Steven Ellis

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Steven took a different route towards his hockey interests. Starting out as a big Habs fan, he started to gravitate towards the more obscure levels of hockey, such as the low level tournaments in Asia, strange club matches between teams most people in North America can’t pronounce, and even some 3am contests between Bulgaria and New Zealand. Aside from his love for strange hockey events, Steven occasionally acts as a mediocre ball hockey goalie following a failed attempt at making it to the NHL as a fourth line house league grinder. Beyond hockey, Steven is an avid racing fan and loves to chat about NASCAR, F1, Indycar, you name it. Oh, and don’t get him started on music. That is, unless you want the whole history of metal and a guitar lesson. Currently, Steven is a credentialed media member with the Mississauga Steelheads of the OHL, as well as with the Oakville Blades of the OJHL. Steven has also hosted the television show "The Hockey House" on TVCogeco in Ontario, as well as a segment under the same with on LeafsTV in Toronto. Home page: http://www.thehockeyhouse.net

By now, you’ve likely heard that the NHL will be hosting their own international tournament again, the World Cup of Hockey. Among the teams will be a roster comprised of the best European players that don’t have teams in the tournament, known simply now as the European All-Star Select team. Team Europe has some interesting options to work with, and while there is always the chance some key players could say no out of respect for their country down the road, it’s never too early to take a look at who could participate when the puck drops in October of 2016.

Like last time, the team will is based on if the team was picked today. The 14 forwards listed below may all be decent choices today, but down the road, it could be totally different. But that’s just part of the fun.

Check out the first part of Team Europe’s preview here.

Michael Grabner (AUS) – Anze Kopitar (SLO) – Thomas Vanek (AUS)

a5373052b85b280cac6cac9db4395c9d_crop_exactAnalysis: This line, featuring three players from two non-traditional hockey markets, could prove to be one of the most talented. Both Vanek and Grabner have played together before in international events, with the 2014 Olympics being the most recent example. The pair are longtime staples of the Austrian team, and likely the two best hockey players to come out of Austria all-time. Vanek, a scoring superstar who recently joined the Minnesota Wild, is a natural scoring winger that can almost guarantee at least 50 points a season. Yes, Vanek was almost non-existent during the Olympics, but with nearly 600 career points in the NHL and over a point-per-game in World Championship competition, Vanek has the ability to be a big offensive leader on this team.

Grabner is quite the underrated goal scorer. A former first rounder, Grabner had five goals at the 2014 Olympics, finishing the tournament with the most in that category. This year, however, has been a tough one for the New York Islanders scoring star. The team has had an incredible season, and once Grabner, who had sports hernia surgery just before the start of the season, gets back into his rhythm, the Islanders will get a huge boost from the speedy scoring winger.

Everybody knows that Kopitar is the greatest player to come from Kopenia Slovenia. That’s not a major accomplishment, considering Jan Mursak and Greg Kuznik, the other two Slovenians, have just four points combined (all from Mursak), but his pure skill is good enough to make him one of the NHL’s top players. Pair them with two of Slovenia’s biggest rivals from Austria and you should have a very skilled line with the ability to put up big numbers. The biggest question: can they stay consistent?

Tomas Tatar (SVK) – Marián Gáborík (SVK) – Marián Hossa (SVK)

HossaGaborikDLAnalysis: This trio of Slovakian stars represent the present and future of hockey in the country. For Hossa, the 36-year-old winger has a ton of skill and has the ability to put many pucks in the net. However, his production has declined ever since his 77 point campaign back in 2011–12. One of just five players included in my prediction that played in the 2004 World Cup, Hossa has never won any international hockey tournaments during his career, but has two Stanley Cup’s to his credit.

Standing beside Hossa is his good old pal Marian Gaborik. These two know a thing or two about playing together, having done so at various World Championship and Olympic events. Like Hossa, Gaborik’s best days are surely behind him, but that doesn’t mean he still doesn’t have a lot left to offer. His health is always a question mark, but when he’s good to go, he’s easily one of the best players on the ice every single night. A two time bronze medalist in international competition, Gaborik has over 40 points in men’s tournaments and his explosive speed makes him a lethal threat every shift. If he can hold up, expect him to be a valuable scoring option for the Europeans.

And then there’s Tatar. You’ve probably heard of him, right? He’s kind of a big deal right now. Currently in his second NHL season, Tatar could grab 60 points by the time the season concludes. Named one of the NHL’s three stars twice this season, Tatar has scored pretty much everywhere he’s gone. At the recent World Championships, Tatar finished the tournament as Slovakia’s second-leading scorer, recording four goals and four assists in seven games.  The 2012-13 AHL playoff MVP should continue to be a great goal scorer at the NHL level and once Pavel Datyuk and Henrik Zetterberg finally call it quits, it will be time for Tatar to take over and become a true star.

Mikkel Boedker (DEN) – Zemgus Girgensons (LAT) – Mats Zuccarello (NOR)

Hockey - Russia vs DenmarkAnalysis: At 25 years of age, Boedker, a seven-year NHL pro, is the most experienced player on this line. Boedker’s career started off very slow after getting rushed into the NHL at the age of 18, and after splitting two seasons between the NHL and AHL, it looked as though his career may not be what the Coyotes were looking for. Fortunately, the Danish star’s career is definitely on the upswing, as the speedy winger could come close to matching his personal-high 51 points last year. However, a spleen issue in mid-January means that the Arizona forward is going to be on the shelf for a considerable amount of time, making it tough for him to achieve that success. Boedker does have the traits to become a very valuable player at some point, and if he can stay healthy, expect him to explode offensively soon enough.

