Monday, May 20, 2013

2013 IIHF World Championship round-up: Sweden wins gold, Canada fifth

The Swedes broke the decades-long hosting curse, winning the gold medal on home ice with a 5-1 win over the Swiss (who played a lot better than the score suggests). The Americans also won their first medal since 2004 with a 3-2 shootout victory over the Finns to take the bronze.

At the start of the tournament, I had posted a forecast for the results. The forecasts performed about as well as they did for the 2010, 2011, and 2012 tournaments that were used for calibration. It averaged 3.4 error in ranking per nation, with three nations pegged correctly and a fourth pegged to within one rank. It did do a worse than the 65% confidence for accurately placing each team within three spots that the model had for the three previous tournaments, but it was a good exercise (and a fun excuse to write about the tournament).

The forecast also provides a good measure of whether teams under-achieved to any great degree. The biggest under-performer in that sense was Norway, but as mentioned in the original post that had more to do with an anomaly in the model. Russia, however, which had a team that could have won gold, was a big disappointment.

I'll insert a break here. I realize this is a political site, but hockey is just as much of a Canadian pastime! Hopefully those of you who are not interested will forgive this post. But it is still the weekend.

The Russians finished sixth overall. A loss to France in the preliminary round hinted at an inconsistent team, while the 8-3 loss to the United States in the quarterfinals was an awful performance - even with the addition of Alexander Ovechkin. Canada, which had one of its best line-ups in recent memory, was drummed out of the quarterfinals in a 3-2 shootout loss to Sweden, putting them fifth overall. Slovakia and Denmark also performed worse than expected.
But the big over-achievers were Sweden, Finland, and the United States. The Swedes and Finns had sent a middling roster to the tournament, but surprised everyone. The Swedes improved with the additions of the Sedin twins, but they still had a worse, gold medal-winning line-up than the squad that finished sixth in 2012. The Finns did not get any major reinforcements, but nevertheless made it to the medal round with a no-name roster. And the USA, which always sends a weak team, performed well above expectations, posting their best finish since 2004.

Sweden relied on a roster that leaned heavily on players in the European leagues, and was anemic on the powerplay until the arrival of the Sedin twins. Their presence gave the Swedes a strong top-line with Loui Eriksson, and the Swedes managed to get through Canada, Finland, and finally the charging Swiss to win their first gold since 2006, and their fourth medal in their last five tournaments.

Eriksson led the team in scoring with five goals and 10 points, but it was Henrik and Daniel Sedin that changed the offensive prowess of this team. Daniel had one goal and five assists in his four games after the Vancouver Canucks were eliminated, while Henrik had four goals and five assists for an amazing nine points in only four games. Fredrik Pettersson, with seven points and the winning shootout goal against Canada, was a major European-league contributor. Gabriel Landeskog had four points (and three goals), as did Simon Hjalmarsson.

The defense was led by Johan Fransson, who had five points. Henrik Tallinder had three points, while Alexander Edler of the Canucks only managed to suit-up for two games for the Swedes (scoring one assist) before being suspended from the tournament for a knee-on-knee hit to Eric Staal. Tallinder and Erik Gustafsson tied for the team lead with a +7 rating, while Gustafsson led the team with almost 24 minutes per game.

The Swedes were very strong in goal in this tournament, as Jhonas Enroth of the Buffalo Sabres led the team to the goal medal with a .956 save-percentage and a 1.15 goals-against average. He had two shutouts in his seven appearances and was named the tournament's best goaltender. Jacob Markstrom of the Florida Panthers appeared in five games, and had good stats as well: .934 save-percentage and 1.58 goals-against average. The Swedes could have won gold with either of them.

They will have a quality team in Sochi, with plenty of talent to draw from in the NHL (they have more players in the league than any other European nation, including the most recent Norris, Calder, and Vezina Trophy winners). But a stacked team did not deliver in the 2012 World Championships, and this tournament demonstrated that they do have some good players outside of the NHL. If the Swedes can gel, they can beat any of the other hockey powers. They'll be a fun team to watch next winter.

