2015 World Hockey Championship

I've always been a hockey fan, following the Montreal Canadiens and Ottawa Senators closely. But I've also always enjoyed international hockey, perhaps even more than the NHL. So why not share my hobby a little? On this page, I will post previews and analyses of international hockey tournaments (World Hockey Championship and Olympics).

2015 WORLD HOCKEY CHAMPIONSHIP POST-TOURNAMENT ANALYSIS

What a fantastic tournament. The fans in Prague and Ostrava were terrific, with huge crowds for every game. And TSN's coverage was outstanding, broadcasting virtually every game with their own announcers and between-periods programming. Gord Miller and Ray Ferraro were great, as always. And on the increased stage within Canada, the Canadians prevailed in dramatic fashion.

The rankings I posted at the beginning of the tournament turned out to be a pretty good measurement of the various rosters. Only two teams were ranked wrongly by more than two positions: the surprising Belarusians and the disappointing Slovenes. Six of the 16 teams were ranked correctly (including the gold and silver medal winners), and four more within one position.

The Big Six (Canada, Czech Republic, Finland, Russia, Sweden, and the United States) finished in the top six positions, and the next four finishers were those countries in the second tier (Belarus, Switzerland, Slovakia, and Germany). The two teams that were promoted in 2014 have been relegated again. Kazakhstan and Hungary will replace them next year.

In this sense, it was a rather predictable tournament.

But dig deeper, and there were a few surprises. Canada won its first medal since 2009, after being ousted at the quarter-final stage in five consecutive tournaments. The Red Machine of the Russian hockey team was dismantled in the gold medal game. A gang of no-names that made up the American roster gave the USA its second medal in three years. The Belarusians repeated their surprising 7th place performance of 2014. The French and Latvians avoided relegation in thrilling fashion, at the expense of Austria. It was far from a dull tournament.

Next year, the tournament moves to St. Petersburg and Moscow in Russia. The fans may not be as legion as in the centrally-located (and unthreatening) Czech Republic, but games against the Russians, Latvians, Belarusians, Kazakhs, and Finns will be hopping. See you then!

It is hard to imagine a more dominating performance than the one the Canadians displayed in their ten games in Prague. It was a tour de force from start to finish, with top-notch scoring, excellence defence, and near-perfect goaltending. When the dust settled, Canada had beaten three of hockey's greatest powers: the Swedes, the Czechs (twice), and the Russians. The French, of all people, were the only ones to give Canada a close match.

Canada averaged 6.6 goals per game, an incredible tally that no other country came close to approaching. Scoring was distributed throughout the line-up, but Jason Spezza led the tournament with 14 points (six goals, eight assists), followed closely by Jordan Eberle (five goals, eight assists), Taylor Hall (seven goals, five assists), and Matt Duchene (four goals, eight assists). Sidney Crosby, the captain and leader of the team, scored a point in all nine games he played, finishing the tournament with four goals and seven assists.

And that is only the top five. Ryan O'Reilly had 11 points, Claude Giroux had 10 points, and Tyler Seguin led all goal scorers in the tournament with nine in ten games. Nathan MacKinnon was the ninth highest-scoring forward on the team, and he was just shy of a point-a-game pace (with nine).

Scoring came from the backend as well, with Brent Burns finishing the tournament with two goals and nine assists. Jake Muzzin had eight assists, and rookie-of-the-year candidate Aaron Ekblad had four goals and three assists. Dan Hamhuis was the second-most used defencemen, and had six assists. It was a mobile and tough group to play against.

It made Mike Smith's job easy. Coming off a bad season in Arizona, Smith ends his year on a high with eight of Canada's ten wins and a goals-against average of just 1.50. He allowed only one goal in Canada's three playoff games. Still, he needed to be good when called upon, demonstrated by his .930 save percentage. Martin Jones started two games, and was also very good.

This was Canada's first gold medal since, incredibly, 2007, and the first time that Canada finished with a medal since 2009. The drought is over, which seemed inevitable as soon as Crosby requested to be part of the line-up. Coupled with TSN's wall-to-wall coverage, let's hope this is the start of some big things for Canada and Canadian fans at the world hockey championships.

308's Most Interesting Player: Sidney Crosby. Perhaps an uninspired choice, but I rarely have watched Crosby play as closely as I did here. I was simply amazed every time he was on the ice. Crosby is not a particularly dazzling forward, but it was remarkable to see his hockey smarts in action. His passes were always perfect and he often made plays come out of nowhere. It was a joy to see him play with such good wingers as Eberle and Hall, a chance he rarely gets in Pittsburgh with the team's salary cap tied up in two centremen (Crosby and Malkin), a defenceman (Kris Letang), and a goaltender (Marc-Andre Fleury).