If you didn’t know who the heck Girgensons was before this season, you do now. A well-rounded two-way center, Girgensons was voted in the NHL All-Star game despite not being anywhere the near the top of the scoring charts.  Currently tied for second in scoring on a terrible Buffalo squad, Girgensons has already surpassed his rookie season effort of 22 points with very little talent surrounding him. It will be interesting to see what he can do with other talented youngsters, and with two solid options like Zuccarello and Boedker surrounding him, he could be a solid underrated option for the European squad.

Speaking of Zuccarello, talk about a player who doesn’t get enough credit around the league. Another small, speedy winger (which this team has a lot of), the New York Rangers winger put up 59 points last year in his first full NHL season and could very well beat that this time around. He scores everywhere he plays, so, being one of the greatest players from Norway of all time, he’ll be the only representative on the squad. Will his career continue to rise like it has over the past two years, making him a very talented bottom scoring option for Europe?

Nino Niederreiter (SUI) – Frans Nielsen (DEN) – Nikolaj Ehlers (DEN) (Extras: Jannik Hansen (DEN) Tomas Jurco (SVK))

Nino+Niederreiter+Ice+Hockey+Winter+Olympics+Z75oTFL42gMlAnalysis: Niederreiter is famous for helping the Swiss team to an upset of the Russians by scoring two goals in a 3–2 victory over the Russians at the 2010 World Juniors. It took him a while to make an impact at the NHL level but after a less-than-stellar stint with the New York Islanders, Niederreiter has really come into his own with the Minnesota Wild. He’s shooting a lot, he’s scoring and he does that all in a third line role. His ability to win faceoffs (if needed), throw hits and score on the same play makes him a valuable option to move around on the roster. He’s one of the few power forwards on this squad, so if he does indeed make it, he’ll be key when the game are close and need some help all over the ice.

It took Nielsen a while to really shine with the New York Islanders, but Niederreiter’s former teammate is becoming a very good hockey player these days. After a 58 point effort last year, Nielsen could get close to that this year while acting as a third line centre for the strong Long Island club. The skilled two-way center seems to always make his linemates better in the offensive zone, and playing with a familiar winger like El Nino should add to that point.

Yes, Nikolaj Ehlers hasn’t exactly cracked the NHL just yet, but it’s hard to leave off one of the top prospects in the league right now. Ehlers, a ninth overall selection by the Winnipeg Jets last year, was an absolute stud at the World Junior A Challenge in early December, leading the tournament in points after helping Denmark to the silver medal. He followed that up by a great performance at the 2015 World Juniors as the Danes earned a spot in the quarter-finals for the first time ever at the top division of the tournament. Ehlers is an elite player that should crack the Jets in due time, but for now, he’ll continue to a dominant force in the QMJHL with the Halifax Mooseheads.

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After a one year break, China will return to Division IIB for the 2016 World Juniors after defeating New Zealand on Sunday for the tournament championship.

The task was simple: win and you’re in. For both competitors, a victory would mean advancement, but after heading to the finals with a perfect 3-0 record, including a 13-0 win over South Africa in their previous game, the odds were laying in the hands of the pre-tournament favourites. Frazer Ellis had New Zealand’s only goal in the final match, but Qing Liu led the way with two goals from the point to help the Chinese win 4-1, securing gold.

With the victory, China will replace Iceland in Division IIB for the 2016 edition of the tournament. It all signifies the end of the World Junior hockey season, with all division of the U20 event officially completed. For news from every single event, click here.

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NHL commissioner Gary Bettman finally spilled the beans on Saturday, announcing that the World Cup of Hockey will return in September 2016 in Toronto, Canada with an eight team system.

The first World Cup since 2004, the tournament will consist of Canada, the United States, Russia, Sweden, Czech Republic and Finland. They’ll be joined a team featuring the best European players not competing in the tournament, as well as an U23 team of North American players.

The European team will be allowed to take players from Slovakia, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, France, Denmark, Norway, Latvia, Belarus, Estonia, Slovenia, Kazakhstan and Lithuania, among others. As of now, it has yet to be announced as to who will manage the team.

The eight teams will be divided into two Groups of four, with each team playing three games before the quarter-final begin.  For the most part, the tournament will follow IIHF format rules, but on-ice regulations are still to be decided by the NHL and IIHF.

The tournament has been on a hiatus for the past ten years. The last World Cup was also held in Toronto, with Canada defeating Finland 3-2 in the tournament final at the Air Canada Centre. The expectation would be that the tournament would once again be played prior to the NHL season, as the last installment took place from August 30th-September 14th, 2004.

All official tournament games will be played at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto from September 17 – October 1, 2016.

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In a game against the best and the worst, China come out on top with an easy 13-0 victory over South Africa on Friday.

The game was over just 45 seconds in. Hang Li, who has been one of the best players all tournament for the Chinese, scored on an individual effort after catching the South African defense snoozing. South Africa would survive for another five minutes, keeping the puck away from the net for the most part, until Zesen Zhang fired it past Aslam Khan for the 2-0 lead. That was just the start of the onslaught, as China finished the first period with a whopping 5-0 lead after taking just 12 shots. The team followed that period up with two goals in the second and an additional six in the third, securing the massive 13-0 win, the biggest of the tournament.

The biggest blow for China came near the end of the game. Qing Liu, who padded his goal scoring lead to six after a hat-trick today, was given a five and a 20 after a checking from behind penalty. As a result of the game misconduct, he will have to miss the remainder of the tournament, but with just one game on the schedule left, it’s not a major loss. The championship could come down to the final game against China and New Zealand on Sunday, assuming New Zealand has no issue with the win less Turkey team on Saturday.

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Turkey was no match for China at the Division III World Juniors on Wednesday, taking just 10 shots in an eventual 6-1 loss on Thursday.

