ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — There was no panic in the Blue Jays heading into what sure felt like a significant Saturday date at trippy Tropicana Field.
Team Canada defeated Team Finland 3-2 in overtime Saturday to win the rescheduled World Junior Hockey Championship.
The atmosphere inside Rogers Place in Edmonton finally reached a level organizers had wished for as more than 13,000 (mostly Canadian) fans witnessed an exciting gold-medal game that ended the event on a high note.
Here are some observations from the tournament:
Mason McTavish was a force the entire tournament. The captain for Team Canada led the event in scoring (8G-9A-7GP), was used in all situations, brought a combination of power and finesses to the dance, showed off a back door one-timer on the power play and … showed off his hand/eye coordination when he knocked down a chipped puck by Finland that was destined for the open net in overtime. The ”save” is arguably one of the most remarkable highlights in the history of this event. McTavish is destined for full-time duty in Anaheim this fall. He’s NHL ready.
The Buffalo Sabres have to be pleased with the play of their first-round pick, Jiri Kulich. Kulich was the MVP at the U18 World Championship in Germany in the spring and carried his momentum into this event. He contributed two goals and six assists in Edmonton, with his three-point effort in eliminating Team USA standing out. Kulich is showing he is more than just a shooter. He pursued the play with more tenacity and worked much more consistently in all three zones. He’s definitely trending up for the Sabres.
Future No. 1 for the Wild
The Minnesota Wild have an outstanding goalie prospect in their pipeline. Their first-round pick in 2021 (20th overall) Jesper Wallstedt, from Sweden, has the potential to be an elite No. 1 NHL goalie. He was the MVG in the tournament. He posted a goals-against average of 1.62 and save percentage of .940. Wallstedt is 6-foot-3, 214 pounds. He takes up a ton of net but he’s also plenty athletic. He tracks laterally very well and rarely gets outside his posts. Team Sweden lacked offensive punch at this event. Otherwise they might have had a chance to play for gold. Their bronze medal was won on the back of Wallstedt.
Ridly Greig, Canada (Ottawa Senators, 28th overall, 2020)
WJC Stats: 5GP – 3G-3A-6PTS
There is always risk in loaning top prospects to events like the World Juniors. In the case of Ridly Greig, the Ottawa Senators must be excited about his tournament. He played with his usual grease and determination AND contributed offence. However, Greig suffered what appears to be a should injury and missed the back end of the tournament. Let’s hope it’s nothing serious. He looks like a prospect who is on the verge of opening eyes at NHL camp.
Logan Stankoven, Canada (Dallas Stars, 47th overall, 2021)
WJC Stats: 7GP – 4G-6A-10PTS
I couldn’t help but notice Stankoven every time he hit the ice. He’s an electric, highly skilled, uber competitive forward who is very difficult to defend. Logan has the ability and ice awareness to exploit seams and get pucks to the net quickly in traffic. I’m not the least bit concerned about his size (5-foo-8, 170 pounds). In my opinion, he has the potential to bring a bit of Johnny Gaudreau and Brayden Point to the Dallas Stars organization.
Olen Zellweger, Canada (Anaheim Ducks, 34th overall, 2021)
WJC Stats: 7GP – 2G-9A-11PTS
Time will tell, but Zellweger looks like a player who should have been selected higher than he was in 2021. I had undervalued him in the past. His element is clearly his mobility and vision in the offensive zone. Zellweger sees the ice. He makes plays. I was more concerned about his play off the puck and in the defensive zone. He’s not big (5-foot-9, 175 pounds) but he’s quick to take away space and out-think opponents in the defensive zone. He’s a transitional defender that has the potential to run an NHL power play in the future as more of a distributor than a shooter.
Joshua Roy, Canada (Montreal Canadiens, 150th overall, 2021)
WJC Stats: 7GP – 3G-5A-8PTS
Every player has his own development path. It takes some longer than others to reach their pro potential. Roy scored 51 goals and had 68 assists for 119 points for Sherbrooke in the QMJHL last season. His offence has gone to another level. What impressed me most at this event was his “hard area” game. As the first forward on the scene he did a nice job of bumping opponents off the puck along the boards. He also showed more willingness to get to the crease and look for tips and second chances. He will never be described as a power forward but the Canadiens have to be excited about the potential Roy displayed.