The Russians always have high expectations at the world hockey championship. They came to Prague and Ostrava as the defending champions, and having won the gold medal in four of the last seven tournaments. But against, arguably, the best Canadian roster to grace the worlds for many years, the Russians came wanting, and will host the 2016 tournament as the reigning silver medalists.

The Russians were an offensive powerhouse, averaging four goals per game. KHLer Sergei Mozyakin led the team with six goals and six assists, while Yevgeni Dadonov had four goals and seven assists. But Evgeni Malkin led all forwards in ice time and scored five goals and five assists, including the lone Russian goal against the Canadians in the gold medal game. Artemi Panarin also had 10 points, while Vadim Shipachyov rounded out the top five scorer with nine points. Nikolai Kulemin had eight points, seven of them assists, but the Russians were likely expecting more from Vladimir Tarasenko (four goals and three assists in seven games) and Ilya Kovalchuk (two goals and three assists in five games). Alexander Ovechkin rushed over after the Washington Capitals were eliminated, and had two points against the Americans. But he was held off the score sheet against the Canadians.

The Canadian defence was just too good - something the Russians could not say. That was their big problem, as it has historically been. Dmitri Kulikov led the blueline in ice time, but had just two assists. Anton Belov, second in ice time, had just a goal and an assist. Maxim Chudinov was the only defenceman to contribute significantly to the offense, with one goal and three assists. The Russians were just not getting enough help from the back end.

Goaltending was not a problem, even if Sergei Bobrovsky allowed six goals in the gold medal game. The Russians just didn't get close enough to Mike Smith to cause him any trouble. Bobrovsky had a strong tournament with a 2.32 goals-against average and .906 save-percentage, both stats made worse by the drubbing at the hands of Canada.

The Russians were just outmatched. Only the Swedes or Americans, each with stronger bluelines, could have had a hope to keep it close against Canada. Having a strong attack is important, but if the defence can't keep the puck out of its zone and move into the offensive zone, all the Malkins, Ovechkins, and Tarasenkos in the world can only do so much. But watch out next year, as the host Russians will have a chip on their shoulder.

308's Most Interesting Player: Artemi Panarin. Like most Russian forwards, Panarin was all but invisible in the gold medal game. But he was one of Russia's most important forwards in the tournament, and showed a lot of energy and skill. He had a very good year in the KHL, and he is my most interesting player because he will be playing with the Chicago Blackhawks next year. It will be interesting to see how he does in North America.

No Nick Foligno, Tyler Johnson, or Joe Pavelski? No Max Pacioretty, Zach Parise, or Phil Kessel? No John Carlson, Keith Yandle, or Dustin Byguflien? No Ben Bishop, Jonathan Quick, or Ryan Miller? No problem! The Americans won their second bronze medal in three years anyway, the first time they've done that in half a century. And they did it with a team of college players, AHLers, and barely recognizable NHL players.

The Americans fell short against the Russians in the semi-finals, but they saw off the Czechs against a hostile crowd to win the bronze on the back of solid defence and stellar goaltending.

Scoring was led by two NHLers. Brock Nelson had six goals and four assists while Trevor Lewis had three goals and six assists. Jack Eichel, the consensus second-round pick in this year's draft, had two goals and five assists and ranked second among forwards in ice-time. Late addition Charlie Coyle of the Minnesota Wild contributed five points in five games, while Nick Bonino (four points) and Anders Lee (five points) also put up some decent numbers. It was a hard-working group with a lot of energy, and it was just enough to propel the Americans to a third-place finish.

The Americans had three of the best defencemen at the tournament. Justin Faulk of the Carolina Hurricanes led the team with 23 minutes of ice-time per game, while Seth Jones had four points and Torey Krug contributed two goals and three assists. It was a mobile, dangerous group on the blueline.

But thanks to the outstanding play of Connor Hellebuyck, they didn't need to worry about their own end too much. Hellebuyck, a Winnipeg Jets prospect who played with the St. John's IceCaps of the AHL last year, was dominant, with a 1.37 goals-against average and an amazing .948 save percentage. He must have Jets fans salivating, with Ondrej Pavelec shining at the tournament as well.

A third-place finish is an over-achievement for this roster, and good for the Americans for winning despite the lack of interest from some of their best stars. Their NHLers can't be bothered to suit-up for their country? It would be sweet justice if some of them get overlooked in the upcoming World Cup as a result. All credit to this group of hard-working youngsters.

