Playing in World Juniors is a collective memory shared by nearly half of the Blackhawks roster, from established veterans including Marian Hossa and Brent Seabrook to emerging stars such as Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Nick Leddy. This year, a new group of the Blackhawks' brightest prospects will carry on the proud tradition.
The 2012 IIHF World Junior Championships began yesterday in Calgary and Edmonton, Alta., and six Blackhawks prospects were selected to represent their countries in the annual showcase of the world’s best under-20 players. Brandon Saad, Adam Clendening and Stephen Johns all suited up for Team USA, while Joakim Nordstrom and Ludvig Rensfeldt took the ice for Sweden (with Johan Mattsson sitting as the backup goalie).
If the five players who skated last night were nervous — and as first-time participants in the tourney, they had every right to be — they didn’t betray much of it on the ice. All five registered at least a point in their respective games, as Sweden cruised to a 9-4 victory over Latvia and the United States trounced Denmark 11-3. Here are the breakdowns for Chicago’s participants:
TEAM USA (11-3 W vs. Denmark)
Adam Clendening, D: Clendening narrowly missed the cut for Team USA last year, but his improved offensive instincts stood out in last night’s opener. One of his two assists came on the power play, where he manned the point on Team USA’s first unit. Clendening also saw some PK time and finished with a +3 rating.
Stephen Johns, D: Johns showed off his strong slap shot late in the game, scoring the 11th and final goal for Team USA off a point blast. His shutdown abilities fit nicely on the top defensive pairing, where he skated alongside Devils prospect Jon Merrill.
Brandon Saad, LW: Skated on the top line with team captain Jason Zucker and top Wild prospect Charlie Coyle, both veterans from the 2011 tournament. That line dominated the entire game, with Zucker registering three points (1G, 2A) and Coyle scoring a hat trick. Saad assisted on Coyle’s power-play goal in the second period and ended the game with a +3 plus-minus rating while seeing time on both sets of special teams.
TEAM SWEDEN (9-4 W vs. Latvia)
Johan Mattsson, G: The Blackhawks’ 2011 draft pick did not play in Monday’s win over Latvia.
Joakim Nordstrom, C: Comfortable in both the physical and offensive sides of the game, Nordstrom’s versatility and composure saw him awarded an “A” for Team Sweden. Playing on the checking line, Nordstrom showed off his finishing ability with a third-period goal.
Ludvig Rensfeldt, LW: At even strength, Rensfeldt played on Nordstrom’s wing, where his size could be exploited in the checking game, and the two Blackhawks draft picks connected on Nordstrom’s goal. However, Rensfeldt’s playmaking ability earned him prime power-play time, where he assisted on two of Max Friburg’s four goals in the win.