the shooter without stopping it.

Stand-up, Butterfly, and Inverted-V are the three basic goaltender styles that exist in hockey. More recently a fourth has been added, the Hybrid.

The stand-up style is good for those goalies that have good footwork with the ability to move from side to side. This style cuts down on goals scored between the five-hole and better for controlling rebounds. The downfall of this manoeuvre is that it leaves the lower corners of the net opened and since your body position is more straight up, it is more difficult to see shots through a screen. The 1972 Summit Series clearly outlined the weakness of a stand-up goalie, like Ken Dryden, in defending against a horizontal attack. The Canadian game, to that point, utilised a North/South or perpendicular attack. This allowed the great stand-up goalies to square-up to the shooter and cut down the shooting angle for both the top and bottom of the net.

The butterfly style covers the entire lower part of the net along the ice by extending the pads outward much like a butterfly spreads its wings. What is doesn't prevent are shots to the top corners or shelf. Puck carriers will often let butterfly style goaltenders make the first move and then shoot the puck to one of the top corners of the net. While this manoeuvre is great for deflections and screen shots, pad saves often create rebounds for the opposing team.

The most unorthodox style of the three disciplines is the inverted-V. Goalies using the inverted-V style stand with their feet apart and knees together, creating what looks like an upside down letter "V." The drawbacks to the inverted-V is that the five-hole is left open and the wide stance prevents the goaltender from easily moving side to side because the outside edge of the skate blades are dug into the ice. However if your reflexes are sharp, this could be the style for you.

Fleury is more of a hybrid goalie. Utilizing whatever style he deems necessary depending on the situation. He's a reaction goalie relying on reflexes to stop to the puck, and solid skating to remain square to the shooter. While better able to accommodate the horizontal or European style attack, this style of play often contributes to inconsistency. It forces the goalie to rely too often on his reflexes. This puts pressure on the goalie's ability to remain focused. Any drop in focus usually results in bad goals.

Another coach bites the dust: On Wednesday, Bob Hartley of the Colorado Avalanche became the third NHL head coach to be dismissed in the past month. He was replaced by Tony Granato, who has never coached before.

The National Post gripes:
There is a strong case to be made that neither San Jose's Darryl Sutter nor Calgary's Greg Gilbert deserved a pink slip. But the Avalanche's move was even more questionable. Mr. Hartley led the Avalanche to the Western Conference finals in each of his four full years in Denver, and the team won the Stanley Cup the season before last. Under his watch, the Avalanche had a win-loss ratio of nearly 2:1. Now, he has been replaced by Tony Granato -- a recently retired player whose only coaching experience consists of 31 games this season as an assistant. Like other GMs who fire their coaches mid-season, Colorado's Pierre Lacroix has taken the path of least resistance: It's easier to change one coach than 20 players.

Wednesday, December 18, 2002

Hockey - A Martial Arts Approach

I love to read Ron Johnson's analysis of this great game. The hours of research and study invested are evident. In addition, his love of the game emanates from all his work like a beacon of shining light. In the following he talks of Sun Tzu's Art of War and its lessons for the game of hockey.
Two of my most satisfactory moments have been the translation of the "Art of War" by Sun Tzu into a hockey warfare text towards my Bachelors degree and my book on tactical applications based on a KATA as well as a KUMITE format applications specific to the game of hockey. The Kata in Japanese martial arts is a term used to describe basic skill training, performed individually in a short or long movement format that may take 1 minute or more to complete. The Kumite is skill interaction between two people in a combative environment. Again, each student interacts one on one through choreographed pre-determined series of skill movements (striking, kicking, blocking, etc) with the objective to focus on speed and pattern recognition.

The following diagrams will progress you through some of the individual skill progressions from a skating and puck handling format as well as through an interactive format in a one on one situation. As mentioned, I will be unable to include all of the drawings that are in my book at this time due to the sheer volume but at least you will have an basic idea.

Form 1 - Obvious skills that will be demonstrated in this environment are: Forward crossovers, Heel Drive, and Gliding

Form 2 - Obvious skills demonstrated in this test would be: Forward Crossovers, Heel Drive, Gliding, Tight Turn (inside position), Crossover Acceleration.

Form 3 - Same as 2 with the exception of Tight Turn (outside position).

Form 4 - Obvious skills demonstrated in this would be: Forward Crossovers, Heel Drive, Tight Turn, Glide, Lateral Counter, Acceleration.

Although it had some bumps in the road USA Hockey's National Team Development Program dubbed the Incubator because of its home at the Ice Cube, a three sheet facility in Ann Arbor, MI promises to make USA hockey a dominate force now and in the future.
The crest on Jeff Jackson's shirt reduces all his hockey dreams, all his aspirations, to three letters: USA.

''I had the opportunity to coach the National Junior Team in 1995 while at Lake Superior State,'' Jackson said. ''I was never so frustrated as a coach. I was disappointed in the players' attitudes. I was personally disappointed in U.S. hockey.

