Saturday, January 2, 2010

USA Beats Finland in the WJC Quaterfinals; Sweden Next Hurdle

Team USA beat Finland 6-2 tonight in the WJC Quarterfinal match, but the score did not reflect how close this game was.

Phoenix prospect Mike Lee was outstanding in net for the Americans, making 42 saves, and was player of the game.

Jordan Schroeder had three helpers to move past Jeremy Roenick for No. 1 on USA's scoring list for the WJC with 26 points, assisting on the first marker by Kyle Palmieri to give Team America the early lead.

Cam Fowler was good again, though not as prominent in his contributions as he was against Canada two nights ago. He isn't jumping out at me, but at the same time, when I watch him skate, he makes it look easy, and is very agile and has great edge control whenever pivoting away from forecheckers. I don't see him making many bad reads or poor passes. The points aren't there, but this guy is a seriously talented young man.

Chris Kreider scored his fifth goal of the tourney, a terrific bullet of a wrist shot he zipped past Finnish goalie Ortio on the shortside over his glove. Leafs and Habs prospects Jerry D'Amigo (2 goals) and Danny Kristo also scored for the Americans.

Was not overly impressed with defenseman John Ramage, who was caught flat-footed on Finland's first goal by Elo and seems to be the weak link on the USA blue line. I know Don Waddell singled him out for praise during the second intermission, but I haven't seen it. One scout told me that he thought that Ramage would get exposed in this tournament and tonight I saw what he was talking about. The University of Wisconsin freshman was passed over in last June's draft, but could get picked this year.

Pretty quiet game from Finnish top prospect Mikael Granlund. Didn't see much from him all night and he hasn't had the greatest tournament. You still have to keep him among the top draft eligibles because he's competing against men in his native Finland and doing very well, but Finland needed a better performance from him tonight and didn't get it in my opinion.

USA takes on Sweden tomorrow night at 9 pm ET on the NHL Network. They'll have their work cut out for them, as Sweden is one of the tournament favorites, right up there with Canada, and like the Canadians, went undefeated in round robin play. Markstrom is a goliath in the nets and he'll be tough to solve, to say nothing of the rest of the squad, which has no real weaknesses.

In the earlier quarterfinal game, Switzerland stunned Russia with a 3-2 OT win, the first time the Swiss have ever beaten the Russkies in the WJC.

I only saw the third period, but Nino Niederreiter got the equalizing and winning goals, propelling his team to a rematch with Canada at 5 pm ET tomorrow. Niederreiter has a hard, heavy shot. It appeared one of his teammates may have deflected his OT shot past the goalie Bobkov, but Niederreiter got credit for it.

The Russians were pretty disappointing when I saw them, and their early exit from medal contention is only stating the obvious. They weren't able to get it done against Sweden, and while I saw the skills of Vladimir Tarasenko, Alexander Burmistrov and Evgeni Kuznetsov on display at times, not one of them was able to step up and be a difference-maker in that game. While it was only one 60 minute game, but based what I saw in that contest and the 20+ minutes I witnessed today, I wouldn't spend a top-10 pick on any of those guys.

Oh, and the Leafs lost in Calgary tonight, 3-1. Good news for Bruins fans still giddy from yesterday's win at Fenway.

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