308's Most Interesting Player: Jack Eichel. It was hard not to give this one to Hellebuyck, but I found Eichel an interesting player to watch. The 18-year-old looked more than comfortable on the ice alongside NHL regulars and international superstars. He was confident with the puck and a creative playmaker. The Buffalo Sabres, who are likely to draft him, will be getting a very good player.

The Czechs were under a lot of pressure as the hosts. The crowds were great, but in the end the team let them down after being shutout in its two final games of the tournament. The crowds deserved better.

Scoring failed them in those two final games, though the Czechs were one of the higher scoring teams prior to those losses. The offence was led by three players: Jakub Voracek (three goals, seven assists), Jaromir Jagr (six goals, three assists), and Jan Kovar (three goals, six assists), but was also backed up ably by Dominik Simon (six points), Roman Cervenka (five points), Martin Zatovic (four gals), and Vladimir Sobotka (also four goals). More could have come from Martin Erat (one goal and three assists), and Tomas Hertl (one goal and two assists in eight games), while late addition Tomas Plekanec was kept off the score sheet in the last two games. But this was a decent group (though Jiri Hudler, Radim Vrbata, and Michael Frolik would have made it better).

The defence was more of a no-name group, led in ice time by Jakub Nakladal and Jan Kolar. Ondrej Nemec led the blueline in scoring with three goals and three assists, but the team lacked a real powerplay quarterback in those last two games. Blowing a four-minute powerplay in the second period of the bronze medal game against the Americans was emblematic of that.

Goaltending cannot be blamed. Alexander Salak was slated to be the starter, but was horrible in his first two games. After being pulled in the second, Ondrej Pavelec of the Winnipeg Jets took the reins and was remarkable: 1.97 goals-against average and a .912 save percentage. Little that Pavelec can do to win a game when the Czechs don't score a goal in the two games of the tournament that mattered most.

Nevertheless, the Czechs put up a respectable performance, finishing fourth for the second consecutive year. And the team has played for a medal in four of the last five years, so it is hard to fault the Czechs for coming up short this time. But a final win, maybe even a goal, would have been a great parting gift for their stellar fans.

308's Most Interesting Player: Vladimir Sobotka. Honourable mention goes to Jagr, Prague's hero of the tournament, but Sobotka was interesting to watch. He could have produced more than four goals, but he showed a lot of energy and grit, and was often involved in some of the most exciting plays of the Czechs. Hopefully the St. Louis Blues will have him back next year after a stint in the KHL.

A 5th place finish just outside of the medal round has to be disappointing to the Swedes, who have finished in the top four in eight of the last nine tournaments. Sweden fell to Russia in the quarter-finals, an unfortunate early elimination match-up considering that, after Canada, the Russians and Swedes had the best rosters in the tournament.

Goals came in a torrent for the Swedes, as they averaged 4.6 per game. Among forwards, Loui Eriksson of the Boston Bruins led the way with four goals and six assists, while Nashville Predator and rookie standout Filip Forsberg had eight goals and one assist. Oscar Moller and Anton Lander both had seven points. Moller dominated some of Swedens games, while Lander was a pest. Joakim Lindstrom, Jacob Josefson, Joel Lundqvist, Elias Lindholm, and Victor Rask all had at least two goals among forwards. It was a quality group.

They were, perhaps, surpassed in quality by the defencemen. Oliver Ekman-Larsson was incredible, with two goals and 10 assists in eight games. He led the team in ice time and was one shot behind Moller for the lead in shots. He was ably backed by Mattias Ekholm, Oscar Klefbom, and John Klingberg, who had six points in seven games.

If the Swedes had one weak spot, it was in goal. They averaged three goals-against per game, far too high at this level. Jhonas Enroth got most of the ice time and struggled, with a 2.72 goals-against average and .876 save percentage. Anders Nilsson did little better, with a 2.73 goals-against average and .899 save-percentage. But when the Russians poured it on and chased Enroth from the net in the quarter-final, Nilsson kept the Swedes in the game.

A bit of bad luck for the Swedes to match-up against the Russians so early, since they had the potential to play for a medal - and win one. Better goaltending would have helped, but Enroth has played well at this level before. Henrik Lundqvist was busy, of course, but Eddie Lack, Niklas Svedberg, or Anders Lindback might have helped.

308's Most Interesting Player: Filip Forsberg. He led the team in goals and was fun to watch. He led the attack with confidence and style, and it was interesting to see a Forsberg in that role for the national team once again.