''Not all of them, but some of them.''

Historically, there never has been high-level consistency in USA hockey. There have been wonderful moments, the Olympic golds in 1980 and 1960, the victory in the World Cup in 1996, when American NHL players beat the Canadians, Russians, Swedes and Czechs.

And there have been some terrible results, such as these same American NHL players and their pratfall in the Nagano Olympics last winter, and Jackson's frustrating experience with his 1995 junior team.
Unfortunately, in May 2000 Jeff Jackson was fired by the program.
Jackson led the U.S. Junior Team to a second-place finish at the World Junior Championships in Switzerland in his first year on the job, 1996-97. That created high hopes for the program, but even Jackson warned at the time that it might be an aberration.

After disappointing finishes the next two years, the U.S. finished fourth, losing a shootout to Canada in the bronze medal game in Sweden this January. Jackson missed the game after flying home because of his mother's illness.

However, all the hard work appears to finally be paying off. The USA in the 2002 International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) World Under-18 Championship went 7-1-0, losing only a tough 1-0 match to the Czechs, and then beat the Russians for the gold. Jeff Jackson's philosophy of teaching Eagles to fly in formation may bring home another gold from Halifax.

Post Script: Coach Jackson now resides in Canada and coaches the Guelph Storm of the OHL.
Anyone who knows Jackson is aware of his love for his dogs, Rudy and Hickory. But his feelings for the great Canadian game are just as strong, if not stronger.

Hockey is Jackson's mistress, his comfort. He eats, sleeps and breathes hockey. There are no outside distractions, save for the dogs.

Unmarried with no children, Jackson has spent much of his adult life in arenas, teaching the game to youngsters, top-flight collegians, highly-touted teens and future professional all-stars. He's coached at the Olympics, at the World Junior Championships, won a pair of NCAA Division I titles, met U.S. presidents and toured the White House, all because of hockey.

Tuesday, December 17, 2002

Russian Prospects: Alexander Ovechkin, 17, the new "Wunderkind" :
"Ovechkin is simply unbelievable", says Goran Stubb the IIHF Hall-of-Famer who is also the Director of NHL's European Scouting and who attended the tournament with 30 NHL scouts. "He is yet to turn 17, but he is already totally superior among juniors in Europe. Ovechkin will be a superstar and definitely a huge attraction at the upcoming IIHF U20 World Championship in Canada."

Stubb's quick scouting report on Ovechkin: "He is a wonderful skater, with a quick release off his wrist shot and he is a natural goal scorer. Very quick with superb acceleration. A prototype of a classy Russian hockey player at its very best. You can see that he loves to play, he is dancing out there."

Ovechkin, who plays for Dynamo Moscow and who won the scoring title at last season's IIHF U18 World Championship with 14 goals in seven games, will turn 17 on September 17, 2002. He is still two years away from being draft eligible (2004).

Like a well known denome Kovalchuk did at same age, Ovechkin doesn't shy away from physical game, willingly drives to the net and finds well open spaces around the slot. Despite young age he uses his speed wisely. The early knock on him these days - inconsistency. Tends to disappear for stretches, albeit only when playing against men. Surely Ovechkin has a few problems in his own end - where, suprisingly under the sight of Belyaletdinov, he seems uninterested in back-checking. While others work, Ovechkin often prefers to ride the blue line in anticipation of the rush. Albeit, sometimes (but rather rarely - probably after coaching tirades) he's the first guy down there working hard in the corners, fighting for the puck and keeping an eye on his man. That leaves to believe that Ovechkin has a great two-way upside.

Monday, December 16, 2002

World Juniors 2003; Like Father like Son?
Never before have so many sons of former hockey greats been selected for the IIHF "World Juniors".

SWEDEN: Center Alexander Steen is the son of Thomas Steen, the former Swedish national team player and Winnipeg Jet great. Alexander, who is born in Winnipeg, was Toronto's first round selection in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft. As of early December he has 2 goals and 9 assists in 25 games and taking a regular shift for Vastra Frolunda, the top team of the Swedish Elite League. Thomas Steen was an All Star in the 1979 IIHF World Juniors in Sweden and still the only Swede to have his number retired by an NHL franchise.

Also selected for Sweden is Calgary-born Robert Nilsson of Leksand of the Swedish Elite League. Robert, one of the few 2002 World Junior players born in 1985, is the son of former "Tre Kronor" hero and Stanley Cup winner Kent Nilsson.
Robert has 5 goals and 6 assists in 23 games for Leksand entering December.
Theoretically, Team Sweden could have introduced an entire forward line of Canadian-born sons-of-former-greats but Liam Lindstrom, the Edmonton-born son of Stanley Cup winner Willy Lindstrom did not make the final selection. Liam, also born in 1985, is still eligible for the IIHF World U18 Championship in April 2003.