Have the Swiss finally arrived? Long the leading contender to join the Top Eight hockey powers in the world, the Swiss have never been able to deliver on all of their promise. Until now.

The Swiss went undefeated in the preliminary round, defeating such major hockey nations as Canada (3-2), Sweden (3-2), and the Czech Republic (5-2), before besting the Czechs again in the quarterfinals (2-1) and the Americans (2-0) in the semifinals to make it to the gold medal game. They couldn't beat the Swedes, but their silver medal is the first medal of any colour they have won at the World Championships since 1953. To put this medal win into context, this was the first time that a non-traditional hockey power (Canada, USA, Sweden, Finland, Russia/USSR,  the Czechs and Slovaks) won a piece of hardware since that 1953 tournament. The dominance of the traditional hockey powers is over.

The Swiss played a strong team game. Four players tied for the scoring lead among forwards with eight points apiece: Nino Niederreiter (five goals), Reto Suri (five goals), Denis Hollenstein (four goals), and Julian Walker (three goals). Andres Ambuhl and Martin Pluss had six points each, while Luca Cunti, Simon Bodenmann, Ryan Gardner, and Simon Moser each had five. Having nine players able to produce made almost every line dangerous, and it made it difficult for their opponents to shut them down. The Swedes found a way, however.

The leading scorer on the Swiss team was Roman Josi of the Nashville Predators, who was named the tournament's best defenseman and its MVP. Josi had nine points, four of them goals, and led the team with just over 20 minutes of ice time per game. The rest of the defensive group did not contribute offensively very much, with Julien Vauclair ranking second in points with three assists. Raphael Diaz of the Montreal Canadiens had one assist in four games.

Goaltending duties were split between Martin Gerber (formerly of the Edmonton Oilers, Ottawa Senators, and Toronto Maple Leafs) and Reto Berra, a prospect of the Calgary Flames. Gerber played the game against the Czechs and the Swedes in the playoffs, while Berra posted the shutout against the Americans. Berra had the better stats with a .967 save-percentage and 1.00 goals-against average, but Gerber was no slouch. In his six appearances (Berra played four games), he posted a .923 save-percentage and 1.81 goals-against average.

And these aren't even the best goaltenders available to the Swiss national team. Other countries will be paying attention to them in Sochi. Along with Josi, Diaz, and Niederreiter (who is almost certainly going to return to the NHL's New York Islanders this year), the Swiss can call upon Mark Streit, Damien Brunner, Sven Baertschi, Luca Sbisa, Yannick Weber, and Jonas Hiller for their Olympic squad. With the swagger they are sure to have after this performance, the Swiss could be a team to watch. They should be going forward.

Assembling a strong team of American NHLers is a struggle every year. For whatever reason - be it injury, fatigue, a lack of invitation or interest - players like Blake Wheeler, Lee Stempniak, David Legwand, Keith Yandle, Dustin Byfuglien and Ryan Miller, whose teams did not make the playoffs, were not in this year's line-up. Instead, Paul Stastny centred a top line that featured such prolific scorers as Craig Smith and David Moss (the two combined for nine goals this year in the NHL).

Nevertheless, the Americans had a good preliminary round, falling victim to only Russia and the Slovaks. They then beat the Russians handily in the quarterfinals, before coming up short against the Swiss. The tournament culminated for them in a 3-2 shootout victory over the Finns to win their first bronze medal since 2004, and only their third medal in 18 tournaments going back to 1996.

Stastny and Smith provided most of the team's offense, with Stastny leading the team in both goals and points (seven goals, 15 points). Smith had 14 points, 10 of them assists. Moss had seven points to round out an effective top line for the team. Alex Galchenyuk of the Montreal Canadiens, who scored two shootout goals (including the winner) against Finland, had two goals in regular time in four games for the Americans. Danny Kristo, who played most of the year with the AHL's Hamilton Bulldogs and is a prospect for the Canadiens, had three points in 10 games.

