The US World Junior team ended up losing their final preliminary round game to Canada, meaning Jason Zucker was wrong and I don't know what to believe anymore. They'll play Zemgus Girgensons and Latvi--well, pretty much just Zemgus Girgensons--this afternoon in relegation round action at the World Juniors. Latvia lost all their games, but put up a respectable showing in all of them, and given how inept the US team has been in this tournament, this one could be interesting. And by interesting I mean very, very depressing. Or the US could score four goals in the first period as I write this. Which is equally depressing.
As an antidote, I suggest following the US U17s at the U17 Challenge. Their tournament was put in peril early on when they lost a tough 3-2 game to Russia, but they responded with two huge wins over Canada West and Canada Pacific(by two goals to insure they won any tiebreakers) to earn a spot in the semifinals. Hudson Fasching was the hero of the Canada Pacific game, scoring a hat trick, and eliminating not one, but two Canadian teams from medal contention.
The midway point in the season is usually the time when top NTDP U17 players start to feel comfortable and emerge as big-time players. This tournament may have been just that for Hudson Fasching. You can also begin speculating on which players might earn call-ups to the U18s at the end of the year. The front-runners would seem to be Fasching, forward Tyler Motte, and defensemen Steve Santini and Will Butcher.
The U17 Challenge games are free on fasthockey.com and are a fun watch if you're interested.
Tragedy struck the Minnesota high school hockey world as Benilde-St. Margaret's JV forward Jack Jablonski was hit from behind into the boards and fractured two vertebra in his neck, leaving him paralyzed. Best wishes go out to him and his family.
On the ice, #1 Duluth east easily beat #2 Minnetonka to win the Schwan's Cup. Minnetonka looked like the favorite coming in after spanking Edina in the semifinals while East just barely snuck past St. Trophy Academy, but to me, it seemed a case of Minnetonka getting up for a big rivalry game against Edina, while East had an eye on that final game. Duluth East's depth proved too much for Minnetonka.
Meanwhile, in St. Louis Park, Maple Grove earned their second win over Benilde in a week to win the St. Louis Park Invitational, and setting up another #1 vs. #2 battle against Duluth East on Wednesday. Maple Grove seems to have made the jump from being a very talented team that can beat up on lesser teams, to being a talented team that can win games against top opponents. BSM, on the other hand, is talented, but hasn't been able to win those big games this year.
I didn't get to watch as much midget minor hockey while in Michigan over the holidays as I would have liked, in part, because for the first time in recorded history, a Delta flight came in not just on time, but early, but I did get to see Cleveland's midget minors, who are having an excellent season. Forwards Sonny Milano and Nick Magyar look like solid candidates for the NTDPs Final 40 camp this year. Milano is a smaller forward with great hands, while Magyar is more of a power forward that uses his size to control play. Ohio Blue Jackets '95 Kiefer Sherwood also stood out in the short while I was there.