Jan Mysak, Czechia (Montreal Canadiens, 48th overall, 2020)
WJC Stats: 7GP – 5G-4A-9PTS
Mysak was voted an All-Star at this event and certainly earned the recognition. When he first arrived in North America, I saw a player that was more of an opportunist than a play driver. His stats at the OHL level playing for Hamilton last season (61 GP – 34G-30A-64PTS) are those of a goal-scorer more than a playmaker. He showed more willingness to get his nose dirty in Edmonton and seemed to be involved from shift to shift. If his detail and drive continue to trend positively he has a chance, in time, to provide the Habs with some secondary NHL scoring.
Emil Andrae, Sweden (Philadelphia Flyers, 54th overall, 2020)
WJC Stats: 7GP – 4G-4A-8PTS
Andrae was the Captain for Sweden. He displayed the highest level of compete and overall involvement that I have witnessed from him over several years of viewings. In the past he took risks offensively but didn’t play with enough detail in all three zones. He’s a transitional defender that has matured. Andrae still contributes offensively. He’s mostly a distributor on the power play but he did get more pucks to the net at this tournament and actually scored from range through traffic. His tenacity down low in his zone didn’t go unnoticed. If he ends up being an average NHL defender for the Flyers, the rest of his game brings more value.
Simon Edvinsson, Sweden (Detroit Red Wings, sixth overall, 2021)
WJC Stats: 6GP-1G-1A-2PTS
Edvinsson is a hulking 6-foot-6, 207-pound defender. He projects to be a two-way “D” at the NHL level. He skates very well for his stature and can lead the rush on occasion. He sees his options and makes sound puck plays. I thought he could have been used more at this tournament. This kid is going to have a long career in Detroit. He compliments a partner who is more of a risk taker. There’s also some growl to his game. He takes away space effectively and gaps up physically.
Matthew Knies, USA (Toronto Maple Leafs, 57th overall, 2021)
WJC Stats: 5GP – 0G-3A-3PTS
I’m on record describing Knies as exactly the kind of player the Maple Leafs need in their lineup. His power game is an important element. He has the ability to disrupt opponents along the wall in their zone and he’s a load to handle around the crease. Having said that, I felt his tournament was average plus by his standard. He did extend some plays and station himself around the crease on the power play, but overall he struggled to get quality looks and get enough pucks to the net.
Joel Maata, Finland (Edmonton Oilers, 222nd overall, 2022)
WJC Stats: 7GP – 3G-1A-4PTS
Sometimes at these events a player catches my eye and elevates his play compared to past viewings. Maata was one of those players. He’s a big-body forward who plays a power style game, but doesn’t have a history of producing much offensively. He plays for NCAA Vermont in Hockey East and had only three goals and three assists last season. In this tournament he was consistently involved and played a power game. His skating and agility are not NHL standard at this stage, but he has time. At best he is likely a depth pro who might wear down opponents but gets credit for the way he played in Edmonton.
Jonathan Lekkerimaki, Sweden (Vancouver Canucks, 15th overall, 2022)
WJC Stats: 7GP – 0G-3A-3PTS
The journey to the NHL will be interesting to watch for Lekkerimaki. At the U18 Worlds in the spring he scored five goals in five games. He was a bit of an opportunist on the power play but there was no denying he has an elite release and nose for the net. At this tournament, Sweden needed more from him — and he didn’t produce. The team looked like they lost trust in his game. His three-zone effort and detail needs to improve significantly. He’s a goal-scorer with some cheat in his game. This wasn’t his best tournament. I expect he will be much improved when we see him next in Halifax and Moncton in December.
Brad Lambert, Finland (Winnipeg Jets, 30th overall, 2022)
WJC Stats: 5Gp – 1G-0A-1PT
Lambert’s goal vs Latvia early in the tournament came on the power play. Not only did he not score again, he ended up in the press box for the last two games Finland played. The player needs a reset. He needs to regain his confidence. This event did nothing to help with his process. It sounds like Lambert is heading to Seattle of the WHL. The Thunderbirds have a solid team returning in 2022-2023. The opportunity to play an important role in Seattle provides a chance for Lambert to re-establish his game and find his element, offensively.
