For those who complain about Canada winning all the time at the World Junior Hockey Championship, you must think this is the greatest tournament in the world. The last 4 years has produced 4 different winners and this year's event had some real 'holy #$##$$" moments to it. From big hits, slick moves and outstanding goaltending it was worth all the hype.
The crowds were great in both cities, but it sure seemed like Edmonton was a bit louder when it counted. I like the fact that in both Calgary and Edmonton it wasn't only the Canadian games that attracted big crowds. Both cities proved they can host international events very well.
As for the title question...
Is it Canada which earned a medal for a 14th straight year but, thanks to a bad half game against Russia, saw it's run end at ten for reaching the gold medal game? It's easier to count up the years Canada hasn't won a medal, only 8 in total and that includes 1987 when the Punch Up at Piestany robbed Canada of a medal. For those like me who need a calculator that's a total of 23 medals in 31 years.
Is it Sweden who ended a 31 year drought by winning in thrilling fashion on Mika Zibanejad's beautiful GWG? Their 2nd ever gold medal puts them on the podium in 4 of the last 5 years with a bronze in 2010 and back to back silvers in 08 and 09. The Swedes were not he other side of gold medal overtime in 2008 when they narrowly lost to Canada. Sweden is also producing great talent for this tournament right now. For the 3rd time Sweden had 6 first round picks in the 2011 draft, 3 in the first 6.
What about the Russians? They are next year's hosts and dearly wanted to be two time defending champions for the first time since '02 and '03. Russia looked awfully good with a blend of skilled veterans and exciting young draft eligible players. They came within a whisker of owning the U20, U17 titles and having Russians go 1-2 at the NHL draft for the first time since 2004 when Evgeni Malkin followed Alexander Ovechkin. Nail Yakupov and Mikael Grigorenko have the chance to do that this June as the two top rated prospects for the NHL draft. Throw in the young confident pipe man Andrei Vasilevski who went save for save against tournament MVG Petr Mrazek in the quarter finals and was all world for Russia most of the tournament and the Russians future looks awfully bright.
Is the U.S.A still in the running? Not if the question is about the most dominant team right now, but if you're talking a powerhouse team, yes, the Stars and Stripes hockey program is still a threat to win gold. Had they won a medal of any kind it would have ran their streak to 3 straight years. They were at one point like Russia is now, but owned the U18 World Championship as well after John Carlson silenced Sask place in Saskatoon with his overtime golden game winner at the 2010 event.
The U.S.A, Sweden, Finland and the Czech Republic are all tied with 2 titles each. Russia is alone in 2nd with 13 (combining those earned by Soviet Union) while Canada leads the way with 15 golds, and an incredible run of 14 straight years with a medal. This year I was impressed with Finland and the Czech Republic. I didn't see enough of Slovakia or Switzerland to make an informed opinion, but I hope it's not a flash in the pan for those nations taking forward strides. It would be great if more games meant something in the round robin.
I'm a Canadian and always love to see my country win, but I'm a bigger fan of great hockey and that's what we watched this year, hopefully it continues. I think that the Maple Leaf should fly on top when talking the top country at this event overall but Sweden gets the biggest celebration right now.
What do you think?