Nobody expected a different result, but with the first period ending in a tie, their may have been a few surprised people in the crowd of 75 in New Zealand. Hang Li got the game started nine minutes into the battle, tipping a shot by Xinhao Yue from the point to secure the 1-0 lead early on.

The lead wouldn’t last for long, however. Berk Ustun matched the score for Turkey after capitalizing on the power-play with China’s Hengnan Lu in the box for unsportsmanlike.

Yongshen Liu was China’s best player throughout, and his great game all began with the game winning goal in the second. Three minutes into the period, Liu took a pass from Li in close and one-timed it past Muhammed Karagul, giving China the 2-1 lead.  The only goal of the second period proved to be the game winner, as Liu would complete the hat-trick in the third on top of Qing Liu’s two markers to finish off the 6-1 victory.

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Turkey’s first game of the contest ended on a sour note, dropping a 3-1 loss to South Africa.

Just 1:25 into the match. South Africa had their first lead of the tournament. After losing 5-1 to New Zealand on Monday, a second loss would be tough to overcome, but Keegan Thornton’s goal early on gave the team some life early on. The lead looked like it was almost sealed after the first period, but a shorthanded marker by Doğu Bingol with 21 seconds to go tied it up at one apiece.

The second period saw a lot of special teams action. South Africa, for one, took 12 of their 14 penalties in the middle frame alone. Turkey was unable to create many scoring chances, however, and with six seconds to go in the period, South Africa’s Brandon Husselman scored the only goal of the period on the breakaway to give his team the lead and victory. Thornton added a second goal with seven minutes left to help seal the deal, finishing off the 3-1 South Africa victory in style.

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Two goals early in the contest was all it took for New Zealand to defeat South Africa, eventually winning 5-1 to start off the tournament strong.

Just before the period was seven minutes old, Callaum Burns excited the 250 people in attendance with the first goal of the game, defeating Marcello Strydom to make it 1-0 early. Five minutes later, Maxwell Macharg gave Benedict Roth his second assist of the game when he converted on a goal in close to secure the victory before the first period had come to a close.

Two minutes into the second, South Africa capitalized with the extra man to end Liam Henare’s shutout bid. Dylan Compton took advantage of Thomas Carson-Pratt’s interference call 10 seconds earlier with a nice shot to make it 2-1. The goal was rendered useless with four minutes remaining in the period as Roth, who was named the best player at the end of the game, took an incredible shot from the point to make it 3-1 Kiwis. Roth would record another point on Joseph Orr’s goal in the third and a fifth goal was scored by Tayler Kennedy with nine minutes to go in the third to help finish off the victory.

New Zealand will have the day off tomorrow before battling Mexico on Thursday at 1am EST. South Africa will be back in action on Wednesday, taking on Turkey, who has yet to play, at 1am EST as well.

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China’s 6-1 victory over Mexico gave the Asian country a good start to the Division III World Junior tournament as the team hopes to launch back into Division IIB for next year.

Considering the final score, it would be surprising to find out that the first period actually had zero goals after 20 minutes. It only took 26 seconds into the second period for the Chinese to finally smash the icebreaker, as Zesen Zhang beat Richard Albrecht short side to give the Asian team the 1-0 lead. Seven minutes later, Chinese captain Peng Huang got the game winning goal before the game was even half over to extend the lead to two goals.

Most of the offense came throughout the second period, and with an additional two goals, China would finish the period with a four goal advantage. With 14 minutes off the clock, Huang sent the puck to the blade of Hao Wu’s stick, who fired the shot home for the 3-0 lead. The Chinese would score an extra one with a minute remaining in the period, grabbing the 4-0 lead after Hengnan Lu got one past Albrecht to put the game away.

Jorge Duenas scored a goal late in the game to give Mexico their only marker of the contest, but with two more Chinese goals on the way, the game would not see a miraculous comeback. China came into the tournament as favourites after getting demoted from Division IIB last year. Their next game is set for Wednesday, January 22nd, a 1am EST game start for North Americans.

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One of the strangest things to happen in international competition in recent years has to be the rumored European squad that will take part in the 2016 World Cup. International purists are not a fan, as a team with no real country of origin doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Will the excitement from the players named to the roster come anywhere close to what it would be like to play for their own country that actually exists?

Well, we can live with it. Sure, it’s a strange idea, and many European fans won’t be a fan of the idea, but make no mistake about it: this team will do much better than all the countries involved would do alone. The pride may be non-existent, but for once, we could see eight really competitive teams once the puck drops in 2016.

The tournament is still over a year to go, but why not have a little bit of fun predicting now? In this two part series about “Team Europe”, or whatever they’ll plan on being called, I’ve put together a 25-man roster of three goalies, eight defensemen and 14 forwards. In Part One, I’ll take a look at the players that will patrol the blue line and the three machines that will bail them out if all goes wrong. The combinations and what-not are all based on if the team was picked now, so who knows what will happen when the tournament begins?

Goaltenders: 

Jaroslav Halak (SVK) – Jonas Hiller (SUI) – Frederik Andersen (DEN)

Martin Rose/Getty Images Europe
Martin Rose/Getty Images Europe

Analysis: With the lack of big names on the team, having three quality goaltenders that are all capable of winning is very key. All three are having very strong seasons, with Andersen helping the Anaheim Ducks to the top of the NHL standings during his first full season as Anaheim’s starting goaltender.

A stellar performance from Halak this season, however, gives me the allusion he could be the starter come tournament time. Now, there is still a lot of time before the start, so that could all change quickly, but I’m going to give the nod to the All-Star puckstopper. Not originally named to the 2015 ASG in Columbus, Halak was named as a replacement for Detroit’s Jimmy Howard, who was sidelined with a groin injury. His 23-8-0 record at the time of the announcement was a big reason why the New York Islanders are sitting at the top of the Eastern Conference standings, helping lead talks of a Vezina trophy bid for his strong play.