Topi Niemela, Finland (Toronto Maple Leafs, 64th overall, 2020)
WJC Stats: 7GP – 0G-6A-6PTS
Niemela was nothing short of a work horse for the Finns. He was used in all situations. On the power play he distributed very well. His ability to see the ice and make seam plays speaks to his hockey IQ and vision. Defensively he battled and came up with some key shot-blocks along the way. In the Finns’ 1-0 win versus Sweden in the semi-finals, Niemela blocked a shot in the dying seconds to preserve the victory. It should be noted that it has taken time for his offence to arrive. Several years back he looked like an undersized defender who was satisfied with getting to pucks first and moving them up ice without taking any risk. Fast forward to today and Niemela looks capable of taking up a spot on one of the power- play units for the Leafs, given time.
Roby Jarventie, Finland (Ottawa Senators, 33rd overall, 2020)
WJC Stats: 7GP – 4G-5A-9PTS
The Senators pipeline is flush with several talented players who are tracking positively and Jarventie is definitely one of those prospects. There was a time he relied only on his skill and ability to create off the rush. His overall game has improved without taking away from his offence. Jarventie will never been described as a “match up” or “shut down” forward but he is showing he is willing to make the effort required in all three zones. At 6-foot-2, 185 pounds, he also brings size with his skill.
Joakim Kemell, Finland (Nashville Predators, 17th overall, 2022)
WJC Stats: 7GP-4G-8A-12PTS
Kemell was voted to the tournament All-Star team. Like Jiri Kulich from Czechia, he carried over his play from the U18 Worlds in May. Kemell played with his usual enthusiasm and showed off his lethal one-timer from his weak side on the power play. I especially appreciated his willingness to work in the trenches and track back more responsibly. The Preds have a solid prospect on there hands in Kemell.
Connor Bedard, Canada (Regina Pats WHL – 2023 Draft Eligible)
WJC Stats: 7GP – 4G-4A-8PTS
Bedard’s journey towards being the potential No. 1 pick in Nashville next June began nicely at this tournament. The World Juniors is not an easy event for young players like Bedard to play to their identity. There were times he tried to do too much and exposed some pucks in the middle of the ice. He also lost his man in coverage on occasion in the defensive zone. Overall, however, there is no denying his impact offensively. He wasn’t the most dynamic player on Team Canada but he did see time on the power play and showed off his deceptive release. Averaging over a PPG at this event is a nice way to start the year.
At this point, you sort of feel sorry for Kyle Dubas every time he talks.
What’s he going to say that will change anybody’s mind? And given that impossibility, why does he have to keep saying it?
But the Toronto Maple Leafs general manager keeps getting pushed out on stage at the end of a sword. Once there, he keeps saying the same silly things. He was out there again this week as training camp started, doing this semester’s first lecture of Intro to Tragedy 101.
“Nobody wants to hear us talking about it,” Dubas said. “They want to see us do.”
Fair enough. Under the circumstances, not bad.
Then, not one minute later: “Our goal is not to win one round. It’s to win four.”
There you go talking about it. How about you win one round and then start lipping off about how you’ve got the big one right there in your sights.
At this point, you sound like a guy who’s just booked his flight to Kathmandu, looks off in the general direction of Everest and says, “Just a few more steps.” Maybe get to base camp before you start setting your intentions in front of the class.
This is the conundrum of modern sports communications. You don’t want to say nothing, because people will fill the void for you. But anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of media law.
Nobody’s good at explaining losing, but right now no one is as bad at it as the Leafs. Their answer to everything is that meme of a cartoon dog drinking coffee in the midst of a house fire saying, “This is fine.”
Has that dog been copyrighted? Because he should be the new Leafs mascot. Then they can send him out to do the talking.
To varying degrees, everyone on this team is trapped in a conversational loop from four years ago.