Team USA got good support from the blueline, with Justin Faulk leading the way with six points and 21 minutes of ice time per game. Erik Johnson and Matt Hunwick each contributed two goals, and Hunwick was a team-best +9. Jeff Petry of the Edmonton Oilers was pointless in 10 games. Chris Butler of the Calgary Flames had two assists, while Jacob Trouba - a prospect for the Winnipeg Jets - had one goal and two assists in seven games.

When Ben Bishop was named as the only goaltender on the squad with NHL experience, it was assumed he would play all of the team's important games. Instead, he played half of them and posted a dismal .876 save-percentage. John Gibson, the 19-year-old gold medal winner from the world juniors earlier this year, picked up the slack and posted a stellar .951 save-percentage and 1.56 goals-against average. He was solid for the Americans in net against the Finns, allowing only one goal in the shootout. The Anaheim Ducks have to be pretty excited about him

A few of the players on this team made a strong case for their inclusion on the Olympic roster, notably Stastny, Johnson, Faulk, and maybe even Galchenyuk. They have a lot of great players still active in the NHL playoffs, and you have to imagine they are a favourite to appear in the gold medal game next winter.

The Finns were not supposed to be a strong team this year. They iced a line-up of virtual unknowns outside of the Finnish league, and many saw it as a try-out for some of the positions on the Winter Olympic squad. But against all expectations, the Finns won their group, losing only one game (prophetically) to the Americans. They handled the Slovaks in the quarterfinals but couldn't get past the Swedes, and finally fell in a close game against the United States. The fourth-place finish is a repeat of last year's performance.

Petri Kontiola led the team in scoring, with eight goals and 16 points, and was named the tournament's best forward. His linemates Juhamatti Aaltonen (11 points) and Janne Pesonen (eight points) put in strong performances as well, as the Finns took many teams by surprise. Their two NHL players, Lauri Korpikoski and Mikael Granlund, made their presence felt once they had arrived. Korpikoski had five points in eight games (including two goals in the bronze medal game) and Granlund had three points in four games. Niklas Hagman, formerly of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Calgary Flames, was limited to one goal in 10 games.

While the Finns' offense had a lot of unfamiliar faces, the defense had a lot of NHL experience. It was led in scoring by Ossi Vaananen and Sami Lepisto, who had four points apiece. Lepisto and Jusso Hietanen led the team in ice-time with just over 20 minutes per game.

Antti Raanta took over the starter's role early, playing in seven of the team's 10 games. He played very well, with a .928 save-percentage and 2.09 goals-against average. He certainly turned a few heads and he could be seen in the NHL at some point.

Finland remains one of the hockey powers but their stars are getting up in years. In the NHL, their leading scorers this year were Mikko Koivu (30), Kimmo Timonen (38), Saku Koivu (38), Teemu Selanne (42), Valtteri Filppula (29), Sami Salo (38), Olli Jokinen (34), and Jussi Jokinen (30). They need a fresh group of youngsters to take over the national team, but they should be able to give it one last go in Sochi, especially with the goaltending prowess of Tuukka Rask and Pekka Rinne. The Finns can never be discounted.

For the third consecutive tournament, the only team with NHLers from top to bottom finished fifth. Canada remains medal-less over four tournaments, and will need to find a way to break past the quarterfinals in future tournaments. Canada had a good preliminary round, winning six of seven games (one in overtime, a shocking result against 16th place Slovenia) and losing only one game, also in overtime, to the surging Swiss. They outscored their opponents 25-10 in the preliminary round, only to drop to Sweden in the quarterfinals.

Steven Stamkos and Claude Giroux, who shared a line with Andrew Ladd (six points), led the team with 12 and eight points, respectively. Stamkos led the team with seven goals, followed by Matt Duchene who put up four. Taylor Hall (three points) and Jordan Eberle (five assists) of the Edmonton Oilers provided good support as well. The team could cycle through all four lines, and every forward scored at least one point during the tournament. The scoring was there, but Canada couldn't get past Jhonas Enroth in the game against Sweden.

