Saturday - 8:45AM
Alright boys and girls, it's time for Day 3 of my Toronto-area hockey tour. I've got good news and bad news on that front.
The good news? It stopped snowing -- finally!
The bad news? It's minus-16 C (I'm not sure what that means Farenheit-wise, but I know it's cold). Minus-22, they say, with the wind chill. And, oh yeah, they are talking about more snow tonight.
But, from everything I have seen on the news this morning, the major arteries are clear, so I'm going to pile into the trusty rental car and head north to Barrie. I hope to get there in time to take in a practice of the Finnish national team and talk to a few of their players. Then, I'm thinking about staying for the Barrie vs. Peterborough game if the weather doesn't get too nasty.
If things do turn ugly, I'll just leave early and head for the hotel -- maybe watch Hockey Night in Canada from the comfort of the hotel room. I'll try to keep you updated, although internet access could be an issue.
Last night, after the game, I popped over to C'est What for a late dinner. C'est What is one of my favorite places in Toronto and I urge anyone in the area of the ACC to check it out next time. The food is good and the 35-tap selection of beers is all Canadian microbrews. If you like good, distinctive beer, this is the place for you.
Plus, the bartenders are very knowledgeable and will always give you a few pointers on what is good and what will please your palate. As an added bonus, one of the barkeeps last night was a New England Patriots fan, so we had a good chat about my favorite football team as I had a couple of cask-conditioned pints with my dinner.
I'll try to check in again when I get to BarrieFriday - 10:20PM
Here's some post-game thoughts before I head back out into the winter wonderland that has become Toronto.
The Swedes were disappointed with the loss but said they won't put too much stock into.
Oscar Moller, perhaps their best player all night, said Sweden has to take what it did well -- particularly the two goals -- and build off that. "We have to hold our heads up high," he said, adding that his team's unfamiliarity with the small ice may have contributed to the tentative start.
As for playing for Team Sweden instead of the Kings, Moller said the Kings let him decide. He chose Sweden because, "I believe we have a good team and we are very close to winning."
Hedman, meanwhile, said he was not adversely affected by the big hit Dana Tyrell delivered on the first shift. He said it did not re-injure his shoulder, which is fine. He also downplayed the fact that the Canadians seemed to be targeting him physically.
"Hitting is a part of the game," he said. Hedman scored Sweden's second goal in the final minute, capping a shorthanded 2-on-1 rush by putting home Carl Gustafsson's pass. Hedman covered a lot of ground in a short amount of time to make that 2-on-1 happen.
After the game, the Canadians admitted they were trying to send a message to Hedman, and others, by playing the body at every opportunity.
"We wanted to let them know we were there and that they would have to pay a price," Tavares said.
"That's our identity as Canadians and we wanted to show that tonight," said Cody Hodgson, who just might have been Canada's best all-around player.
Finally, Ryan Ellis admitted he was a little surprised to get the amount of ice time he received, including extensive duty as the lone defenseman on the team's unique power play, which saw Ellis' defense partner, P.K. Subban, set up in a high-slot position and try to re-direct point shots.
Ellis said he played that same power-play formation with the U-18 team last year, so it was easy to adapt this time around. He also said the amount of responsibility he is given in Windsor prepared him for his duties. He did admit the unorthodox formation is a high-risk situation at times and blamed it for Hedman's late goal, but he still believes it will pay off more often than not.
He also admitted to being a wee bit nervous, maybe even scared.
"There are so many good players out there, it can get a little bit scary at times," he said. "But, I thought I did OK."
The Team Canada players are coming out into the stands now in street clothes to meet their parents and friends, all of whom are congregated in Section 121. Each time a player comes out, a new cheer goes up from the group. This has the feel of a Midget holiday tournament more than a World Junior tune-up right now.
Pat Quinn just appeared and was treated to a big cheer from the parents. It'll be interesting to see how he handles the pressure of coaching Team Canada on its home soil. But, if anyone can do it, it's probably Quinn.
