The Weird Worlds are over, and two Blue Jackets will return home with gold medals.
An IIHF World Championship tournament noted for its wide-open nature this year, with rosters depleted because of the Covid-19 pandemic, ended with a familiar champion, but it was a tough road for Canada to win gold. The Canadian team started 0-3 in Latvia and looked to be left for dead before rallying to make the knockout round, then beat Russia, the United States and Finland in the medal round to capture the tournament.
That means CBJ forwards Liam Foudy and Justin Danforth were key parts of the Canadian forward group and won gold. For Foudy, it was his first with the senior national team after winning gold in the 2020 World Juniors, while Danforth celebrated his first-ever tournament with the national team by winning gold.
In all, 11 players with CBJ ties took part in the event, representing seven different countries. Four won medals -- in addition to the two Canadians, Team USA featuring Eric Robinson and Adam Clendening won bronze with a win over Germany in the medal round.
A quick recap of how the players with CBJ ties fared follows.
As previously noted, Foudy can add his gold medal to his collection that includes the 2020 World Juniors crown, while Danforth was playing in his first-ever tournament for Team Canada and now has not just a great memory but a medal for his troubles.
Neither player added much offensively during the tournament -- Foudy played in all 10 games and had two assists, while Danforth's lone point was an empty-net goal to clinch the semifinal win vs. Team USA -- but both were key depth players for a squad that came together as the tournament went on. Canada won six of its last seven games to earn the title, in part because of the ability to roll four lines and get steady play out of all of them.
Foudy, the Jackets' first-round pick in 2018 who split this season with Columbus and AHL Cleveland, finished with an average of 11:21 per game. Danforth, a 28-year-old forward who has been a point-per-game player the past three years in both Finland and then with Vityaz of the KHL this past season, had 14:50 of ice time per game. He recently signed a one-year deal with the Jackets.
The other medal winners with CBJ ties are Robinson and Clendening, who each had some big moments with Team USA on the way to the bronze.
Robinson finished a solid season with the Jackets -- he had a career-high eight goals and 18 points and showed he can play all up and down the lineup -- with a good showing at the Worlds. He was a key player for the U.S. in all situations, using his speed in particular on the penalty kill, and finished with a 0-3-3 line in 10 games. The Princeton alum, who was making his debut with Team USA, played 14:18 per game.
Clendening, meanwhile, is a free agent-to-be after spending three seasons with both the Jackets and Cleveland. He battled injury at the tournament in Latvia but showcased the offensive talents that have made him a consistent scorer at the AHL level, posting a 2-3-5 line and plus-5 rating in seven games. Clendening played an average of 12:07 per game, and both of his goals were game winners.
The Russians -- playing under the Russian Olympic Committee flag -- looked like perhaps the team to beat early in the tournament before a tight game with Canada went the latter's way in the quarterfinals.
The early success was in part thanks to a trio of players with CBJ ties, as Vladislav Gavrikov, Mikhail Grigorenko and Dmitri Voronkov were key pieces of the team that went won six of its seven games in the round robin.
As usual when he puts on the colors of his home country, Gavrikov ate up minutes on the blue line for the team, as the CBJ stalwart finished his tournament with two assists and a plus-3 rating in 20:49 per game, third on the team behind fellow defensemen Ivan Provorov and Nikita Zadorov.
Grigorenko, who spent this past year with Columbus but appears to be set to return to the KHL this upcoming season, had a huge tournament, with the winger posting a 3-4-7 line and plus-7 rating in five games.
Voronkov continued to see his stock soar, as the Ak Bars Kazan forward and 2019 CBJ fourth-round draft pick parlayed a strong KHL postseason into a big role with the Russian team. The huge forward finished with two goals and four assists for six points in eight games and was plus-9 while playing 13:33 per contest.
Around the Continent
Four other players with CBJ ties suited up for their European national teams -- forward Gregory Hofmann with Switzerland, defenseman Samuel Knazko and Ole Bjorgvik-Holm for Slovakia and Norway, respectively, as well as goaltender Matiss Kivlenieks for the homestanding Latvians.
Hofmann was one of the breakout players of the tournament, as the longtime Swiss national finished tied for third overall in goals, tallying six times in eight games for a squad that reached the quarterfinals. Coming off a point-per-game season in his home country with champion EV Zug, the 28-year-old Hofmann had his rights acquired by the Jackets this past season and could join the Jackets for the upcoming campaign if he signs a deal. In all, he finished with a 6-2-8 line in eight games while playing 15:22 per game.
Kivlenieks was one of the early stars of the tournament, as his 2-0 blanking of Canada for the home country of Latvia sent his fellow countrymen to the streets in celebration. Kivlenieks made 38 saves in that game, but it would prove to be the high-water mark for him in the tournament as Latvia fell short of qualification for the medal round. In all, the goalie who split this year with Columbus and Cleveland started four games, winning just the one but posting a 2.18 GAA and .922 save percentage while playing in his hometown.
Knazko, a 2020 third-round pick who captained the Slovakian team at the World Juniors this year, played key minutes at just 18 years old for the senior national team in this tournament and fared well. The defenseman who plies his trade in Finland at the moment played in all eight games for the Slovak team, finishing without a point and a minus-1 rating while skating 12:25 per game despite his youth.
Bjorgvik-Holm also went to the tournament at the age of 18 and got his feet wet in his first-ever senior international tournament with for Team Norway. The defenseman and 2020 fifth-round pick who spent the last half of this season with Cleveland got valuable experience in Latvia, posting no points and a minus-2 rating in 10:41 per game.