The defense was also good, and was going to be a lot better with the additions of Dan Hamhuis (played three games) and P.K. Subban (who played one). Justin Schultz of the Oilers, with four assists, led the back-end in scoring while Brian Campbell was a +7. Stéphane Robidas played the most minutes per game until the arrival of Hamhuis and Subban. T.J. Brodie of the Calgary Flames had one assist in seven games.

Goaltending was good and, considering Canada only allowed two goals in their loss against Sweden, can't be blamed for the early exit. Mike Smith and Devan Dubnyk split the duties, with Smith posting a .944 save-percentage but Dubnyk having the better goals-against average (1.48). His near-loss to Slovenia, however, probably was enough reason for Lindy Ruff to put Smith in for the game against Sweden. But goaltending remains a problem for Canada looking forward to Sochi - who is Canada's No. 1?

There's no doubt that when Canada puts its best line-up on the ice next winter that the team will be a favourite to repeat for a gold medal at the Olympics. But the World Championships, as well as Canada's past experience at the Olympics, should give fair warning that just having a star-studded line-up is no longer good enough.

The Russians have sent better rosters to the World Championships, but with the likes of Ilya Kovalchuk, Alexander Radulov, and Ilya Bryzgalov, the Russians were in contention for a gold medal. Instead, by finishing sixth, the Russians put up their worst performance since 2004. As the host of the Winter Olympics next year, the Russians must have been hoping for a better performance. Losses to Finland and France (the last a historic defeat) in the preliminaries and to the United States in the quarterfinals demonstrated how this was not nearly the same team that went undefeated in 2012.

The Russians had no problem scoring, however, tying the Swiss for the most goals scored in the preliminary round. Kovalchuk led the team with eight goals and 13 points, followed closely by Radulov's 10 points. Alexei Tereschenko and Kirill Petrov each contributed five, while Ovechkin had a goal and an assist in his one outing against the Americans in the quarterfinals. But the team did not show up to play in that game, and Russia was humiliatingly eliminated.

The Russians got a lot of offense from the defense, with Yevgeni Medvedev putting up seven points and Ilya Nikulin and Anton Belov contributed four apiece. Nikulin led the team in ice-time, while Fyodor Tyutin, the only NHLer on the back-end, was limited to only 16 minutes per game.

Goaltending was the Russians' major issue. Bryzgalov and Semyon Varlamov played most of the games, with Varlamov managing only a .878 save-percentage and Bryzgalov's .901 not being much better. They both put in time in the quarterfinal defeat.

The Russians have talked about their Olympic squad having more of a KHL than NHL feel. Politics plays a role in this decision, as the Russians want to have more of their best players suiting up at home. This tournament should caution against that, though. The team would have been a lot better with Evgeni Malkin, Pavel Datsyuk, Alexander Semin, and Ovechkin (for the entire tournament). Having Andrei Markov, Sergei Gonchar, Slava Voynov, and Alexei Emelin on defense would have helped a lot, too. But goaltending remains a concern. Evgeni Nabokov was not able to stop the Canadian onslaught in 2010, and Bryzgalov and Varlamov both looked shaky in nets in this tournament. If Sergei Bobrovsky turns out not to be a one-time wonder, though, the Russians could be formidable in Sochi - if they don't lean too heavily on the KHL.

The Czechs should have been closer to contending for a medal, but they were not the only team to be surprised by the Swiss. They had a rough preliminary round, qualifying in the last game against the Norwegians. After winning a medal for three consecutive tournaments, a seventh-place finish and a quarterfinal exit against Switzerland is a disappointment.

Jakub Voracek led the team with seven points, but Jiri Hudler of the Calgary Flames had four goals to lead the team in that category. Petr Hubacek, Jiri Tlusty, Martin Hanzal, and Tomas Plekanec each had four points, and Plekanec was present for only two games after the Montreal Canadiens were eliminated. Most of the NHL talent that will be at Sochi was in Stockholm, but David Krejci will make this a stronger team.

