Earlier today, the 2019 IIHF World Championship was won by Finland as they prevailed over Canada 3-1 in the Gold Medal game. Winning the WC is always an achievement for a national team. It is more impressive given how the Finnish team lacked NHL players. Sure, there were NHL prospects and future NHL players; but the squad did not have “name” players from the best league in the world lead the way as they did on most other teams. On paper, this presented a problem. On the ice, they prevailed 5-4 in OT over Sweden in the quarterfinals, they hung with and upset Russia 1-0 in the semifinals, and they beat Canada in the finals. Heart. Team. Having a goaltender play out of their mind. All of these romantic concept applies to this Finnish team. Congratulations to them.
The New Jersey Devils were well represented at the 2019 IIHF World Championship. Now that the tournament is over, let’s summarize what each player did for their team.
Canada - Damon Severson, MacKenzie Blackwood
Canada lost two games in the 2019 WC: both were to Finland and both were by a 3-1 score. Coincidence? I think so. Anyway, Canada historically has performed well at this tournament. They have the most medals earned (50) and they trail Russia in gold medals, 26 to 27. Their bid to tie the Russians did not succeed with their finals loss to Finland, but they still picked up their 51st medal with the Silver.
Damon Severson was the more active of the two Devils on the Canadian roster. Severson put up one goal and five assists; finshing second to Shea Theodore and Thomas Chabot in production by Canadian defensemen. Severson’s one goal was critical. With 0.4 seconds left in regulation, Severson’s shot beat Swiss goalie Leonardo Genoni to force overtime in their quarterfinal game. Mark Stone scored in OT to send Switzerland home. Severson seemingly did well, although his 16 PIM was not so good. Still, it is good to see Severson get to play significant minutes in a meaningful tournament on a strong team. His talent is real - as are his issues with discipline and risk-taking.
MacKenzie Blackwood was announced as the third goaltender for Canada. With Matt Murray and Carter Hart ahead of him, Blackwood did not play very much at all. He only received less than ten minutes in Canada’s 5-0 beatdown of Denmark. He at least maintained the shutout. Still, with Blackwood idle for the majority of the run, there is little to really conclude from it.
United States - Cory Schneider, John Hynes
The United States put together a strong lineup on paper but they fell out in the quarterfinals. USA Hockey lost in the group stage to Slovakia (!) and Canada. The latter game guaranteed a match-up with one of the best teams in the tourney, Russia. The Americans battled but they could not make a complete comeback against the Russians. This year has to be seen as a disappointment of some sort given who represented the U.S. Especially for Jeff Blashill, who continued to play Luke Glendening constantly instead of, say, Jack Hughes. John Hynes was an assistant. I do not know what his responsibilities were, so i cannot say whether he disappointed as well.
Cory Schneider was not a total disappointment. In his appearances, he put together a save percentage of 92.02%. That is not a bad save percentage. However, the top four goalies in the 2019 WC put up a save percentage of 93% or better. In a short tournament, a hot goalie can make up for a lot of ills. Schneider was not at all bad but he did not get hot enough to put the rest of the team on his back. I do not think the goaltender should be faulted for that. The rest of the team should be instead. Did he do well enough to further allay any concerns for 2019-20? I do not know; it is a short tournament and it was shorter for the Americans this year. But provided he did not get seriously hurt, this could be seen as a sign that 2018 is truly in the past. We can only hope.
Switzerland - Nico Hischier
Switzerland had a pretty hot goaltending performance from Leonardo Genoni. Alas, it did not lead to many good results. While competitive, the Swiss lost 4-3 to Sweden and 5-4 to the Czechs in the group stage. They were not so competitive against Russia as they took a 3-0 loss. Due to these results, they drew Canada in the quarterfinals. They were literally less than a second away from sending Canada packing and having a shot at a medal for the second straight year. Damon Severson denied them and Stone knocked them out in OT. Still, the Swiss are no pushovers and they further proved that this year.
One of the reasons why Switzerland has become more of a threat is Nico Hischier. Hischier was the most productive Devil in the tournament and the most successful. He led the Swiss in scoring with four goals and five assists. Hischier played in all situations and played quite well. Hischier is very much a part of Switzerland’s near future as a hockey nation and he is not even 21 yet. Bravo, young Nico.
Sweden - Jesper Bratt
Like the United States, Sweden was also knocked out of the tournament in the quarterfinals. It was more of a heartbreak as it came in overtime to their bitter rivals in Finland. Sweden had the tournament’s leading scorer in William Nylander. However, everyone’s point totals were boosted by some absolute slaughtering by the Swedes against lesser opponents. They beat Italy 8-0, Norway 9-1, and Austria 9-1. However, tougher opponents were, well, tougher as they beat Switzerland and Latvia by just one goal each, 4-3 and 5-4, respectively. They lost to Russia 7-4 and the Czech Republic 5-2. It was a high-scoring run that ended early. It probably left many Swedens down about what just happened.