Joining Andersen and Halak in the crease could be Jonas Hiller, who, despite struggling in recent years with multiple injuries, seems to always shine when he plays internationally. Now, he wouldn’t technically be playing for any real country, but Hiller has proven that he can thrive against tougher competition. He may not even see any action in the event, but if there ever is a reason for him to be called upon, he should be a solid option.

Defensemen: 

Mark Streit (SUI) – Roman Josi (SUI)

Zdeno Chara (SVK) – Dennis Seidenberg (GER)

Andrej Sekera (SVK) – Christian Ehrhoff (GER)

Mirco Mueller (SUI) – Andrej Meszaros (SVK)

Christof Koepsel/Bongarts/Getty Images
Christof Koepsel/Bongarts/Getty Images

Analysis: The first combination would give the Europeans a very talented young stud in Josi, as well as his former Olympic partner and experienced vet Streit. The two are among the best Swiss blue liners, with both really excelling during NHL action. For Streit, the power-play specialist could be the best two way defenseman on the team, being able to play in all three ends very effectively. For Josi, the puck-moving blue liner will act as the more defensively sound option of the pair, could be a real surprise in this tournament, but after being the 2013 World Championships MVP, should he really be?

You know what you’re going to get out of the second pair. Obviously, Chara is past his prime, and at the age of 39 in 2016, it’s unlikely that he’ll be counted on as a top pairing option, but expect him to still be a valuable asset throughout the tournament. His size, his shot and his ability to shutdown the world’s best will make him a key defenseman for Europe. Plus, he’s an early favourite to become captain. Joining him would be fellow fellow Bruin defenseman Seidenberg. The 33-year-old’s career has been plagued with injuries in recent years, and with his best seasons behind him, it would almost be like a big last chance to play a significant role at the international stage. Consider it something like a final call for the two aging blue liners, who, despite having some issues over the last bit, they could be a very strong duo once again.

If there’s one thing the team is strong in, it’s knowing what to do when penalties come into play. Thanks to Sekera, the team could throw just about anyone on when there’s more ice to play with. He’ll be an underrated star for the team, as he’ll likely be able to fit into any situation while allowing the bigger names to do what they please. A potential option for Sekera at the other end of the blue line could be Ehrhoff, a former teammate of Sekera’s back in Buffalo. Usually known to be an offensive defenceman, Ehrhoff has struggled with the Pittsburgh Penguins this season after being bought out by the Sabres this past off-season. Regardless, he’s a solid defenseman that could use a bit of familiarity once again and could rotate as a final defenseman if he doesn’t end up working out.

With the tournament expected to have 25-man rosters, teams will be able to carry two extra defensemen for the tournament. For the two depth guys that may be called upon for a few games at some point, I picked Mirco Mueller from San Jose and Buffalo’s Andrej Meszaros. Mueller, a rookie with the San Jose Sharks, had a so-so performance with the ninth place Swiss team at the recent World Juniors, and while there have been some growing pains along the way, he’s still just 19. By the time the tournament rolls around, Mueller should be a very solid option for the Europeans, and while he wouldn’t be relied on much due to lack of experience, there’s a lot to like about this kid for future tournaments. For Meszaros, the hard-hitting blue liner has the experience needed to play a solid game when used. He can be inconsistent at times and wont be relied on heavily to add an offensive flair, but he’s solid all-around for the most part and at 30-years-old once the tournament rolls around, there should still be a lot left in the tank.

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Spanish hockey team FC Barcelona have won their fifth ever Copa del Rey title following a 6-2 victory over their rivals CG Puigcerdà on Sunday.

Not to be confused with the famous football club, Barcelona came ready to win right off the opening face-off. 3:33 into the contest, Canadian forward Jeff Barletta made it 1-0 early on to give Barcelona the lead. Four minutes later, Czech-born player Jakub Bauer scored his first of two goals, with his early one giving his team the 2-0 advantage after a period of action. He would score his second goal 14 minutes into the second, giving his team the 3-0 lead that would put Puigcerdà out of contention. Puigcerdà would score two of their own thanks to goals from Lukas Ruzicka and Leon Kelwey-Brown, but a lack of sustained pressure soured any chance of a comeback.

Bauer finished the tournament with a whopping seven points in two games, good enough to beat teammate Pablo Muńoz by three points for the tournament scoring lead. The victory marked Barcelona’s fifth ever Copa del Rey title, awarded to the Spanish league club champion. It was a long awaited victory, as it was Barcelona’s first championship since the 1997 event.

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Thanks to a dominant two games to begin the tournament, Belarus league champion Neman Grodno have won the 2015 Continental Cup with a day left in the tournament.

A 6-2 victory over Fischtown Pinguins Bremerhaven on Saturday began with a goal just 2:22 into the first. Grodno captain Andrei Korshuno got the ball rolling when his slap shot from far out was tipped in front by Vyacheslav Lisichkin, grabbing the 1-0 lead early. With seven minutes to go in the period, Pavel Korsakov  cored on a rebound to make it 2-0 for the Belarus based team, capping off a strong start to the game.

The victory was sealed thanks to a goal by Jaroslav Kristek just 5:09 into the second. The goal came on a fantastic breakaway scoring chance after killing a penalty just seconds earlier. Both teams would end up scoring two goals each before the match came to an end, but the third goal was all Grodno needed to secure the championship with six points after two games.

With the victory, Grodno becomes just the second Belarussian team to secure the tournament championship. The other team to do so was Yunost Minsk, who have won it twice in 2007 and 2011. The victory also ensures them a wild card to play in the 2015/2016 Champions Hockey League, becoming the first team to do so.