The defense was also heavy in NHL experience, with Zbynek Michalek leading the group with four points. Ladislav Smid of the Edmonton Oilers had three assists, but after that no defenseman had more than one point. Having Marek Zidlicky for an entire tournament would help.

Ondrej Pavelec of the Winnipeg Jets was the starter for the Czechs when he arrived, and played well: he had a .938 save-percentage and a 1.42 goals-against average. He will likely start for the Czechs in Sochi as well. The Czechs have traditionally been safe in nets since the days of Dominik Hasek, and should continue to be.

The team had a good enough line-up to win, and they have won gold before with a less talented group of players. They should be a contender in Sochi.

Expectations for the Slovaks were high after last year's silver medal, so the eight place finish comes as a bit of a let-down. But aside from that silver medal win, this was their best ranking since 2007. Slovakia's goal should always be, at least, to finish in the top eight and, at a minimum, that mission was accomplished.

With Marion Hossa and Marion Gaborik not in the line-up, someone else had to step-up and lead the team in scoring. Surprisingly, it was Roman Kukumberg, who led the team with seven points (all assists). The top goal-scorer was another KHLer: Tomas Zaborsky, who had four goals in eight games to go along with his two assists. Branko Radivojevic had five points, while Michel Miklik and Tomas Surovy had four.

The defense missed national team stalwarts Lubomir Visnovsky and Zdeno Chara, but former NHLer Branislav Mezei led the way with four points. Andrej Sekera of the Buffalo Sabres led the team with 25 minutes of ice-time per game.

Rastislav Stana was the starter for the tournament, but he never got on the kind of run needed to lift Slovakia into the medal round. His save-percentage of .905 would need to have been better, but Jaroslav Janus had a worse time and lost in both of his outings.

Hossa, Gaborik, Visnovsky, and Chara - not to mention Jaroslav Halak and Peter Budaj - should be available for Sochi and the Slovaks will be a much better team. But their NHL talent pool is shallow, while the players they have in Europe are not as strong as some of the other nations. The Slovaks can always pull off a surprise, but they remain on the outside looking in.

The Germans did about as well as expected, with a solid ninth-place finish. The national team is increasingly relying on older veterans, so any year where the team does not face relegation is a good one for Germany. They managed it by keeping their games against the powers close, and winning the games they had to, against Latvia, France, and Austria.

With three goals, Marcus Kink was the goal-scoring leader among forwards, while Michael Wolf and Marcel Goc each had four points. Philip Gogulla was the only other forward to have three points or more. Scoring was an issue for the Germans, and it is unlikely to get any easier for them going forward with Jochen Hecht retiring from the NHL.

Germany's defensemen are a better group, with Christian Ehrhoff of the Buffalo Sabres leading the team with three goals and five points. He also played 28 minutes per game. The back-end would have been formidable in Sochi with the additions of Dennis Seidenberg (currently playing with the Boston Bruins), Alexander Sulzer, and Korbinian Holzer, but the Germans failed to qualify.

Rob Zepp won the starter's job this year, and performed very well. His goals-against average of 1.79 and save-percentage of .941 were stellar, and kept the low-scoring Germans in many games. Dennis Endras continued to struggle to find the magic that carried Germany to a fourth-place finish in 2010.

A tenth-place finish puts Norway below where they ranked in the last three tournaments, but they were close to making the quarterfinals. If they had not lost 7-0 to the Czechs in their last game of the tournament, they would have qualified. The problem was that, while the Norwegians reliably beat the weaker nations, they could not topple any of the traditional powers. This has been one of the main problems for Norway in recent tournaments.