That's all for tonight. They're vacuuming behind me in the press box and I'm the only one left up here. I'm going to trudge back to the hotel and try to slog my way up to Barrie tomorrow if the snow stops and they clear the roads. I'll keep you updated.
Friday - 9:15PM
First off, let me give a shout out to the Toronto fans and their part in Canada's 4-2 win. Despite a brutal night weather-wise, they showed up in big numbers to support their boys. They were loud all night and really helped the team with momentum. There's a reason Canada fans are special. Good on you, Toronto.
Now, onto the third period.
Zach Boychuk, who had five shots in the first two periods, restored Canada's two-goal lead early in the third when he banged home a rebound of a Cody Hodgson shot. Hodgson has been in the middle of everything tonight. Ryan Ellis started the break with a smart outlet pass to Jordan Eberle while under pressure in a chase for the puck in the corner. I really like the way he plays the game, and not just on the power play.
Jamie Benn added an unassisted goal -- one Owuya would like back after it trickled through his legs -- to finish off the scoring.
Tavares, the other draft-eligible player, also had a very good night. Not only did he score the game-opening goal, but he had several other excellent opportunities. He even saw a little time on the penalty kill.
Hedman was not even in the same league tonight. He played a somewhat timid game, was outmuscled for several pucks and didn't create offensively, even during a power-play shift in which he was used as a forward.
In fact, few Swedes stood out in a positive way. As I mentioned, Owuya was very good, but he will likely be the backup to Jakob Markstrom when the tournament starts. Moller, who was just assigned to Team Sweden from Los Angeles, was dangerous throughout. Mattias Tedenby had a few flashes of brilliance, as well. Mikael Backlund had a strong 10 minutes in the second but was quiet otherwise.
Sweden also had some problems it will have to fix if it wants to compete for gold when the tournament starts a week from today. The Swedes will have to show more jam in battles for the puck and handle a physical attack with better composure. They'll also want to cut down on penalties. They gave up more than 40 shots, but a good portion of them came from Canada's dominant power play.
The Swedes have too much talent to be as ineffective as they were Friday night. They should be better when the tournament starts, but tonight certainly should serve as a wake-up call.
Friday - 8:36PM
Although the Swedes played a more physical second period, they were completely dominated by Team Canada because of the ensuing penalties. Nichlas Torp took a pair of penalties trying to land big hits and Erik Karlsson took a late charging penalty.
Not surprisingly, Canada had an 18-7 advantage in shots during the period, including 11-1 before Sweden got its second shot at 8:57. Needless to say, goalie Mark Owuya has been Sweden's best player.
Despite dominating play, Canada holds just a 2-1 lead. Cody Hodgson was credited with Canada's second goal, but it appeared that Alex Pietrangelo's shot from the point, off a faceoff win and a pass from Hodgson, went straight in without a tip from Hodgson.
However, Sweden answered with 30 seconds left as Oscar Moller, the Sweden captain, scored on a sweet, long-range backhand after Chet Pickard (replacing Tokarski midway through the second) left a juicy rebound of a shot by Mikael Backlund. Team Canada captain Thomas Hickey
had served just nine seconds of his penalty when Moller scored.
Both P.K. Subban, who is playing a high-post position on Canada's first power-play unit, and Matt Ellis, playing the sole point on that same unit, have impressed me tonight. Both are among the fastest players on the ice, and Ellis has the speed and smarts to play the blue line alone on the PP. Pretty impressive.Friday - 7:45PM
Round 1 definitely goes to John Tavares in his battle royal with Victor Hedman tonight.
Not only did Tavares score the game's only goal so far -- a pretty power-play tally set up by a pass from Cody Hodgson -- but he also planted Hedman on his butt with a board-rattling hit on the game's first shift.
That just set the tone for the Canadians, who made it their personal mission to plaster the 6-foot-6 Hedman at every opportunity. Dana Tyrell, all 5-9 of him, was the most rabid of the Canadian contingent, and his hit just 42 seconds into the game -- just 17 seconds after Tavares delivered his shot -- sent Hedman flying backward as he tried to keep a wraparound in at the blue line.
