|The Blue Jackets' top pick in 2007, forward Jakub Voracek, will play on the Czech National Junior team in the upcoming World Junior Championships.
When the Czech National Junior team takes the ice – home Czech Republic ice -- for the World Junior Championship later this month, the team will have a distinct Quebec Major Junior Hockey League feel to it.
Five players named to the preliminary Czech Republic roster currently skate for QMJHL teams, including game-breaker Jakub Voracek, who has been on a tear this season with 50 points in only 25 games and sits fifth on the overall QMJHL scoring chart.
Voracek, who skates for the Halifax Mooseheads, was the seventh-overall selection of the Columbus Blue Jackets in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. He, and Rimouski Oceanic forward Michael Frolik, the first-round selection, No. 10 overall, of the Florida Panthers in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, will be looked upon as leaders for the Czech side.
Frolik and Voracek might just be the keys to Czech success. Not only has each performed well early in 2007-08 with their respective club teams (Frolik has 31 points despite only 20 games played), the two players are the most experienced members of the squad. Each skated in last year’s tournament in Sweden, where the Czech team took home fifth place with a 6-2 defeat of the Finnish team, a game in which Frolik netted a hat trick to seal the victory.
In addition, Voracek and Frolik also saw ice time with Columbus and Florida, respectively, in preseason NHL games this season. Voracek assisted on two goals in five games and skated to a plus-1 rating, while Frolik scored one goal on four shots in the only game in which he saw action.
On the Czech team, they will be joined by fellow QMJHL skaters Martin Latal (PHO, fifth round 2006), a forward with the P.E.I. Rocket, and defensemen Jan Piskacek of the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles and Patrik Prokop of the Shawinigan Cataractes.
But the “Q Crew” won’t be the only skaters on the Czech team who are used to the North American game, as five other players will be plucked from CHL-member teams for the world’s premier junior tournament.
Goaltenders Jakub Kovar of the Oshawa Generals and a fourth-round selection of the Philadelphia Flyers in 2006 and Michal Neuvirth, current Windsor Spitfire and second-round selection of the Washington Capitals at the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, will also be battling for roster positions.
The competition will be difficult for each, as Kovar boasts a 12-3 record in his first season of OHL competition and Neuvirth has played to a 2.39 GAA and a .924 save percentage en route to a 11-5-2 record.
Rounding out the CHL contingent will be Michal Jordan of the Plymouth Whalers, Martin Paryzek of the Ottawa 67s, and Daniel Bartek of the Brandon Wheat Kings.
The Czech team will be looking for their first gold medal since they won back-to-back golds in 2000 and 2001. Their last medal appearance was a bronze in Grand Forks, N.D., at the 2005 World Junior Championship.
Around the QMJHL -- Victoriaville Tigres forward Toby Lafrance was awarded the TELUS Offensive Player of the Week for the period ending Dec. 9. Lafrance scored five goals and added five assists for 10 points in only three games, having a hand in 10 of 17 goals the Tigres scored. Lafrance has scored 25 goals and 27 assists in 33 games this season, and he sits tied for second in the overall QMJHL scoring race. … Two QMJHL head coaches, Real Paiement of the St. John’s Fog Devils and Richard Martel of the Chicoutimi Sangueenes are chasing a historic mark – membership in the 500-win club. Martel has been the head coach for 498 victories in the QMJHL while Real Paiement has recorded 491 victories. … TELUS Defensive Player of the Week honors went to PEI Rocket goalie Marc-Antoine Gelinas, who went 3-0 for the period ending Dec. 9, posting a 2.00 GAA and a .943 save percentage while facing an average of 35 shots in the three games. … Victoriaville Tigres defenseman Jason Demers is riding an 11-game point streak, as he recorded two assists in a 9-3 defeat of the Shawinigan Cataractes on Sunday afternoon. On the strength of his points streak, Demers has climbed up the league scoring lists and now sits as the league’s highest-scoring defenseman with two goals and 34 assists in 35 games while maintaining a plus-5 rating.
Western Hockey League
Despite their best efforts in running away and hiding from the rest of the league, the Spokane Chiefs are being chased hardest, perhaps, from within their own division.
The Chiefs boast the league’s best record at 24-5-1-2, playing to an impressive .797 winning percentage. However, if the Tri-City Americans, playing to a .750 winning percentage, win the two games they have in hand, they will be a sparse two points off of the pace set by the Chiefs.
Those two points will be up for grabs Saturday when Tri-City visits Spokane for their fourth meeting of the season. The Americans have a 2-1 record against the Chiefs this season, the only team in the league with a winning record against the league’s top dogs.