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Kazakhstan-based team Ertis Pavlodar have been eliminated from contention at the 2015 Continetnal Cup Super-Final following a 4-2 victory by Angers Les Ducs on Saturday.

Angers scored the only goal of the first with four minutes remaining in the opening frame. Canadian forward Michael Busto made a slick pass to fellow Canadian Tim Crowder on the point, who ripped a hard shot from the point and beat Jan Chovan under the glove for the 1-0 lead.

A minute into the second, Richard Huna took advantage of a failed scoring attempt by Angers at the other end. The French team had a good chance on a two-on-one to try and beat Chovan, but a missed net opportunity allowed Ertis to go back the other way, with Huna scoring on a five-hole shot against JS Aubin to tie the game. Five minutes later, Huna tallied his second of the game after capitalizing on a pass in front from Denis Klemeshov to give Ertis their first and only lead of the contest.

Midway through the game, Angers’ Brian Henderson was kicked out after a violent hit from behind on Martin Cakajik, taking him out of the contest as well. The play kicked was among a flurry of penalties that Angers would occur during their mini collapse that took away any momentum they had in the first period.

That all changed in the first five minutes of the third, however. Julien Albert was sitting alone in front, screening Chovan in the Ertis goal, and it would be Albert’s tip off of a Gary Leveque point shot that would tie the game up at two apiece.

A minute after that, Johan Skinnars tapped in an easy shot from the doorstep to grab the game winning goal. It was an easy one for Skinnars, who seemed to be undetected by the Ertis defenseman in front of the net. Angers didn’t need another goal, but Yannick Tifu converted a pass from former Edmonton Oilers prospect Sebastien Bisaillon to grab the 4-2 goal, good enough to finish off the victory for the French squad.

For Ertis, their chance at still winning in the three game tournament is now gone, while Angers will need some help on the final day of the competition on Sunday.

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Belarus hockey club Neman Grodno began the Continental Cup with a huge 5-0 win over Angers Les Ducs on Friday.

The loss was a big one for Angers, considering that both teams involved tied with six points each following the Group E tournament in November. Grondo took the victory in their previous meeting, keeping Angers from scoring late in the third period to secure the 4-3 victory.

Friday was a different story, however. Just 57 seconds in, Aleksandr Malyavko’s perfect shot beat former NHL goaltender Jean-Sebastien Aubin for the 1-0 goal. Before the period was even five minutes old, Andrei Korshunov capitalized on the power-play, giving his team the quick two goal lead in the early stages. Korshunov extended the lead to three goals with his second of the contest when he tipped in a point shot from Konstantin Lastovetsky to make it 3-0.

Grodno didn’t need to score again, but they did pot two more just in case goal differential becomes a factor in the end. With twelve minutes gone in the second, Lastovetsky got one of his own after beating Aubin cleanly for the 4-0 goal. Latvian forward Aleksejs Sirokovs gave Grodno their final goal of the game just three minutes later, blowing past two Angers defensemen before beating Aubin to finish off the big 5-0 victory with over a period still to go.

With three points for the victory, Grodno is already off to a good start. They’ll return to the ice in a game against Fischtown Pinguins tomorrow afternoon, while Angers will battle against Yertis Pavlodar.

The winner of the super-final will have much to cheer about when it’s completed, as the victor, minus Fischtown who are ineligible due to competing in a second tier hockey league, will earn an automatic birth into the 2015-2016 Champions Hockey League tournament.

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Slovakia was able to win their first ever World Junior medal since the 1999 tournament thanks to a spectacular 4-2 victory over Sweden on Monday.

It took only three minutes for the Slovaks to take the surprising victory. The first goal came after Andreas Englund gave the puck away in the defensive zone to Slovak forward Robert Lantosi, who saucered the puck over to David Soltes, who took a wrist shot up close and beat Linus Soderstrom.

About 40 seconds after that, a terrible Swedish let down allowed the Slovaks to take the 2-0 lead before the period was even five minutes old. Mislav Rosandic, a defensive defenseman, showed some offensive prowess by skating in with the puck from far out and deking out Soderstrom while uncontested in front of the Swedish net.

The Swedes battled back. Half-way through the period, William Nylander picked up the pass in front from Sebastien Aho and banged the puck under the pad of Denis Godla for the 2-1 goal.

Godla made some more incredible saves, including an outstanding diving shoulder save to the left of the net. However, he wasn’t able to secure the lead heading into the second intermission. The Swedes spoiled the party when Christian Ehn sent the puck to Jens Looke, whose slap shot was too much for Godla and the rest of the Slovaks, tying the game up at two.

Despite the shots being real close, the Slovaks had the best chances. Sweden’s defense was really struggling to clamp down chances in front, allowing the Slovaks some quality scoring chances up close. At the other end, however, Sweden had some good chances on Godla, but the goalie who basically became a national hero after some incredible saves against Canada on Sunday, made some great saves to keep the game tied at two after two.

The game had a scary moment in the second. Patrik Koys was skating in the offensive zone in the final seconds of the period when Julius Bergman cross-checked Patrik Koys in the face. Koys would have to leave the game, while Bergman would be given a five minute major for interference, as well as a game misconduct penalty.

The Slovaks would take advantage of the ensuing power-play. With 2:08 still remaining with the extra man, Martin Reway sent the puck to Pavol Skalicky in the slot, firing it past Soderstrom for the 3-2 goal.

Sweden pulled their goalie late in hopes of tying up. Unfortunately for them, the team was unable to get any real good scoring chances all period and struggled to show any real momentum. Instead, Koys returned to the game to get an empty netter to make it 4-2 Slovakia. The goal capped off an incredible finish for the Slovaks, who defied all the odds to overcome the heavily favoured Swedes to win 4-2, winning the bronze.