The hit clearly stunned Hedman, who waved on a replacement before gingerly lifting himself over the boards. Hedman missed a few shifts, but returned on the shift following Tavares' goal and played the rest of the period. He was not particularly sharp, though.
The other highlight of the first period was during a stoppage midway through the period when Pat Quinn was honored on the center-ice video screen. The ACC staff put together a photo montage of Quinn's time as the coach and GM of the Maple Leafs, as well as some of his many posts with Team Canada, while Manfred Mann's "Quinn the Eskimo" played in the background.Friday - 7:00PM
Faceoff is just a few minutes away now.
A lot of scouts were expected here tonight, although I'm sure some cancelled because of the weather.
Both the Devils and the Blackhawks had four scouts listed on the seating chart. The Sabres had three. Atlanta, San Jose, the Rangers, the Islanders, Boston and Anaheim also requested scouting credentials.
Not only do these scouts want to see the eight draft-eligible players in the two lineups, they also want to see their own prospects against world-class competition.
The Devils surely want to see what Swedish forward Mattias Tedenby can do after drafting him the first round this past June. They also drafted Canada forward Patrice Cormier in the second round in 2008. Buffalo, meanwhile, owns the rights to Canada's Tyler Myers and Tyler Ennis, both taking in the first round in June.
They just announced the starting lineups, and it is undrafted Mark Owuya in goal for Sweden. Canada is countering with Dustin Tokarski. On defense, Sweden is pairing Hedman with Erik Karlsson, a first-round pick by Ottawa last June. Up front it is Oscar Moller -- who has spent the season with Los Angeles -- Jacob Josefson and Mikael Backlund, a first-round pick of Calgary in 2007.
Canada started with captain Thomas hickey
and Colton Teubert on defense and Tavares, Dana Tyrell and Ennis up front. Tavares and head coach Pat Quinn, formerly of the Maple Leafs, got the biggest ovations from the small but boisterous crowd, which has already started giving Hedman the gears during the national anthems. Friday - 6:35PM
You know it's going to be a good night when Ronnie James Dio greets the paying customers as they walk in the door an hour before game time. That was exactly the scene here tonight at the Air Canada Centre as the doors opened for Canada vs. Sweden.
"Heaven and Hell" was blasting through the speakers, and that pretty much summed up the night. It's hellish outside, for sure. Traffic is at a virtual standstill on most of the 400 system of highways, and commuter trains or delayed or cancelled.
But, it has the potential to be hockey heaven for those that can make it here. There are more than 25 players on the two rosters who have already been drafted by NHL teams. Canada alone has nine first-round picks on its roster.
There are also eight players who could go very high in the 2009 Entry Draft. Everyone knows about Canada's John Tavares and Sweden's Victor Hedman, who will likely go 1-2 in the Draft -- with the order still to be determined. But there are other draft-eligible stars on display as well.
Magnus Paajarvi is an explosive forward who will go in the Top 10 this June. He could be joined by Jacob Josefson, a Swedish center, and Ryan Ellis, a Team Canada defenseman who excels in the offensive end. Sweden has two good offensive defensemen of its own to show off tonight in Tim Erixon and David Runblad, who are teammates with Skelleftea, the first-place team in the Elitserien.
Erixon is the son of Jan Erixon, a defensive forward who played for the New York Rangers for 10 years before returning to Sweden after the 1992-93 season.
The players are just getting ready for warmups now. When I arrived, the Swedes had a pretty spirited game of soccer going on in the dressing-room hallway, while a few other players were going through solitary stretching routines. The ACC ice has been rebranded for this game as the always sharp Team Canada logo -- the red-and-black maple leaf with the hockey player silhouette in the middle -- now dominates the center-ice faceoff circle.
Sweden was greeted by a few boos upon taking the ice, but there were only about 3,000 on hand to voice their displeasure. It'll be interesting to see how many fans there are by game time. Team Canada officials told me that they sold 12,000 tickets to this game. Honestly, it'll be a miracle if half that total actually make it here.Friday - 3:40PM
Whew! Those of you that listen to NHL Live know that I have arrived safe and sound at the downtown hotel I moved to here in Toronto as I was on with Don and Jim for about 15 minutes just before they signed off at 2 p.m.