Despite rarely sending a dazzling roster to the Worlds, the Finns rarely perform poorly. They played for a medal in each of the four years and seven of the last nine. They combine hard-nosed play with stellar goaltending to grind their way to the top. It has often not been enough - in those seven medal opportunities, only three times did they win their last game of the tournament. This year, it meant a 6th place finish, their worst since 2010.

The Finns had no problem scoring, average 3.1 goals per game. And this despite the absence of NHL players like Mikko Koivu, Valteri Filppula, Jori Lehtera, and Mikael Granlund. Jussi Jokinen led the group with three goals and eight assists, while Joonas Kemppainen was the Finnish surprise of the tournament with three goals and six assists. Joonas Donskoi had five goals and three assists, while Aleksander Barkov had four goals and three assists. Six other forwards had at least one goal.

Esa Lindell and Juuso Hietanen led the blueliners in ice-time, while Lindell added six points (five of them assists). Former NHLers Anssi Salmela and Sami Lepisto were also reliable, though few defencemen other than Lindell contributed greatly to the offence.

They didn't need to, thanks to Pekka Rinne. He set a modern IIHF shutout record stretching to some three games of ice time. His goals-against average of 1.69 and save-percentage of .928 was fantastic, and only made slightly worse by a poor performance against the Czechs in the quarter-final. But even when he wasn't playing, the Finns had good goaltender. Juuse Saros pitched a shutout in his one start.

The Finns could have played for another medal had they not fallen to the hosts. The national team walks a fine line by inviting a lot of European players and not enough North Americans (or maybe they don't accept the invitation), and it caught up to them here.

308's Most Interesting Player: Pekka Rinne. Numbers and records aside, Rinne was a joy to watch. It was hard to imagine a goalie you could have more confidence in.

One of the surprises of the 2014 tournament was the play of Belarus, the host nation. After finishing in 14th place, just outside of relegation, for three consecutive years, the Belarusians placed 7th. It was their best showing since a 6th place finish in 2006. What came as a surprise in Ostrava was that the Belarusians placed 7th again this year.

The Belarusians beat the minnows they were supposed to, and then over-achieved with a surprising 5-2 win against the Americans - who would go on to win the entire group. Lopsided 7-0 and 9-0 losses to Russia and Canada, though, marred the tournament for the Belarusians.

Belarus's two NHLers, Mikhail Grabovski and Raman Hrabarenka (who played just one game with the New Jersey Devils), were not at the tournament, but the team was lead by the usual suspects. Veteran Alexei Kalyuzhny led the team in scoring with five goals and five assists. He was well-supported by the Kostitsyn brothers, with Andrei Kostitsyn managed two goals and seven assists in seven games while Sergei Kostitsyn had one goal and six assists in eight. They also got some good secondary support from the likes of Artur Gavrus (who had five points), Yevgeni Kovyrshin (three goals), and Alexander Kitarov (three points).

The defence struggled a little, but Dmitri Korobov led the group with over 23 minutes of ice time per game and was the most reliable of the bunch. With three points, Ilya Shinkevich was the highest scoring blueliner.

Canadian ex-pat Kevin Lalande played very well in goal, though his final game against the Canadians ruined his stats. He had all four of Belarus's wins, with a 3.22 goals-against average and a save percentage of .895.

The Belarusians play a quick game, aping the Russians with less of the talent. It gets them through the other smaller countries quite well, particularly when the Kostitsyns are on their game. But they still don't have the depth, skill, and finish to compete with the Big Six. And a few of their wins, particularly against the Slovaks and Norwegians, were narrow enough that the tournament could have been a very bad one for Belarus. Another 7th place finish may be difficult next year.

308's Most Interesting Player: Artur Gavrus. Perhaps not as skilled as Kalyuzhny or the Kostitsyns, Gavrus was the Belarusian surprise for me. He showed a lot of speed and drive, and was often leading the Belarusian attack when the big three were on the bench. He's young, so he could grow to replace the aging Kalyuzhny in the coming years.

Another hardworking performance for the Swiss, another middling performance. Like their watches, the Swiss can always be relied upon - in this case, to finish between 7th and 10th, which they have done in seven of the last ten years. A silver-medal performance, like in 2013, just wasn't in the cards with this line-up.

As usual, goals were hard to come by. The Swiss averaged just 1.6 goals per game, not nearly enough to get them deep into the tournament. The offence that was there was led by Damien Brunner, who started last season in the NHL before finishing it in the Swiss league. He had one goal and four assists to lead the team in scoring, and was the second-most used forward after Andres Ambuhl. Nashville Predators prospect Kevin Fiala plaed a bunch and had a goal and two assists, while Denis Hollenstein and Matthias Bieber each had two goals as well. But the offence in general was unflashy and non-threatening.

