MONTREAL -- They started as 16. Now, nearing the home stretch, four remain. When the final buzzer sounds on May 10, only one team will be leaving Switzerland with gold around their necks.
Of the four Canadiens players currently representing their countries at the 2009 IIHF World Championships, only one has a chance at a podium finish. The United States is still in the hunt for gold.
Christopher Higgins made his World Championship debut with a solid outing in a 6-2 win over France. Since arriving in Berne, Higgins has suited up for four games, posting a plus-2 rating while potting a goal against the hosts in a losing cause in the qualification round. The U.S. edged out Finland 3-2 in the quarterfinals, with all five of the games’ goals coming in the second period. American netminder Robert Esche played the hero in the contest, turning aside 47 Finnish shots to send his team into the semis. Only Russia now stands between Higgins and the gold medal game.
The Czech Republic’s chances of squaring off for a medal came to a crashing halt with a 3-1 quarterfinal loss to Sweden. There may have only been three tallies in the game, but there was plenty of action on the scoresheet with the two teams combining for a total of 40 penalty minutes in the contest, including two two-man advantages for the Swedes. They took full advantage of their first opportunity, notching a power play marker in the second period. After multiple Swedish scoring chances were swiftly turned aside on the second 5-on-3, the Czechs stormed down the ice and managed the unthinkable, scoring with just three players on the ice.
While the numbers may not show it, Czech forward Tomas Plekanec
had a standout tournament. The Canadiens’ center finished with an assist and a plus-2 rating to his credit, but was also named player of the game in a preliminary round match-up against Finland.
Slovakia and Switzerland both had their medal hopes dashed after the preliminary round. Joining their respective teams late in the round, Canadiens players Jaroslav Halak and Yannick Weber
saw their time at the championships cut short.
Halak was stellar between the pipes for the Slovaks throughout the tournament. After facing a well-oiled Canadian machine in his first game in Zurich, Halak bounced back in his next outing to force Finland to overtime, winning player of the game honors for his efforts. Initially playing back-up to Jan Lasak when the Slovaks faced off against the Czech Republic the next night, Halak was called in for relief after Lasak was shelled for seven goals in less than 30 minutes. Only Devils sniper Patrick Elias was able to beat Halak, who then went on to close out his tournament with an overtime win over Norway two days later. Finishing fifth in Group F, Slovakia missed out on a berth in the quarterfinals.
The host Swiss team suffered a similar fate, finishing the qualifying round one point shy of Latvia for fourth spot in Group E. Canadiens rearguard Yannick Weber
saw action in just three games, averaging 18 minutes of ice time and two shots per game. Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com Read also:Photos from the championshipChristopher Higgins: Live from Bern Tomas Plekanec: Live from Zurich