For those of you that didn't catch the show -- and you should make it a habit as it is two brilliant hours of radio on a daily basis -- rest assured that I am ensconced in my new digs. It only took an hour and 38 minutes to make the trip along the 401 and down Yonge Street. It's 18 miles from door to door and should take a half hour under favorable traffic conditions. Let's just say the conditions were not favorable. There was a five-mile stretch on the 401 where I never touched the gas, in fact. I just coasted along at 8 KPH, applying and releasing the break.
And, it is still coming hard. In fact, the snow has picked up its intensity and is now being driven by a pretty stiff breeze. I walked two blocks to grab a quick sushi lunch after the radio show and it was impossible to walk with your head up because of the flying snow.
But, be that as it may, I will still find my way to the ACC in a few hours. I guarantee you it won't be by car, though. Most likely I will take the subway as it is probably the safest, most convenient route.
There is some excitement here in Toronto about tonight's game as it is the first opportunity for a lot of Canadians to see Victor Hedman in person. They have heard so much about the big Swedish defensemen and many fans want to see what all the hoopla is about and how Hedman can be talked about in the same breath as Tavares, who has been assumed by many to be the only option at No. 1 in this year's Entry Draft come June.
Hockey Canada and TSN are also doing a good job in beating the drums about the upcoming tournament. TSN, which will broadcast the tournament here, has a brilliant commercial it is showing regularly. I have seen it at least a dozen times since I arrived here yesterday. Check it out on the front page of the Hockey Canada website. I love the tune that serves as background music.
The game is at 7 p.m. tonight and I plan to leave in an hour or so to be on hand. I'll check back with you then with all the early news and some more observations.
Friday - 10:40AM
Well, it appears the weather man was spot on this time. Toronto is getting blasted with a pretty good snowstorm right now.
Visibility outside my fourth-floor balcony is only about 500 yards or so. Yesterday, I could see the huge post office processing plant across the street. Today, not so much. Getting into downtown Toronto is never easy. It should be extra fun today.
Hopefully, I will have an easier time finding my new hotel, though, than I did finding the Brampton rink last night. It took me almost 50 minutes to get there because of several wrong turns, but it took me just 14 minutes to get home because I knew the way back. Good grief.
At least I got to hear the whole Elephant Riders CD by Clutch on the way to the game. That was an added bonus and if you don't think I won't be playing The Yeti track of that album a few times on my ride downtown today, you are sadly mistaken. Here are the most appropriate lyrics off that brilliant track for today's adventure.
Standing waist high in snow,
what brought me here I do not know.
Sky is filled with starry scenes
of heroes and their greatest deeds.
There's talk of me being on NHL Live later today (12 to 2 p.m. on XM Radio and NHL Network) to discuss some WJC news and tonight's game between Canada and Sweden. Till then, I'm going to transcribe some of my interviews with the Swedish players from yesterday and prepare for the big sled run down the 401.
Wish me luck!
Thursday - 9:30PM
When they talk about old-time hockey barns, they had the Brampton Memorial Auditorium in mind.
I missed almost half the first period of the OPJHL game between Brampton and Milton while I looked for this gem tucked in a residential neighborhood.
It's a Quonset Hut-shaped building with a wooden roof and a modern facade. There are yellowed banners hanging the length of the ice, some more than 50 years old. It was cold -- stamp your feet and lose feeling on your nose cold -- and the wooden benches that passed for bleachers were mostly ignored as fans stood at the top of the seating area, ringing the playing surface and making the rink seem so much smaller than it was.
The game, watched by 100 or so fans -- and two dogs -- was an entertaining affair for the most part.
Brampton scored a couple of nice goals and I got to see Alex Cuptil -- a '92 that is drafted by the OHL's Brampton Battalion score two goals in less than 15 seconds in the second period to put Brampton in charge. Chase Nieuwendyk, Joe Nieuwendyk's nephew, had a couple of sweet assists, as well.