“We’ve obviously been right there,” captain John Tavares said.
To whom is that obvious, exactly? And how are you defining “right there?”
“We’ve established ourselves as an elite team in this league,” head coach Sheldon Keefe said.
I’ve just realized the perfect thing to get the Leafs for their birthday – a dictionary.
First thing you do, look up the words ‘established,’ ‘elite’ and, just for kicks, ‘team.’
Everybody’s bad at it, but the weight falls on Dubas. He’s the boss, plus he wears glasses. So he must know what’s going on.
Once one of the more forthcoming, three-dimensional GMs in hockey, Dubas’s public persona has been beaten flat by years of failure. He still sounds excited, but excited about talking so fast, for so long, that there is the slim possibility he may avoid facing more questions.
When he gets one he doesn’t have a great answer to (ie. a lot of them), he retreats into hockey boilerplate.
Why do you like this team, someone asked (an inside-out way of asking the more interesting question – why don’t you dislike this team?).
“Everything they are doing now is about winning,” Dubas said.
What were they doing before when, you know, they were losing? Was that about winning, too? When I’m in my car, is everything I’m doing about driving, even when I’m wrapping it around a phone pole?
‘Leafs disease’ – that’s what they used to call losing on the steady with no hint of an intention to change. The virus has mutated. Leafs disease is now a condition whereby rampant verbosity replaces results.
The miserable teams of Leafs yore knew enough to hang their heads when things were going sideways. This team believes the answer to every disaster is to schedule a TED Talk called Losing Your Way to Victory.
The sentences are a problem, but the presentation may be worse.
Has there ever been a more mirthless pro sports organization? When it gets dark for other teams in other sports, a few of them are able to triangulate the ridiculousness of treating who wins this or that game like a real-world problem.
Not the Leafs.
No jokes. No little asides. Absolutely zero capacity to laugh at themselves, from any member of the organization.
To be fair, this isn’t just a Toronto problem – it’s a hockey problem. But it’s still a shame. Canadians are supposed to be funny and hockey is meant to be a retreat from real life. A little gallows humour might put this team’s situation into perspective. It might even win you some credit for having your priorities straight.
Instead, the Leafs have confused solemnity for seriousness. That doesn’t leave them any room to say, “Listen, I didn’t blow that play. I was trying to wave at my mom in the crowd as the puck drifted between my skates” when things go wrong.
They have figured out one thing – that no one is going to believe this team is for real until the second after it proves it is.
That moment cannot arrive until the third or fourth week of April (though it can certainly be disproven before then).
That leaves the Leafs with seven months of sound bites to fill. When you lose three in a row, “four rounds,” “proved we are elite” and “been right there” is not going to work. You’ve set yourself a standard both so high and so hard to credit that you have no rhetorical wiggle room. All you can do is repeat the same affirmations while your audience turns into 20,000 hecklers. That’s a lot of pressure.
So forget about the playoffs. If the Leafs can make it to December without at least one of them cracking it’ll be a Christmas miracle.
The obvious solution – from here until April, don’t say anything. If you feel you must, hire Rick Mercer or Ali Hassan as your next assistant GM. I’m not sure how big they are on hockey, but they will vastly improve the entertainment value of your excuses.
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — There was no panic in the Blue Jays heading into what sure felt like a significant Saturday date at trippy Tropicana Field.
There was growing frustrating, however, as the twists and turns of the American League wild-card race were headed in a direction they would have preferred to avoid.
Enter the beast that is Alek Manoah, whose competitiveness is surpassed only by his talent and continuing emergence as one of the best pitchers in the AL.
The burly right-hander delivered seven-innings of shutout ball — dominating at times and grinding when needed in others — as the Jays delivered a 3-1 win over their pesky nemesis, the Tampa Bay Rays.
“He’s a bulldog, man,” said second baseman Whit Merrifield, whose three-run homer in the seventh inning provided all the Jays offence. “He gets the ball when the team needs him. This was a big game for us. This place has given us trouble this year.
“Big Puma threw a big game for us.”
Just as it has been throughout the season — a campaign that has now reached 30 starts — Manoah is the man the team leans on to restore order when needed most.