Roman Josi, also of the Predators, did his best to threaten from the blueline, potting two goals and two assists while leading the team in ice-time. Mark Streit, also much used, only contributed two assists. The rest of the group was reliable but unexciting.

Reto Berra of the Colorado Avalanche played most of Switzerland's minutes, but had a poor tournament. He lost all give of his starts, with a 3.48 goals-against average and .876 save percentage. Leonardo Genoni played much better, winning two of his three games. He had a goals against average of just 0.98 and a save percentage of .955. But he didn't get the tough starts, with his two wins coming against France and Germany,

Those were Switzerland's only wins, and that is why the team did not go far. Losing to Canada, the Czechs, and the Swedes is one thing - dropping games against the Austrians and the Latvians is another. That isn't the kind of performance worthy of a team that has aspirations to own the 7th spot after the Big Six.

308's Most Interesting Player: Roman Josi. By far, the most electrifying player on the Swiss team was Josi. His goal against the Americans in the quarter-final was spectacular. Solid in his own end, dangerous at the other end, Josi was the best player to watch for Switzerland.

A top ten finish for the Slovaks is a minimum requirement - a top eight finish is their birthright. But Slovakia is not the team it once was, when most of its players had developed when the country formed part of Czechoslovakia. Just like last year, the Slovaks finished just outside the playoffs in 9th place.

The problem with Slovakia, which has more than a few NHL stars to its name, has always been depth. This was particularly the case in Ostrava, just over the Czech border. Marian Gaborik did all he could, leading Slovakia in scoring with four goals and two assists. But he needed more help from Slovakia's NHL talent: Marko Dano had just one goal, Tomas Tatar had just two assists and Tomas Jurco had just one. Instead, Vladimir Dravecky and Libor Hudacek pitched in, both registering five assits and Dravecky potting a goal as well.

Andrej Meszaros led the defensive group with three goals and one assists, as well as the most ice-time. Michael Sersen also played a lot, and he, Michal Daloga, and Dominik Granak each had two points.

While Jan Laco has had some good international performances in the past, he did not provide the goaltending that Slovakia needed when they averaged just over 2.4 goals per game. He posted a 2.33 goals-against average and .897 save-percentage, good enough to get him two wins but not enough to carry Slovakia against Norway or the United States.

But it was still a respectable performance, and the Slovaks came close to winning their final game of the tournament against the United States. Bolstered by NHL talent like Jaroslav Halak, Marian Hossa, Andrej Sekera, Lubomir Visnovsky, or Zdeno Chara, the Slovaks could get back into the top eight next year.

308's Most Interesting Player: Marian Gaborik. He showed the most skill and drive of all of the Slovak forwards, and was the key to the Slovak offence. But just like Anze Kopitar for Slovenia, it made it easy to defend against him.

After finishing 14th and just avoiding relegation in Minsk last year, the Germans have to be pleased with a 10th place finish. In fact, with the exception of the 10-0 blowout against Canada and a 4-2 loss to the Czechs, the Germans kept every game to within one goal. Wins against France and Latvia ensured a higher finish than in 2014.

But the Germans just couldn't score. With just 1.6 goals per game, Germany had very little chance of winning a game as soon as they allowed one goal against. More than a third of Germany's goals came from Michael Wolf, who led the team with four, as well as one assist. Patrick Reimer and Tobias Rieder of the Arizona Coyotes each had three points as well. No other player had more than two.

The Germans leaned heavily on Justin Krueger, their most-used player and a defenceman with some North American experience. Dennis Endras and Timo Pielmeier split the goaltending duties. Though Endras had Germany's two wins, Pielmeier's stats were somewhat better. Still, a .901 save-percentage is not good enough when the team has so much trouble scoring.

But with the Germans missing some of their better players, like Thomas Greiss, Dennis Seidenberg, Christian Ehrhoff, Marcel Goc, Korbinian Holzer, Felix Schutz, Constantin Braun, Frank Hordler, and Leon Draisaitl, this was a good performance. They played tough, and bought themselves at least two more years at the top level of play in the WHC (Germany will co-host with France in 2017).

308's Most Interesting Player: Michael Wolf. Ending his international career as the national team captain, Wolf was one of the few forwards Germany had that showed some finish and skill.

Quietly, unremarkably, the Norwegians managed to finish in 11th place and put up a solid tournament, even without a few of their best players and NHLer Mats Zuccarello. They beat the Slovaks and the Slovenes outright, more than enough to make for losses to the Danes and the Belarusians.