But, for me, it wasn't about the final score or who played well. It was about the soul of the game, experiencing hockey the way it is experienced across this hockey-mad country.
I listened to the fans talk about the game and their lives and I watched the little kids chase pucks and go wide-eyed as their favorite player walked past on the way to the dressing room. I felt plugged in to the community by spending two hours watching its sons play hockey.
It was an awesome, intimate expeience; far different from the one I would have had if I had gone to Peterborough. I'm richer for it I think.
I'm heading back to hotel to wait for the snow. We'll talk to you tomorrow.
Thursday - 5:30PM
So much for the perfect weather I spoke about earlier. It seems that a major snowstorm is barreling down on the city and yours truly was the only one that didn't know about. Reports are predicting 5 to 8 inches of snow and 30 mph winds beginning tommorow morning.
Jen Raimondi, part of the NHL's PR staff up here, mentioned the impending storm after we had finished interviewing the Swedish World Junior Championship team and it took me by surprise. But, I grew up in New England and went to school in Syracuse, so I know a little bit about major snowfall.
The only concession I have made to the weather is to switch my hotel, moving from Mississauga to Yonge Street in downtown Toronto. That should make it easier, and safer, to get to tomorrow night's game at the ACC.
Otherwise, I am sticking to the plan at hand, which is to cram as much hockey into my days here as possible. In that endeavor, I'm planning to go to an Ontario Provincial Junior Hockey League game tonight in Brampton. The Capitals are playing Milton. It should be an interesting time. I'm looking to see how close the OPJHL is to the Atlantic Junior Hockey League, a league I am pretty familiar with back home.
I'll update you with some details from the game later tonight.
As for the Swedes, they could not have been more accommodating. I spent at least 15 minutes with each of Sweden's six Draft-eligible players this afternoon and was struck by just how much they want to win this tournament and how excited they are to play on Canadian soil before a rabid Canadian crowd.
Victor Hedman, the top-rated European, told me his separated shoulder is fine now and that he has played four games with MODO in the Elitserien without having a problem. Hedman also said that he understood the hoopla that has surrounded him and John Tavares, the top-rated North American, going head-to-head in this tournament.
But, he also said he is not even thinking about the personal showdown, rather just that he wants to do everything to help his team win the gold medal this year. He said he enjoyed playing against Tavares in last year's tournament, saying it was a "challenge" and that "you have to be awake every second he is on the ice."
By the way, it was Hedman's birthday today. He's now 18 years old. If you see him around Mississauga tonight, make sure you wish him a happy birthday!
In the coming days, I will have a number of stories from these interviews. Keep on the lookout for those.
I'll talk to you again after the OPJHL game.
Thursday - 12:55PM
I'm on the ground in Toronto and it is perfect hockey weather.
The city got a minor snowstorm last night, it looks like, and there is an inch or so on the ground and it shouldn't be going anywhere soon as the temperature must be in the mid-20s or so.
I just checked into my hotel in Mississauga and will be heading over to Team Sweden's hotel in a few minutes where I plan to talk to the six draft-eligible players named to their World Junior squad. That group is highlighted by Victor Hedman and Jacob Josefson.
Friday, I will be on hand for the Sweden vs. Canada exhibition game at the Air Canada Centre. Saturday, I hope to visit with the Finnish World Junior squad, which is camping in Barrie. Peterborough is playing Barrie in an OHL that night and I plan to take that in, as well.
It'll be a busy weekend, but I plan to jam as much hockey into it as I can. I also plan to keep you updated along the way, so come back often.
I'll leave you with one important travelling trip before I head to the Team Sweden hotel: When travelling to another country, you should never wear any clothing associated with your favorite team -- especially if it is not the colors of the hometown team.
My entry into Toronto was delayed for a few minutes -- and not by the hour-long wait on the tarmac in Newark -- but, instead, by the border guard's displeasure with my Manchester United scarf. After a few questions, though, he let me go with just a quick parting shot: "That's one ugly scarf!" I just nodded my head and walked out of the customs area, ready to begin my adventure.
I'll be back with more later.
Author: NHL.com Staff