The Norwegians were one of the lowest scoring teams in the tournament, and could have used the services of Mats Zuccarello, currently with the New York Rangers. When scoring did come, it came primarily from Anders Bastiansen, who had four goals and five points to lead the team. Mathis and Ken Andre Olimb each had four points, while Per-Åge Skrøder had three. Patrick Thoresen, one of the best players in the KHL, managed only a single goal.

On defense, Mats Trygg led the way with three points, the only D-man to have more than a point on the team. Jonas Holøs and Ole-Kristian Tollefsen, both with NHL experience, were each on the ice for almost half of every game.

Lars Haugen performed well in net, with a .915 save-percentage and 2.70 goals-against average. Lars Volden struggled mightily in two outings.

The Norwegians will be one of the minnows in Sochi, so if they are to manage to pull off an upset they will need Haugen to stand on his head. But they are unlikely to make much of a splash.

An 11th-place finish is about par for the course for Latvia. It wasn't a great tournament, but it could've been worse. And a win against Slovakia in the preliminary round was something special, though a loss to the now-relegated Austrians was something to forget.

The Latvians were the highest scoring team among those that did not qualify for the playoffs. Lauris Darzins and Janis Sprukts led the way with six points apiece, including a team-leading five goals for Darzins. Martins Cipulis also added four points.

The defense was less prolific. Only Arturs Kulda, property of the Winnipeg Jets, managed more than a point - he had two. Krisjanis Redlihs, though pointless, did lead the team in ice-time.

The goaltending torch appears to have been handed off to Kristers Gudlevskis. He started more games than Edgars Masalskis, the traditional starter, and put up some good numbers: .925 save-percentage and 2.22 goals-against average. He was also responsible for Latvia's two wins, while Masalskis had horrible stats. Perhaps Gudlevskis will get the nod in Sochi, but the Latvians shouldn't be expected to be much of a danger. Only Kaspars Daugavins played in the NHL this year, and he doesn't exactly light it up.

Denmark's 12th-place is also relatively on par with their usual performance, but this small hockey nation on the rise should be able to do more. They didn't have all of their NHLers in the line-up, but they had enough that they could have moved up a little more in the standings. Unfortunately, the team and its eight NHLers will not be present in the Winter Olympics.

Kim Staal was the team's leading scorer with five points, while Morten Green had three goals and four points. Morten Madsen also potted four points, while Mikkel Bødker had three assists. As the team's best player (he had 26 points in the NHL this year), his performance was disappointing. Nicklas Jensen, who played a couple games for the Vancouver Canucks this year, managed two goals in his three games for the Danish team after the Canucks' elimination.

Stefan Lassen was the leading scorer from the blueline with three points, while Philip Larsen had two points in six games. Larsen led the team in ice-time after his late arrival.

Goaltending was not a huge issue for the Danes, with Simon Nielsen putting up a .914 save-percentage and two wins in his four appearances. Patrick Galbraith did not play well, but the team could have benefited from the presence of Fredrik Andersen, a goaltender in the Anaheim Ducks' farm system.

Every tournament, the main goal of the French national team is to avoid relegation. They've been successful at it now for some time, and last year finished 9th overall. This year, 13th was a very important position to fall in, as we shall see below. But for France, this year will be memorable for their 2-1 defeat of powerhouse Russia. Who knows - that defeat may have shaken Russian confidence enough to start them on their downward spiral.

The French were led up front by Damien Fleury, Julien Desrosiers, and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, who each had four points (Fleury and Desrosiers had three goals). Antoine Roussel of the Dallas Stars had two goals and one assist, while Yorick Treille also had three points. The French are developing a core of players that gives them some solid ice time. If the Ottawa Senators had been defeated in the first round of the playoffs, the French might have been assisted by Stéphane Da Costa as well.

Aside from Kevin Hecquefeuille, who had three points, and Nicolas Besch, who had an assist, the French defense did not contribute to the attack. Besch was, however, a team-best +3.

Cristobal Huet did as much as he could in his five games, putting up a save-percentage of .902 and registering one of France's two wins. But Huet is not the same goaltender who thrived with the Montreal Canadiens. In the end, it was Florian Hardy (.938 save-percentage, 1.66 goals-against average in two games) who stole the game against the Russians.