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Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Canada versus Russia. One thing on the line: gold. The 2015 World Junior Championships are coming to a close tonight in Toronto, Canada, marking a long-awaited chance at gold for both countries. For Canada, they haven’t won gold since 2009 against the Swedes (beating Russia to get to the finals), while the Russians last spoiled Canada’s chances with a come from behind victory in the third period of the 2011 finals. The two teams have a rich history in the tournament, and with both teams having great tournaments in 2015, hockey fans around the world are excited to see what the next important chapter of this tournament will be. Before that all happens, take a look at the five greatest World Junior moments involving Canada and Russia.

Canadian Press
Canadian Press

5. Chubarev Shoots for Gold, 1999: With Winnipeg as hosts, the 1999 World Junior tournament set a tournament record attendance number of 170,000 throughout the event, proving that hosting the tournament in a place where it matters to people will sell big. Canada had done a great job on the ice too, winning 12-2 against Kazakhstan and 6-1 against Sweden to earn a birth in the finals against their hated rivals from Russia. The Russians had just as strong of a tournament, taking down Slovakia and Finland to grab their spot in the championship game. Many expected the game to a close affair, but when the shots were 40-18 in Russia’s favour, you would expect it to be a blowout. However, Roberto Luongo put on a goaltending performance for the ages, keeping the game close at 2-2 heading into the overtime. In the extra frame, Anton Chubarev, who scored earlier in the game, beat Luongo in sudden death to grab the victory and the gold medal. It was the first championship for the Russians since their title back in 1992 when they were known as the Commonwealth of Independent States.

100204_CrosbyOvechkin134. Canada’s Legendary Run, 2005: As you likely have heard about 50 times by TSN this year, the 2005 Canadian World Junior team could be considered the greatest of all time.  An NHL lockout left Canada with some high quality players such as Mike Richards, Sidney Crosby, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Shea Weber and Patrice Bergeron, a team that saw a perfect, undefeated run. The team had one final task to take care of in the finals, defeating Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin and the Russians for a chance at gold. usually, a team with names like that should be an extreme challenge for the championship, but a 6-1 decision in the final proved to be one of the more lopsided finishes to a World Junior final game. The game also marked the first big meeting between future NHL superstars Crosby and Ovechkin, but in like most situations so far in the NHL, Crosby was able to have the last laugh and the more elusive medal at the end.

Getty Images
Getty Images

3. Canadian Collapse, 2011: While some of the moments on this list may result in great memories for Canadians, this one will act as the complete opposite. Everything was going right for Canada back in 2011. The team was scoring, the goaltending had kept them in it until the finals and the team simply was going to be a tough one to beat. The Russians, however, had a knack during the tournament to come back late in the game, securing two late game comebacks against Sweden and Finland to reach the finals. Canada had gold set in their sights in the final contest, leading 3-0 going into the third period. Unfortunately for them, Canada tried to sit on the lead for too long, only to see the Russians score five straight times to win. To lose in front of so many nearby fans in Buffalo was tough, but the fact that their lead looked to be safe heading into the game, only to blow it, had to be one of the toughest moments for Canadian hockey in recent years.

Associated Press
Associated Press

2. Punch-up in Piestany, 1987: Fighting is very much not allowed in international hockey competition, so it’s safe to say the Punch-up in Piestany in 1987 was just a little extreme. Following a minute of silence for the four Swift Current Broncos players who were killed just days earlier in a team bus crash, the teams got a little feisty, engaging in a couple of small scrums after whistles. Tensions finally boiled over when Sergei Shesterikov ran into Everett Sanipass near the end of the second period, resulting in a scrap between the two players. Seconds later, Pavel Kostichkin went after Canada’s Theo Fleury, delivering a two-hand slash to the former Calgary Flames star. That’s when everything just fell apart, with both teams releasing their players on to the ice in a full on, bench-clearing brawl that had to be broken up by Czechoslovakian soldiers following a lengthy battle. Both teams were suspended from the rest of the tournament, but Canada followed that up with tournament gold in 1988, beating, you guessed it, the Soviets.

Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images North America
Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images North America

1. Eberle the Magician, 2009: When you talk to Canadians about their favourite hockey moment, Eberle’s game-tying goal on Vadim Zhelobnyuk forced overtime during the must-win 2009 semi-finals, scoring with just 5.4 seconds to go in regulation. Defenseman Ryan Ellis kept the puck from just going over the line with time winding down and sent it to John Tavares. Tavares then sent a backhand towards the net, but a Russian defender was able to get down low and block the shot form hitting the net. Unfortunately for the defenseman, the effort went to waste as Eberle grabbed the loose puck, deked Zhelobnyuk in front of the crease and slid it home for one of the most magical goals in Canadian hockey history. The goal meant the game would head to overtime, and just to finish the incredible story off, Eberle was able to score the shootout winner to send Canada to the finals, where they would take down the Swedes in a 5-1 smack down in front of a full house in Ottawa. Whether or not Eberle will ever be able to do anything in Ottawa, he will always be remembered for being one of the greatest World Junior performers of all time, thanks to his ability to score whenever his team was in a close situation.

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Switzerland’s disappointing tournament ended on a positive note, relegating Germany to Division IA on Saturday following a 5-2 victory.

The Germans would strike first in the must-win game with 13:48 off the board. With Edson Harlacher sitting in the box for holding, Tim Bender saw Parker Tuomie streaking in, who riffled it past Gauthier Descloux for the 1-0 goal early on.