The Norwegians did not score very much, but when they did it was usually on a play between Mathis Olimb and Patrick Thoresen. Olimb had eight assists in the tournament and was the most used forward, while Thoresen had four goals and three assists. Morten Ask was the next highest scoring forward, with a goal and two assists.

It was the defence that was Norway's strongest position. Jonas Holos played 26 minutes per game and had six points, including one goal, while Mattias Norstebo had three goals. Former NHLer Ole-Kristian Tollefsen was almost on the ice as much as Mats Trygg.

Goaltending was passable, with Lars Haugen getting the all-important wins against the Slovaks and Slovenes. His goals against average of 2.46 was good, his save percentage of .894 could have been better. Poor Lars Volden was thrown to the Russians and the Finns and had the numbers to show for it.

Another grinding, unspectacular showing for the Norwegians. But the team is far from the string of sixth-to-ninth place finishes they managed in four of the five years between 2008 and 2012. Over the last three tournaments, they've placed 10th, 12th, and now 11th.

308's Most Interesting Player: Jonas Holos. Always the Norwegian's ice time leader, Holos was the most important player on Norway's roster. Competent, cool, and reliable, Holos plays all ends of the ice.

The French avoided relegation with their final shot of the tournament, defeating Latvia in a shootout in a thrilling game. It would have been a disaster for the French, who had avoided relegation in the previous seven tournaments.

The French were missing some of their best offensive players, which would have helped them take advantage of the stellar goaltending they got from former NHLer Cristobal Huet. Pierre-Edouard Bellemare of the Philadelphia Flyers was not there, Stephane da Costa, a former Ottawa Senator, was out with an injury for almost half the tournament, and the Dallas Stars' Antoine Roussel spent much of the time in the Czech Republic in the penalty box. Roussel had just two assists.

Damien Fleury provided the offence instead, scoring five goals and adding one assist to lead the team in scoring. Da Costa had one goal and two assists in four games, and was sorely missed. Defencemen Kevin Hecquefeuille, who led the team in ice-time, and Yohann Auvitu (who was named, along with Fleury and Huet, as the best players of the team) also provided some offence. Each had three points.

Huet was his old reliable self, posting a 2.09 goals-against average and .923 save percentage. Those are remarkable stats for a team like France, which was outplayed on most nights. Florian Hardy had a rougher time in his one full outing.

I'm glad the French avoided relegation, since they are usually fun to watch. If they can get Roussel, Bellemare, and da Costa for a full seven games on the ice next year, they could do some damage.

308's Most Interesting Player: Damien Fleury. Da Costa was injured and Roussel was too busy mouthing off. Fleury was the most energetic forward and the player to watch whenever the French were in the offensive zone.

The plucky Latvians and their legendary fans lived to see another day, thanks to wins over Germany and Austria and an overtime loss to the Swiss and the French, the latter clinching an appearance in next year's tournament in Russia, where their fans are undoubtedly going to be legion. Nevertheless, the 13th place finish is their worst in four years.

While the team will get to stay in the top group, it really was the work of only four men: Edgars Masalskis in goal, Guntis Galvins on the blueline, and Lauris Darzins and Kaspars Daugavins up front.

In fact, only five players scored a goal during the entire tournament for Latvia, and three of them had just one. Darzins and Daugavins were everything to the Latvians' offence, with Darzins scoring three goals and adding seven assists, while Daugavins had five goals and four assists. Clearly, they would have been able to do a lot better had they had any secondary scoring whatsoever. The injured Zemgus Girgensons, who had 30 points in 61 games for the Buffalo Sabres this year, would have helped.

Masalskis, though, was excellent. Ervins Mustakovs went in for just a period and a half to start the tournament before Masalskis was put in net. He never came out, and posted a .908 save percentage and 2.97 goals-against average in tough games against the Czechs and the Swedes, as well as the Canadians after Mustakovs was pulled. With a little more goal scoring, the Latvians could have beaten the Swiss and the French and made it the quarter-finals.

308's Most Interesting Player: Kaspars Daugavins. The offensive spark-plug and leader of the team, Daugavins always seemed to have the puck on his stick. When he was on the ice, the Latvians were playing up to their opponents' skills. When he wasn't, the Latvians struggled. He was the one player to watch with the puck on the Latvian side.

With the roster Denmark sent to Ostrava, they were lucky to avoid relegation. The Danes finished in 14th place, below their 12th or 13th positions between 2012 and 2014. The Danes just could not keep up with the better teams, and their only win came against arch-rival Norway. Denmark lost the other games they could have won, against Belarus and Slovenia.