And in a contest that felt like a playoff preview, Manoah was money.
“I think every game right now is of huge importance,” Manoah said of how much the post-season scent is firing him up. “Every game right now kind of feels like a playoff game. There’s a lot to look forward to in the next couple of weeks.”
The prospects of Manoah pitching games of heightened importance has to be tantalizing for the Jays, especially given how his teammates seem to feed off his efforts. On Saturday, he was dealing through an outing in which he tossed a season-high 113 pitches and striking out eight Rays batters while limiting the Rays to four hits.
In his last seven starts, Manoah has allowed just six earned runs over a span of 48 innings. He has now lowered his ERA to 2.31 while improving his record to 15-7.
The 2022 all-star served up just the type of effort the Jays needed against a Rays team that had taken the first two games of this four-game set. The victory snapped a three-game losing streak and with 10 games remaining in the season, allowed the Jays to reclaim top spot in the wild-card spot, a game up on the Rays.
“He’s putting together a really special year for a young guy and tonight was just another example of one of the premiere pitchers in the game right now,” manager John Schneider said.
“I think he’s proven it to where he’s up for the big games. He’s up for bit spots and challenges like this.”
While offence was at a premium in a stellar pitching duel between Manoah and the Rays Drew Rasmussen, a suddenly heating up Merrifield broke through for the Jays in the seventh inning.
As for Manoah, he’s now thrown seven consecutive quality starts and 24 overall, the most by a Jay since Ricky Romero dealt 25 in 2011. In those last seven starts, his ERA is a skimpy 1.13.
And as we’ve seen throughout his young career, he’s clutch when he needs to be, holding the Rays to 0-5 with runners in scoring position on Saturday.
“These guys have been battling all year, picking me up,” Manoah said. “It’s my job to go out there and pick them up when I can.”
As the Jays remain locked in a game-at-a-time approach, there’s no denying the urgency Saturday’s game carried — and it starts with the crazy things that happen so regularly at the Trop.
The Jays are just 3-5 at the quirky indoor stadium and have grown frustrated at the ways they’ve let games get away from them here over the years.
“I don’t think we’re the only team walking in here or going out of here going ‘WTF,’” Schneider said. “It’s something you’ve got to work around as best you can.”
The Jays, of course, have had trouble doing that against a Rays team that clinched the season series with wins here on Thursday and Friday, and thus hold the tiebreak should the teams be locked at the end of the regular season.
Earning home-field advantage is always a thing worth pursuing, but especially when it eliminates a return here for a best-of-three wild-card clash two weeks down the road.
“It’s definitely an interesting place to play,” Jays third baseman Matt Chapman said. “It’s just different in every way and takes some adjusting and getting used to.”
ROMANO TO THE RESCUE
Closer Jordan Romano was called upon for a four-out save and got the job for number 35 on the season, moving him into solo possession if the eighth most in a season by a Jays reliever.
It was an important bounce back for Romano, who had suffered blown saves in each of his two previous appearances. The Markham, Ont. native got back on track in style as well, striking out three to secure the win.
After anchoring the NHL’s hottest line last season, the Swedish star watched from overseas this summer as both his linemates took turns departing the organization.
And while Flames fans rejoiced when Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk were replaced by the likes of Jonathan Huberdeau, MacKenzie Weegar and Nazem Kadri, the orphaned centre knew he’d return to Calgary with plenty of unknowns surrounding his new wingers.
While the hockey world is expecting the man on his left will be Huberdeau, coach Darryl Sutter said a few weeks ago the first piece of the puzzle will be determining if the longtime Panthers playmaker fits better with Lindholm or Kadri.
Huberdeau, Lindholm and Tyler Toffoli have spent the first three days of camp together, and while all three are optimistic they’ll find chemistry together, Lindholm shrugged when asked if he’s felt it yet.
“Honestly, the drills we’re doing out there, it’s tough to create the chemistry, ” he said.
“But he’s a good player and good players are easy to play with. It’ll be kind of fun to get games going soon. And we’ll see from there.”