Poor Austria. One of the most difficult things to do in the World Hockey Championships for the teams ranked 15th to 18th is stay in the tournament from one year to the next. For some reason, most of the teams that are promoted each year are relegated the next, and vice versa. Austria had finally broken that pattern, finishing 14th overall, thanks to wins against Latvia and Slovakia. The win against neighbouring hockey power Slovakia was especially sweet. But there's a catch: Minsk is hosting the tournament next year, which means 15th place Belarus could not be relegated. Belarus was bumped up to 14th in the official rankings, despite having fewer points, and Austria will be relegated. Tough luck!

Luckily for the Austrians, they qualified for the Olympics and so will be at the big tournament next year. Thomas Vanek gave a demonstration of how much he can help the Austrians, leading them with four goals and six points in seven games. Thomas Hundertpfund notched five assists, while Michael Raffl had three points. With the additions of Michael Grabner and Andreas Nodl, the Olympic team will have some scoring punch.

Robert Lukas and Thomas Pock led the team from the back-end with three points apiece, while Pock (who has spent some time in the NHL) ranked only behind Vanek in ice-time.

The Austrians leaned heavily on Bernhard Starkbaum, their quality goaltender who plays in the Swedish league. He had a rough time, though, with a save-percentage of .890 and a goals-against average of 3.74. But those are not bad numbers for a relegated squad. If he can keep a few more goals out of the net, and if Vanek, Grabner, and Nodl can score some in the opponent's net, the Austrians might be able to steal a game in Sochi.

It has been a bad year for the Belarussians. They had hoped to qualify for the Olympics and so make a big impact in their home country to go along with their hosting of the 2014 championships. Instead, the Belarussians avoided relegation on a technicality, and only won one game - against 16th place Slovenia.

Belarus was the lowest scoring team in the tournament, and only Konstantin Koltsov (once a Pittsburgh Penguin) scored more than one goal (he had two). Those two points tied for the scoring lead with Alexander Kulakov, Alexei Ugarov, Andrei Stas, Alexander Kitarov, and Yevgeni Kovyrshin. They could have really used the Kostitsyn brothers.

Oleg Goroshko and Ilya Kaznadei also tied for the scoring lead with two points apiece. But it was Roman Graborenko who saw the most ice-time, with more than 23 minutes per game. However, the only defenseman with a positive plus-minus rating was Kaznadei.

If the tournament did have one silver lining for the Belarussians, it was the emergence of Vitali Belinski. He had a bit of a breakout tournament, posting a .925 save-percentage and 2.45 goals-against average on a very mediocre team.

Plucky Slovenia will join Austria as the relegated team of the tournament, but we will see them again next year as they managed to qualify for the Olympics. The Slovenes demonstrated that they can skate with the big boys, pushing Canada to overtime and managing to score three goals against them in the process.

Rok Ticar led the team in scoring with three goals and six points. David Rodman, Robert Sabolic, and Rok Pajic managed three points apiece. Sabolic, Tomas Razingar, and Jan Urbas each managed two goals, the latter having scored both against Canada.

Blaz Gregorc was the scoring leader on the back-end with three points. Mitja Robar managed two, but it was Ales Kranjc who led the team in ice-time with 21 minutes per game.

Robert Kristan started five games for the Slovenes, and had a rough time with a .873 save-percentage. But it was Luka Gracnar who shone. A young goaltender likely to be drafted by an NHL team this summer, Gracnar posted a .924 save-percentage and a 2.95 goals-against average in two appearances. The most important one was against Canada.

The Slovenes will be the weakest team at Sochi, without a doubt. But if both Anze Kopitar and Jan Mursak - the only two NHLers the tiny country has ever produced - are available to play, the Slovenes will at least have one duo that can cause some damage. If the team can play as well as they did against Canada, and if one of the powers under-estimates them, they could surprise someone.