While the Swedes were racking up the points, Bratt did not benefit. Bratt was kept to more limited minutes instead of the offensive situations he has thrived in with the Devils. As a result, he had two mere assists. Being named at all to a national achievement is, well, an achievement. But I get the sense he could have done more if given the chance. Maybe in the future, although I hope the Devils do so well that they cannot send players to the WC.
Slovakia - Marian Studenic
Slovakia automatically qualified for the 2019 WCs by virtue of hosting it. The tournament hosts were not expected to play particularly well. However, I think they were more than just respectable. They finished a regulation win behind the United States in Group A, who took the last playoff spot in the group. Slovakia stunned the U.S. and gave scares to Germany in a 3-2 loss and Canada in a 6-5 loss. They prevailed in a shootout over Denmark on the last day of the group stage to fully secure their fifth place finish in Group A. Slovakia finished ahead of the likes of Denmark, Great Britain, and France and had no risk of relegation. Onward and upward to the 2020 WC in Switzerland.
Binghamton Devil Marian Studenic was named to the Slovakian roster and he made his mark. He finished his tournament with a goal and four assists. He was one of Slovakia’s more productive forwards and he acquitted himself well on the international stage against a much stronger group of talent than what is found in the AHL. I am hopeful this was a good experience for Studenic and that he can carry it on to 2019-20 in the Devils organization.
The Top Two Picks
Kaapo Kakko was a standout player for Finland, who won the Gold Medal. While Kakko’s production dried up, his six goals and one assist in ten games is among the most ever by someone 18 or younger in IIHF WC history. And he made IIHF history by being the youngest player ever to win a World Under-18 Championship, a World Junior Championship, and a World Championship. Needless to say, no one will question whether he can handle tournament situations. His strength on the puck wowed many observers. Whether it was against a super-talented Canada team or a not-as-talented Danish squad, Kakko’s performances further confirmed that he will be #1 or #2 in this year’s draft.
Jack Hughes was not always given the minutes his play commanded. But he showcased his skill whenever he could. Eventually, some points would come. Hughes’ best game was easily the United States’ quarterfinal loss to Russia. He put up two assists and was named the player of the game for the U.S. Why did he not get more minutes, you would have to ask Jeff Blashill and his staff. It may not have been as successful or prolific as Kakko, but Hughes further confirmed that he will be #1 or #2 in this year’s draft.
The WC did not impact our mock draft pick, which will be up tomorrow morning.
Belarus and Kazakhstan won promotion to the 2020 World Championship by coming in the top two spots in Division I-A. They will replace France and Austria, who came in last place in their respective groups. France earned just two points, both from overtime losses. Austria had only the one, also an overtime loss. What is notable is that the newcomers, Great Britain and Italy, beat France and Austria respectively. This ensured that they will stick around for another year. Good luck in I-A, France and Austria. We’ll probably see you back in 2021 provided you do not blow it.
The MVP of the tournament was announced to be Mark Stone by the media at the tournament. It was an interesting pick given that Stone was not the highest scorer in the tournament, or even the best forward. The tournament directorate gave that award to Nikita Kucherov but he put up important goals to get Canada to the finals. I would have expected someone like Kevin Lankinen, the Finnish goaltender who was a big driver to their Gold Medal run and the biggest reason as to how they upset Russia in the semifinals. Or even Andrei Vasilevski, who was named the Best Goaltender by the tournament directorate and had a save percentage just a little higher than Lankinen.
Russia, by the way, needed a shootout to beat the Czech Republic for the bronze medal. I’m sure that was not the medal they were aiming for. I’m also sure they did not expect to need a shootout to beat the Czechs. However, the Czech national team is seemingly on the rise. Jakub Voracek, Michael Frolik, and Dominik Simon were all standouts. Defenseman Filip Hronek was named the Best Defensemen of the tournament by the tournament directorate. We’ll see whether the Czechs can try to make a run for the finals next year.
What did you think of the 2019 World Championships as a whole? How much of a surprise was it to you that Finland went as far as he did? Who was the best among all of the Devils at the WCs? In my opinion, it is Hischier; but I want to know what you think. What team(s) do you think disappointed the most? Who else impressed you in the tournament? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the 2019 IIHF World Championships and the Devils that participated in it in the comments. Thanks to everyone who commented about the tournament in the open post. Thank you for reading.