The trio didn’t get much going in Saturday’s scrimmage and is hoping to start the process Sunday night when the Flames host Vancouver to open the pre-season with a split-squad game.
So, what’s the key to trying to find some semblance of the magic Lindholm had with his previous pals?
“Just have fun out there, get it going and get Johnny used to the new system and stuff like that,” said Lindholm, who had a career-high 42 goals and 82 points last season.
“You can tell he’s a top player in the league, with that extra poise with the puck and making plays. He seems like a real nice guy, too. I’m excited to start with him.”
Sutter believes part of building that chemistry involves getting to know one another off the ice as well.
“It’s no different than having your friends at school – same idea,” said the coach.
Speaking to reporters for the first time since the club’s summertime calamity, Lindholm was asked what he thought of losing both his wingers.
“It was a rollercoaster for sure,” he laughed.
“Obviously Johnny had an opportunity to go somewhere else and Chucky wanted a new challenge and to try something else. That’s the NHL, that’s the business part of it.
“I thought the management did a really good job to put us in a good position and have a really good team this year again.”
BIG FIRST IMPRESSIONS
The Flames have their first standout of training camp, and not just because he’s six-foot-eight and 245 pounds.
Adam Klapka picked up from where he left off at the team’s prospect camp by opening Saturday’s first red and white scrimmage with a snipe that had the dozens in attendance murmuring.
Entering the offensive zone with plenty of speed, the towering right winger stuttered the defenceman with a sweet move before roofing a snapper short side on Dustin Wolf, a netminder he has 75 pounds on.
The sequence had everyone on Team White’s bench buzzing.
“He was pretty awesome out in Penticton too — he was the best player in that camp for our group,” said Sutter of the 22-year-old Czech winger, who was signed to a two-year entry level deal this summer.
“For a big man he moves really well. Usually big guys like that, when you think of NHLers that size, a lot of times it takes two or three years for their skating to catch up with their body, and vice versa. Right now that doesn’t appear to be an issue.”
Shockingly high praise from the boss.
Klapka was signed in May after scoring six goals and adding 12 assists in 44 games for Bili Tygri Liberec of the Czech Republic League.
Prior to that, the undrafted Prague native spent two seasons with the Tri-City Storm of the USHL.
As green as he is, no one is expecting him to challenge for an NHL roster spot this season, but his size and right shot make him an intriguing add for the AHL’s Calgary Wranglers this year.
The game ended 2-1, with Clark Bishop and Sonny Milano scoring for Team Red, with Cody Eakin making a nice play behind the net to set up Milano, his fellow PTO participant. Klapka’s goal was the lone marker for Team White … Goalies Dan Vladar, Oscar Dansk and Wolf rotated at both ends of the ice throughout the scrimmage, including several changes on the fly … After a full period of 5-on-5 play the two teams played a shorter second period of 4-on-4 before returning to 5-on-5 for an abbreviated third … Nikita Zadorov drew plenty of attention with his physicality, while Klapka’s goal and hands stood out in the skill department … Matthew Phillips, who is still listed at an unfathomable 140 pounds, still has the silkiest of mitts, and is a pleasure to watch with the puck … Notables who didn’t dress included Chris Tanev and Kadri, who will be used sparingly throughout camp, as well as injured Andrew Mangiapane and Oliver Kylington (absent from camp due to personal reasons). Jacob Markstrom was also given the day off … Only a smattering of fans were in the building, as the organization held a seat purchasing event for Wranglers tickets.
SATURDAY’S LINE COMBINATIONS
Storm Fiona knocks out power as it hits eastern Canada – Al Jazeera English
NASA’s DART spacecraft is about to smash into an asteroid – Freethink
Artists of the past captured historical events: Renfrew Art Guild – Ottawa Valley News
Every 22 minutes a Canadian woman dies of a heart attack. Most of those deaths are preventable – CBC News
Q&A With Javier Peres, Founder Of Peres Projects Art Gallery – Forbes
Alek Manoah the man as Blue Jays score big bounce back win over Rays – Toronto Sun
Last West Coast Delta IV Heavy to launch with NROL-91 – NASASpaceFlight.com – NASASpaceflight.com