Goaltending was not much of a problem for Denmark, though, despite Frederik Andersen still being busy with the Anaheim Ducks. Though Patrick Galbraith faltered in his two starts, Sebastian Dahm was very good, posting a goals-against average of 2.22 and a save-percentage of .932 in five games. Dahm may deserve a promotion from the Danish league next year.

Scoring was an issue, as it was always going to be without the presence of NHLers Frans Nielsen, Jannik Hansen, Mikkel Boedker, Lars Eller, or even Peter Regin and Nicklas Jensen. If only half of those had been in Ostrava, Denmark would have had one very potent offensive line. Instead, Daniel Nielsen and Julien Jakobsen accounted for almost half of Denmark's scoring, while Morten Madsen led the team with four assists. Nichlas Hardt put up one goal and two assists. Patrick Bjorkstrand, chosen by the coach as one of the team's top three players, potted one goal.

But the Danes survived to fight another day. Denmark has enough NHLers to do some real damage at the WHC. They just have to show-up.

308's Most Interesting Player: Sebastian Dahm. Galbraith was supposed to be the starter, but Dahm stole that job with his stellar play in nets. He was one of the bright spots on a poor team.

If the Austrians did not have bad luck, they would have no luck at all. After a good tournament in which they beat both of their linguistic rivals, Switzerland and Germany, as well as losing to the Latvians in extra time, Austria looked like it would avoid relegation for the first time in ages. Instead, the one scenario that would knock them out, a 2-1 French victory over Latvia in overtime or a shootout, came to fruition. And this was only the latest example of bad Austrian luck. The team would have avoided relegation in 2009 if only Germany, which finished in 15th place, had not been the host in 2010.

The Austrians did what they had to do for a team in their position, playing well against the other second-tier countries. But scoring was a major problem, with the team averaging only 1.4 goals per game. Dominque Heinrich, Thomas Raffl, Konstantin Komarek, and Brian Lebler each had two, but the Austrians needed more of an offensive spark from the Philadelphia Flyers' Michael Raffl, who had just one goal and two assists.

The 4.1 goals-against per game that Austria managed looks worse than it really is, due to the 16 goals the team allowed in their games against Sweden and Canada. Bernhard Starkbaum did as well as could be expected, posting a 3.15 goals-against average and a .892 save-percentage. If only the Austrians had not lost 2-0 to France. But if history is any lesson, the Austrians will be back in two years' time.

308's Most Interesting Player: Bernard Starkbaum. Playing in the tough Swedish league, Starkbaum looked like one of the only Austrians who did not seem out of his depth. He kept the Austrians in many more games than they had a right to be in.

The Slovenes had a lot of potential. Anze Kopitar was in the line-up, and KHLers Ziga Jeglic, Tok Ricar, and Jan Mursak were also playing. The defence was made-up of players plying their trade in the second-tier Swedish league and in the Czech Republic, a big improvement from Sochi in 2014 when most of the Slovenian team had experience only in Europe's lesser leagues.

But once again, Slovenia was unable to avoid relegation. One big reason was that Kopitar was limited to just one goal and three assists in the tournament. Ziga Pance managed three goals, while no one else had more than one. If you can't score, you can't win.

They did get some offence coming from the back end, with three assists by Ales Kranjc and two from Sabahudin Kovacevic, who was the most-used defenceman and was named one of the team's top three players of the tournament.

Robert Kristan played most of Slovenia's games, and struggled with a .888 save percentage. Gasper Kroselj suited-up for two games, though, and kept his goals-against average to 2.00 and his save percentage at .930. We may see more of him in two years' time.

Two years, of course, because Slovenia will have to earn promotion to the 2017 tournament next year. They will probably get it, as the Slovenes are a lot better than their 1-0-0-6 record suggests.

308's Most Interesting Player: Anze Kopitar. He was clearly the best Slovene on the ice, and the rest of the team knew it. Whenever Kopitar was playing, it seemed the rest of the Slovenes were trying to get the puck to him. He controlled the player when he could, but it was easy for other teams to defend against the Slovenes, knowing they had to watch out for just one guy.

Originally posted on May 18, 2015

ARCHIVE OF PAST HOCKEY POSTS

15/05/03 - 2015 World Hockey Championship
14/05/25 - 2014 World Hockey Championship (post-mortem)
14/05/10 - 2014 World Hockey Championship
14/02/11 - 2014 Winter Olympics (final)
14/01/09 - 2014 Winter Olympics
13/12/27 - 2013 Spengler Cup

15 comments:

  1. I think you are overvaluing the AHL. It is a developmental league and has limits on the number of players on the roster that have played at the elite level (NHL, KHL, etc)

    Also, how do you account for the fact players in Europe are playing on an international ice surface while NHL and NHL players are not? I think this should be a boost for all the players on international ice.