USA: University of North Dakota forward Zach Parise is the son of Jean-Paul Parise, the veteran of 13 NHL seasons and one of Canada's 1972 Summit Series heroes. Zach, who is profiled in the December/January issue of the IIHF News Release, scored the dramatic gold winning goal in the final game of the 2002 IIHF World U18 Championship in Slovakia, thus giving the US its first IIHF gold medal in 69 years.

Zach, still a freshman, leads UND with an amazing 11 goals and 18 assists for 29 points in just 14 games.
Defenseman Ryan Suter is the son of 1980 US gold medal Olympian Bob Suter and nephew of ex-NHLer and US National team player Gary Suter, who played in the IIHF World Juniors in 1984 and also represented USA Hockey in two IIHF World Championships, two Canada Cups (1987, 1991), the 1996 World Cup and the 1998 Olympics in Nagano. Ryan Suter belongs to the super talented group of players born in 1985, which thus have two years left on their World Juniors eligibility.
Forward and Calgary Flames 2002 draft selection Eric Nystrom (Univ. of Michigan) is the son of four-time Stanley Cup winner (N.Y. Islanders 1980-1983) Bob Nystrom. The father, who was born in Stockholm, Sweden and carried a Swedish passport throughout his career, never played international hockey.

CANADA: The host country could have scored a great three-generations triple by selecting Jeff Tambellini of the Univ. of Michigan but the son of Steve and grandson of Addie was not included in Team Canada's roster. Addie represented Canada's legendary Trail Smoke Eaters, the 1961 IIHF World Championship gold winners while Steve was a member of the 1988 Team Canada at the Calgary Olympics. Jeff, who has represented Canada on the U18 level, is enjoying a very good season with Michigan having scored 7 goals and added 3 assists for 10 points in 14 games, the same numbers as team mate Eric Nystrom.

RUSSIA: No ex-hockey greats behind this Russian class but 17-year old super forward Alexander Ovechkin can still be an answer to a great trivia question. His mother Tatiana captained the Soviet basketball team to Olympic gold medals in 1976 and 1980. Many scouts believe that Ovechkin, who plays for Dynamo Moscow, could be the best player in Halifax & Sydney despite being two years younger than most of the players. Being born on September 17, 1985, he is not draft eligible until 2004.

FINLAND: The Finnish juniors cannot boast having great hockey fathers, but brothers. Forward Mikko Koivu is the brother of Montreal Canadiens' forward Saku, defenseman Jussi Timonen is the brother of Nashville's Kimmo, also a defender, while forward Tuomo Ruutu is the brother of Vancouver's left winger Jarkko. There is also a third Ruutu, 24-year old forward Mikko of Finnish champions Jokerit Helsinki.

CZECH REPUBLIC: Team coach and former IIHF World Champion Jaroslav Holik is the father of N.Y. Rangers Robert (Bobby) Holik, who played in the IIHF World Juniors in 1989 and 1990.

USA team to beat at World Junior Championship in Halifax, Nova Scotia?
Eight months ago in Slovakia, the United States National Under-18 National Team won the gold medal at the Under-18 World Championship in dramatic fashion.

Holding a 2-1 lead late in a game with Russia that would have assured them a silver medal, but able to win a gold medal with an additional tally, the U.S. pulled their netminder to try to make the country's first-ever medal at the event a gold. The move paid off, as Zach Parise scored with :58 remaining to give the U.S. a 3-1 win, and the tie-breaker that earned them the gold medal.

Of the nine players from last year's Under-18 World Championship team, eight have moved on to play with NCAA or Canadian junior squads, and they are having solid seasons. Goaltender James Howard, who was in net for the win against Russia, defensemen Mark Stuart, Ryan Suter and James Wisnewski, and forwards Ryan Kesler, Greg Moore, Patrick O’Sullivan, Parise and Brett Sterling will be part of the National Junior team to try to repeat their strong performance in Slovakia.

The player with the biggest impact on his new club has been Parise, who currently is tied for the lead in the NCAA scoring race with 12 goals and 21 assists for 33 points for North Dakota, and is the only freshman currently among the NCAA’s top 20 scorers.

Howard has also made a strong college debut, holding the nation’s second-best goals-against average with a 1.53 GAA and an 8-1-0 record for the nation’s top ranked Maine Black Bears, and his play has been one of the reasons Maine is undefeated in Hockey East play.

O’Sullivan, who led Team USA at the Under-18 Worlds with 15 points, is currently playing with the Ontario Hockey League’s Mississauga IceDogs, [O'Sullivan led the Dogs in 2001-02 with 34 goals and 58 assists for a total of 92 points, but posted a lacklustre +/- of -43] and is second on the team with 17 goals and 17 assists in 26 games. Wisnewski has 25 points in 20 games with the OHL’s Plymouth Whalers, seventh among the league’s defensemen.

Defenseman Suter is the lone player still with the National Team Development Program’s Under-18 squad, the first time an active NTDP player has joined the National Junior Team since Andy Hilbert did so in 1999. Suter will head to Wisconsin next fall.