72 seconds later, the Swiss tied the game up at one. Timo Meier has been dazzling fans all tournament long, and he made sure to show the small crowd on Saturday his deking skills by beating a German defender before sending it off to Jason Fuchs, who picked up his own rebound to end Kevin Reich’s shutout.

Switzerland got their first lead of the game just a minute and 17 seconds later thanks to a big goal from Denis Malgin. Malgin, who has consistently been one of the better Swiss players all tournament, picked up a juicy rebound and just slid it under Reich’s glove for the 2-1 lead. It also marked Meier’s second point of the period, capping off a fairly dominant period for the young forward.

The second period didn’t see a whole lot of action, but Pius Suter changed that with 8:48 to go in the period. The Swiss had a ton of scoring chances on Reich but would eventually get one from Suter, who’s second relegation round goal came following a wrist shot from the hash marks and beat Reich, who was occupied in front by two players already.

The Germans cut the lead to just one with under two minutes to go in the second. Frederik Tiffels came into the tournament as one of Germany’s best players, and his on-ice awareness was on display when, from beside the net, he caught a streaking Andreas Eder, who fired the puck in from the slot to make it 3-2 heading into the second intermission.

The Germans came into the third period knowing that it could be their last. They hadn’t played in the Division IA World Juniors since the 2012 tournament, and a loss against Switzerland would result in them getting replaced by Belarus in 2016. The Germans had a few scoring chances late in the third, but a horrible giveaway by Reich behind the net ended up on the stick of Luca Hischier, who sent the puck over to Suter who scored on an empty net for the 4-2 lead.

With 5:41 left in regulation time, Meier’s hard work paid off with a goal of his own. The German defense totally gave up on the play, allowing the Swiss to run around in the offensive zone. As a result, Meier was able to find the loose puck to the side of the net and fired one over the glove of Reich for the 5-2 goal. The goal poured salt in the German wound, as Switzerland was able to take the second relegation game by a score of 5-2.

Germany will now play in the Division IA World Juniors in December 2015 after struggling to record a victory in Group A. For Switzerland, the team that many expected to compete in the quarter-finals will finish in ninth place this year, but will be taking part in the 2016 tournament in Finland. Joining them will be Belarus, who earned promotion a few weeks back thanks to a perfect record at the 2015 DIA tournament.

Follow me on twitter, @StevenEllisNHL.

What: World Junior Championships Semi-Finals, Canada vs Slovakia
When: January 4th, 2015 (8pm EST)
Where: Air Canada Centre, Toronto, Ontario
TV: Canada: TSN/RDS, USA: NHL Network-US, Belarus: Bel TV, Czech Republic: Česká televize, Finland: MTV3, Russia: NTV+, Slovakia: STV, Sweden: SVT/Visat

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Canada
Andre Ringuette/HHOF-IIHF Images
Andre Ringuette/HHOF-IIHF Images

How they got here: Canada’s road to the semi’s has been a very smooth one. After a giant 8-0 victory over Slovakia on day one, Canada was able to exploit the Germans for four goals to improve to 2-0 in the early stages of the tournament, large in part due to Max Domi and Anthony Duclair. A 4-1 victory over Finland gave hope to fans wondering if this team was really as strong as it looked on paper, with Sam Reinhart putting on a great performance with two great goals. The biggest test so far, however, came against the Americans on the (almost) annual New Year’s Eve cross-border battle. Team USA’s scoring leader, Dylan Larkin, came up big, scoring two goals late in the game, but five goals by the Canadians, including two empty netters at the end, handed Canada the 5-3 victory over their biggest rivals. The victory meant that Canada would battle against Denmark in the final quarter-final game on Friday, and as expected, Canada had their way with an 8-0 victory over Nikolaj Ehlers and Danes.

Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images
Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

Player to watch: Brayden Point, F: Point is not one of the bigger names on Canada’s roster, but with Robby Fabbri done for the tournament, he’ll surely have an impact in a larger role. Point was incredible during the pre-tournament, earning him a spot due to his dominance against the CIS Selects. Lining up the 13th forward since game one, Point has scored on 40% of his shots so far in the tournament, scoring two goals on five shots so far while playing limited minutes. Point will likely play with experienced play-makers Nic Petan (eight points) and Nick Paul (two points), who have both played key roles so far after five games. Adding Point will complete the PPP line, and will finally give Point a chance to really succeed in a scoring role that he has been suppressed from since the tournament began. He’s no Max Domi or Anthony Duclair, but get ready to see some points out of him.

Biggest question:  Will Canada underestimate their seemingly weaker opponents?

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Slovakia
Richard Wolowicz/HHOF-IIHF Images
Richard Wolowicz/HHOF-IIHF Images

How they got here: Expected to not finish better than 8th by most people, the Slovaks have truly pulled off an incredible performance to get to where they are. Featuring 13 players from the HK Orange Slovak junior development team, the chemistry has shown early as the team has managed to stay alive heading into the medal round. The tournament started off horribly for the Slovaks, dropping an 8-0 decision to the heavily favoured Canadians. Expected to have similar results against Finland the following day, Slovakia shocked the hockey world with a 2-1 victory over the defending tournament champions, helping their bid to stay alive in Group A a reality. On Monday, Dylan Larkin and Sonny Milano led the United States to a 3-0 victory over the Slovaks, who had a few good scoring chances from Robert Lantosi, but unfortunately went without a goal. Following a 5-2 victory over the Germans, who currently sit in the relegation round, Slovakia had a huge meeting against their rivals from the Czech Republic on Friday. The Czech’s looked like the favourites heading into the game, but hard work and domination in all three zones allowed the Slovaks to win 3-0 and advance to the semi-finals.