    Finally, the players in Europe will not have major jet lag to over come but guys from Vancouver will have a 12 hour time shift to deal with. In 2010 and 2002 Canada and the US came 1st and 2nd, in 1998 and 2006 Canada and the US were out of the medals.

    2010 and 2002 were in North America on North American ice sheets.

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    1. I'm not sure how much the ice surface will matter, since many of the teams are overwhelmingly made up of NHLers. That the Latvians may be more familiar with the large ice surface won't matter too much when they are playing the USA's top talent.

      Again, it is the same thing with the jet lag. Most of the teams that will be competing for a medal are made up of NHLers anyway. That a fourth-line KHLer has less jet-lag won't decide any games.

      (Also, if I'm not mistaken, the 2002 tournament was on an international ice sheet.)

      Lastly, I don't think I'm over-valuing the AHL. A lot of players who don't crack the NHL but do well in the AHL go to Europe, where they are decent or top players. So to have the AHL, ranked slightly higher than the Swedish or Swiss leagues is about right. In any case, these ratings were determined by actual data.

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  2. I think you've pretty much nailed it. If I was to rate each time based on opinion, I would have come up with a very similar spread.

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  3. And this is going to turn out to be one very tough Olympic hockey contest I think. Too many teams now, if the juniors are anything to go by, are up to levels they have never been before.

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  4. Eric every time I try to turn on Notify I get this

    " An error occurred while contacting the server. "

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    1. Blogger has been a little wonky lately. Sorry, nothing I can do. Hopefully they'll fix it soon.

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  5. Fascinating stuff :-) I've wished for years that national leagues could be effectively ranked (I believe the IIHF attempted this as recently as 2008, but couldn't find a model that everyone agreed on).

    One challenge in trying to quantify a league's quality is in using NHL experience as the benchmark, which then limits available data to players with both NHL and other national league experience. The variation in their performance across leagues may be down to relative competitiveness of each league, but of course there will be lots of other factors, too. Players get hot and cold for all kinds of reasons.

    I've wondered about modelling league rankings using both game data and data on “uptake.” For example, what's the league's T.V. audience, it's total box office, it's advertising demand and revenue, both domestically and internationally? And can we qualify that by looking at the national economic environment? Popularity isn’t the same thing as quality (political polls make that clear enough), but looking at a league’s penetration (and profit) might tell us about its capacity to recruit top flight players, coaches and managers.

    As for game data, this seems so much tougher. An excellent goaltender against an excellent forward can put up numbers that compare closely with a poor goaltender against a poor forward. So, total points and save percentages don’t tell us much about the quality of the field. How can we measure individual skill as something other than a function of the field in a way that isn’t subjective (i.e. number of “quality goal chances?”)

    All that said, your list looks as I’d have imagined, though I’d have considered the Swedish league closer to (or higher than) the AHL – same for the Swiss league. But that is pure intuition, rather than reason or evidence :-)

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  6. What was the rational for putting the AHL there? Thats a 2nd tier league to the NHL and unless you did it for the international players, I don't see the need to have it unless you want to boarder it out to other minor leagues like the ECHL (not a bad league really for what it is, and worth a place imho) and AIHL (the Australian league, which yes I know Australia isn't in the games so why do it, but the talent in the league is about the same level as the ECHL).

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    1. The AHL was included because some of the players on the Olympic rosters played in the AHL this year.

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  7. Interesting stuff Eric.

    I understand your need for simplicity but creating a player value based solely on points I think has severe limitation. Hamhuis was picked because his good +/- rating not points. In 2010-11 and 2011-12 he was a +29 for the season. He's a solid defenceman who doesn't allow many goals scored on his watch. So I think your criteria for value unintentionally undervalues defenceman while it overvalues forwards.

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    1. Perhaps, but every team's defense is penalized equally (also, my opinion of the value of the +/- rating is low). My main objective is to find a way to compare the teams to each other, particularly rosters with non-NHL players.

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  8. Very interesting analysis. One thing to consider significantly is "team time": how many players on a roster have recent experience playing one another. In this regard Sweden comes up mightily. I'm hoping for Can-Russia in the gold medal game...with Canada winning, biensûr!

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  9. How about a thread on the Stanley Cup Eric. It's turning into a barn burner series and yielding some really unexpected results.

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    1. There are already so many places for that kind of analysis. I'm trying to stick to a path-less-traveled.

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    2. Understood and thanks. Can't get the Notify thing to work here (sigh)

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