Around the WHL -- Colin Long, forward for the Kelowna Rockets, stretched his personal season-high points streak to eight games. He recorded six points in three games this week. With 16 goals and 29 points in 33 games, Long now trails only Chilliwack Bruins forwards Mark Santorelli (58), and Oscar Moller (50), and Spokane Chiefs forward Drayson Bowman (50) for the league scoring title. … Moose Jaw forward Jason Bast was awarded the Boston Pizza Player of the Weeek for the period ending Dec. 9. Best scored twice and added five assists for seven points and a plus-6 rating in only three games, all wins for his Moose Jaw Warriors, and now sits 20th in league scoring with 36 points in 31 games. Bast is eligible for the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. … The Brandon Wheat Kings, on the back of a 7-0 run, are now tied with the Regina Pats for the East Division lead, despite holding four games in hand on the Pats. A big part of their recent surge has been uber-rookie Brayden Schenn, who has six goals and six assists for 12 points in the seven-game stretch. Schenn, who isn’t eligible for the NHL Draft until 2009, now leads all WHL rookies with 13 goals and 30 points in 31 games.
United States Hockey League
The Indiana Ice had the opportunity to garner a measure of revenge this week, for a 10-3 shellacking at the hands of the Chicago Steel on Nov. 24, easily their worst loss of the season. They got it.
After a 5-1 victory Tuesday against the Ohio Junior Blue Jackets, the Ice managed a home-and-home sweep of the Steel, defeating their inter-division rivals 3-2 on Friday, and 5-3 on Saturday.
With the three wins, the Ice have now won six consecutive games.
Two Ice forwards: Western Michigan-bound Gregory Squires (1-5-6) and University of Nebraska-Omaha-bound Jake Skjodt (3-2-5) put up solid numbers on the week, and fellow UNO-bound Paul Kemp continued his hot hand with four assists in the three games.
Kemp, tied for the USHL scoring lead with Steel forward Andy Miele, has scored a goal and assisted on nine others during the Ice’s recent six-game run. He has put up 33 points in 21 games this season, and his 28 assists are nine more than any other USHL player.
The Ice will next host another inter-division rival, the Waterloo Blackhawks, for two games this Friday and Saturday.
Around the USHL -- The Omaha Lancers played three games this week, and managed a taste of every sort of outcome possible. They first defeated Des Moines 5-4 in a shootout Tuesday, faced overtime defeat at the hands of Sioux City on Friday, and finally managed a regulation win against the Lincoln Stars, 2-0, on Saturday night. … Despite scoring 11 goals in two games, both wins, against Sioux Falls and Waterloo, not one Cedar Rapids Roughrider scored more than four points. Tyler Thompson was his team’s leading scorer on the week, with a goal and three assists in the two games. This, however, is nothing new for the RoughRiders, who have only one player – forward Doug Jones -- who averages a point per game. The RoughRiders have been using a balanced attack en route to a 14-5-1 record, good for 29 points, behind only the Indiana Ice in the East Division. … Another big part of Cedar Rapids winning equation this season has been goaltender Brady Hjelle, who is eligible for the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. Hjelle has been impressive thus far in his first year of USHL competition, posting a 12-4-1 record with a 2.22 GAA and a .935 save percentage.
Ontario Hockey League
The OHL’s dynamic duo of John Tavares and Brett MacLean continues to click, combining for five goals and 12 points in two games this week, a 4-2 defeat of the Saginaw Spirit and a 10-0 shellacking of the Peterborough Petes.
Tavares (2009 Draft eligible) had a goal and five assists, while MacLean (PHO, 2007) had four goals and two assists in the two wins. MacLean scored twice while Tavares had only one assist in the 4-2 defeat of the Spirit before exploding offensively for a combined nine points in the 10-0 defeat of the Petes.
Tavares and MacLean sit 1-2, respectively, in the OHL scoring race, and will hopefully be taking their chemistry to Calgary, Alberta this week to participate in Hockey Canada’s World Junior Championship Selection Camp.
If selected, it would be both Tavares and MacLean’s first time on Team Canada’s roster for the WJC.
Around the OHL – Justin Hodgman has been awarded the Boston Pizza Player of the Week honors for the period ending Dec. 9. Hodgman, a 19-year-old forward from Brampton, Ontario, scored three goals and added six assists for nine points in only two games – both wins – against the Sarnia Sting and the London Knights. Fittingly, Hodgman was also named the games’ first star in each of the two wins. … Guelph Storm goaltender Tom McCollum went 3-0 this week, to the tune of a 0.66 GAA, and a .971 save percentage with one shutout. McCollum is a top goaltending prospect for the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. … Cody Hodgson, the Ontario Hockey League’s No. 5-ranked skater on the CSS Preliminary rankings, scored four times and added an assist in three games this week as his Brampton Battalion went 3-0 to stretch their winning streak to five games. … Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors goaltender Christopher Carrozzi won both of his starts this week with a 1.50 GAA and a .941 save percentage, helping the Majors inch up the Central Division standings. The Majors, who have three games in hand on the Barrie Colts, are only three points out of second in the division and six out of first. The Battalion leads the Central with an 18-10-1-2 record through 31 games.