Richard Wolowicz/HHOF-IIHF Images
Richard Wolowicz/HHOF-IIHF Images

Player to watch: Denis Godla, G – Is there really any debate about this choice? Night in and night out, Godla has been the best player on the Slovakia roster, keeping them in some games they really shouldn’t be. Godla is the starter for HK Orange in league competition and while he hasn’t been very successful, he does play against men and has really shined as a result. Godla made 34 saves to send Slovakia to a 3-0 shutout win against the Czech Republic on Friday, a big win considering some of the tough scoring chances he had to make big saves on. The 2015 NHL Draft prospect has surely caught the attention of scouts during the tournament, which saw him play fantastic ever since the 8-0 drubbing by Canada to open the tournament. His performance against Finland, a 2-1 victory that gave the Slovaks their first win of the tournament, really stood out as one of the best of the tournament, making 37 saves in a game that should have gone upside down fairly quickly. Godla struggled against Canada, but if this tournament has taught us anything, expect the unexpected.

Biggest question:  Do they have enough in the tank for one of the biggest upsets in recent World Junior history?

 

Prediction

On paper, this game should be over in five minutes. Realistically, it truly could be. But don’t count the Slovaks out whatsoever. They have defied the odds to make it this far in the first place, after all.

 

Follow me on twitter, @StevenEllisNHL.

What: World Junior Championships Semi-Finals, Russia vs Sweden
When: January 4th, 2015 (4pm EST)
Where: Air Canada Centre, Toronto, Ontario
TV: Canada: TSN/RDS, USA: NHL Network-US, Belarus: Bel TV, Czech Republic: Česká televize, Finland: MTV3, Russia: NTV+, Slovakia: STV, Sweden: SVT/Visat

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Russia

2015 IIHF World Junior ChampionshipHow they got here: In what was expected to be an easy rollover in the first game of the tournament, Russia barely was able to contain the pesky Danes in a 3-2 shootout thriller to begin the event. Denmark got off to a 2-0 lead early in the game but after being unable to hold it after 60 minutes, Nikolay Goldobin was able to give Russia the victory with a fluky shootout goal to end the game. Two days later, Russia flew up the standings after defeating the Swiss by a commanding score of 7-0, easily their most dominant game of the tournament. The Russians then went to play a spectacular game against their next opponents, the Swedes, but the boys in yellow ultimately took the 3-2 victory, a game that could have truly gone either way. After losing the close match, Russia took to the ice in a battle with the Czech’s who struggled throughout the tournament. Unfortunately for the Russians, the effort was totally lost for most of the 60 minutes, allowing the Czech’s avoid relegation thanks to a big 4-1 victory to finish off the preliminary round. With all expectations high for the Americans in the quarter-finals, it almost looked like the first elimination game was pretty much pre-determined from the start. However, the Russians took advantage of a very undisciplined American team, advancing to the semi’s with an important 3-2 victory, putting them in the medal round once again.

Barbashev-640x427Player to watch: Ivan Barbashev, F – Barbashev may not have taken the tournament by storm, but this future St. Louis Blues superstar will surely be one to keep an eye on when the competition gets tough. A dynamic scoring threat with some of the best skill in the tournament, Barbashev scored 1 goal with 1 assist and was +1 in seven games as Russia won a bronze medal at the 2014 World Juniors. Before that, Barbashev won gold at the 2012 World U-17 Hockey Challenge, putting up six points in five games. This year, his five points in five games have had a bigger impact, Barbashev is one of the QMJHL’s top two-way forwards with the Moncton Wildcats and will likely get a chance to see some NHL action in the next two years. Barbashev will need to step up against Sweden, arguably one of the best teams in all three zones of the ice.

Biggest question: How will the defense hold up against Sweden’s high flying offense?

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Sweden

2015 IIHF World Junior ChampionshipHow they got here: In the opening game for both Sweden and the Czech Republic, it was a bit of a sloppy game with both sides turning the puck over often and directly leading to a couple of the goals for each side. In the end, the Swedes took a 5-2 win in the second game of Group B action. In the second game against Denmark, Swedish captain Jacob de la Rose had a strong game, registering three points while goalie Linus Soderstrom stopped 19 of 20 shots for his second win, giving the Tre Kronor the 5-1 victory. Russia and Sweden battled battled it out in game for three intense periods that ended with a 3-2 win for Sweden. In their game against Switzerland, the power play powered Sweden to the big 5-1 win, as it had in the earlier contests as well. It wasn’t much different on Friday in their quarter-final match as Sweden scored three power play goals and went perfect, yet again, on the penalty kill en route to a 6-3 win over their bitter rivals, Finland. Sweden’s Lucas Wallmark netted two goals and Linus Soderstrom stopped 30 of 33 to send Sweden to the semi-finals against the Russians.

Sweden v United States - 2013 USA Hockey Junior Evaluation CampPlayer to watch: Jacob de la Rose, F – de la Rose has been quiet so far, but that’s what makes him dangerous; you never know when to expect him. With four points in five games, just one point less than his AHL numbers this year with the Hamilton Bulldogs, de la Rose hasn’t stepped up as a huge offensive threat, but he hasn’t needed too. He’s been consistently one of the better players on Sweden due to his strong two-way and forechecking ability that the team has truly benefited from. Having previously won two silver medals at the World Juniors, de la Rose knows what it takes to reach the finals in a situation like this, and with the C on the jersey this time around, his leadership has never come into question. He wasn’t overly spectacular against the Swedes in their meeting earlier in the tournament, but with medals on the line, expect the future Montreal Canadiens forward to have an impact when it counts the most.

Biggest question:  Will the power-play be the deciding factor once again?

 

Prediction

The Swedes won the first meeting of the tournament between the two teams, and they’re pretty much unstoppable. Expect a close one, but Sweden should be able to come out on top at the end.

 

Follow me on twitter, @StevenEllisNHL.