Juniors should drop to eight teams

TERRY KOSHAN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:55 PM ET

BUFFALO — Isn’t it great that the International Ice Hockey Federation insists on having 10 teams participate in the world junior championship?

There isn’t much point to it.

The ninth- and 10th-place teams are relegated every year, so there are two fresh lambs for the slaughter each winter. Get ready, fans in Edmonton and Calgary. In the 2012 world junior, you will be able to watch the young up-and-comers in the historically rich hockey nations of Latvia and Denmark, who already have won their divisions this year, as they get pasted each time they step on the ice.

Forget that Norway kind of kept pace with Canada in the shots department, eventually being outshot 43-32. And it doesn’t really matter that the score might have been closer had Norwegian goaltender Steffen Soberg not struggled so badly in the first period.

“For sure, it was not fun for them to travel all the way here and get beat like that,” Canada forward Louis Leblanc said after Canada’s 10-1 win, “but it is part of the game. They have some great players, but we bring outstanding teams. They worked hard.”

Simply, the competition would be improved if eight teams participated. That’s the way it was until 1996, when two teams were added. When there were eight teams, each nation played each other once, with one becoming the overall winner. It might not have had the suspense that the medal round does now, but a similar medal-round playoff could be held with eight teams.

And to think that as recently as the past few years, the IIHF has discussed the idea of having 12 teams in the tournament.

Norway does not belong in the world junior with teams such as Canada, the U.S., Russia and Sweden. Neither does Germany. And next year, Latvia and Denmark won’t belong in Alberta.

Said Norway coach Geir Hoff: “We have 150 players to choose from (at the junior level). Norway is a ski nation. (Hockey) is a small sport.”

And if it’s all about money and gate receipts, there were several hundred empty seats on Wednesday night. Enough Canadian fans realized this was not worth their time or money.

From the hash marks

The Canadians were down three players with the suspension of Zack Kassian and injuries to Calvin de Haan and Jaden Schwartz, and had to suck it up further when Cody Eakin was a late scratch with a hand injury. Would the injured players have played had the opponent been, as coach Dave Cameron likes to say, worthy? ... Mark Visentin got his first start of the tournament in net and had trouble handling rebounds. Visentin recovered well to kick out his left leg on a fat rebound in the first period. And you can’t say Visentin’s rust was not showing when Norway’s Rasmus Juell scored on a backhand. Goalies will say that backhands are difficult to stop, but Visentin didn’t look comfortable when he swatted at the puck ... Defenceman Dylan Olsen was caught flat-footed on the goal and looked bad in the process ... Goalies don’t pull themselves often, so it was bizarre to see Soberg head straight for the bench when Brayden Schenn scored the fifth Canadian goal. Soberg, who faced just 12 shots, didn’t even wait for Hoff to talk him out of it. Soberg quickly sat on the bench and that was that ... Maple Leafs prospect Sondre Olden dressed for Norway, but was not noticeable other than for the fact he wears No. 13, as Mats Sundin did. Olden, a forward, is big and can skate, but there was nothing else he did that was worth a comment ... Lars Volden, who replaced Soberg in the Norway net, looked intimidated when Marcus Foligno scored a weak goal. Volden recovered and made a sparkling glove save on Brett Connolly.

Point shots

Canada didn’t want to fall into bad habits, and mostly avoided that problem with a strong third period ... Sign of the night: “These Leafs don’t waffle.” ... You have to love the Canadian fans and their spontaneity. When the public address announcer pronounced Schenn as “Sheen” after his second goal in the first period, the crowd immediately began to chant his name with the proper pronunciation ... Parking lot attendants weren’t in as gouging a mood prior to the game, as most lots were offering spaces in the range of $20-$30. Before Canada’s game on Tuesday, some lots near the arena were charging as much as $60, but that was under the assumption fans were staying for the U.S. game afterward ... At game time, approximately 1,500 tickets were unsold for Canada’s game versus Sweden on Friday ... Canada could catch a break against the Swedes, as they might be without one of their top forwards, Gabriel Landeskog. The Kitchener Rangers captain, who is touted as a high pick in the 2011 NHL entry draft, has a high ankle sprain and might be done for the tournament.


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