The United States successfully defended their U18 crown with a 3-1 win over Sweden Friday afternoon in Belarus. Over the last several years, the Americans have dominated the annual April tournament having collected a medal every year but once since 2002. If nothing else, this is a clear sign that USA Hockey's National Team Development Program is working.
The US-NTDP has a U17 and U18 version that shares a regular season schedule in the USHL. The players get to grow and develop together over the course of an entire season and that obviously is paying huge dividends when it comes to a spring tournament like the World U18 Championship.
Only two members of this year's gold medal team we not regular season participants with the US-NTDP; Austin Watson, a likely 1st round pick who played in the OHL, and Connor Brickley who came out of the USHL's Des Moines Buccaneers.
Interesting to note that Americans Jason Zucker and Jack Campbell have both captured 2009 U18, 2010 U18 and 2010 WJC gold medals in the last 12 months.
Sweden's second place finish was their best result at the U18s since 1999.
Finland's 5-1 pounding of Russia earned them the bronze medal, Teemu Pulkkinen potted 3 goals and ended the tournament with 10 goals and 15 points which were highs in both categories. Mikael Granlund ended the event third in scoring with 13 points.
Swede Johan Larsson was the player sandwiched between the highly touted Finns.
Other notable 2010 prospects who finished high on the scoring list include Russian Evgeny Kuznetsov (5-7-12 pts) and Jordan Weal led Canadian skaters with 9 points.
Speaking of Canada, it was a 7th place finish which is the worst record since they nation started participating in 2002. Those outside of the country who will relish in the optics of such a poor finish will consider it an excuse but the fact is that Canada is at a disadvantage for an April tournament.
Simply put, the majority of Canada's top talent that is eligible to play in the U18s are not available because they are still actively playing in the CHL playoffs. If the tournament started even 10 days later, players from the 12 CHL teams eliminated from the 2nd round of playoffs would suddenly be available.
Of course, the American and European teams also have a few players in the CHL playoffs who could help them but the ratio is much smaller. Suffice to say that when all the best players from each country are available, in August at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament (formerly U18 Junior World Cup), the end results are usually quite different; Canada has captured the gold medal in 12 of the last 14 years.
Tournament All-Stars were Jack Campbell (goalie), Adam Larsson (defenceman), Teemu Pulkkinen (forward) with the American netminder earning the overall tournament MVP award.
Canadian forward Brett Connolly was limited to 4 games in the tournament and managed just a single point. While many wondered if he re-aggravated his hip flexor injury and couldn't play or perform because of that, The Pipeline Show has learned that the Prince George Cougar and 2009 CHL Rookie of the Year actually came down with food poisoning. It's a disappointing finish to the playing year for Connolly who was hoping the tournament could secure his place in the top 5 at the 2010 Draft. That may still happen but there are bound to be skeptics now.