Saturday, December 29, 2007

More than just the WJC

First Star

While all the focus has been on the World Under-20 Championship, Tomas Zaborsky and his Saginaw Spirit are one of the hottest teams in the OHL.

The Spirit won their 6th straight game 6-3 over the Plymouth Whalers as Zaborsky earned the game's third star after a 1 goal, 2 assist effort.

Zaborsky if you have not been watching is red hot now with points in 6 straight games (5-5-10) and 19-21-40 for the season. The 19 goals equals what Zaborsky had all of last season with the Spirit.

Second Star

We stay in North America as we have an Antoine Lafleur sighting as Lafleur got the start, the win and the game's first star in backstopping his Prince Edward Island Rocket to a 4-2 win over the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles.

For Lafleur, it was just his 7th win of the season as Lafleur stopped 36 shots in holding the Screaming Eagles to 1 power play goal and 1 penalty shot.

Lafleur looked sharp despite having the holiday break and as we have hoped in the past that this might be a turning point for the 2007 2nd round pick of the Rangers.

Third Star

This one I think will catch most of you off-guard but when we looked at everything that went on it was the only right choice.

Even though Russia lost 3-2 to the USA, we could not help but noticed that it was Artem Anisimov who basically has been Russia's most consistent player in the Under-20 championships.

Yes Alexei Cherepanov scored the goal off Anisimov's feed but that is just it, Anisimov did all the hard work. It was Anisimov who dug the puck out, it was Anisimov who got the puck to Filatov who in turn to Cherepanov.

But it was more than just the assist that earned Anisimov this star, it was his overall effort at both ends of the ice. If there ever was a player who appears to be overlooked it is Anisimov as others are getting all the notice but take a good look at the stats and see who is showing up the most.

9th in plus/minus, 21st in scoring (3rd on the Russian squad), and 20th in faceoffs, there is the under rated Anisimov who quietly is becoming the solid 2 way player we predicted he would develop into earlier this season. Maybe that works to Anisimov's advantage but today Anisimov was our star.

The Rest of Ranger Prospects

We might as well start with the USA/Russia matchup as we already reported on Alexei Cherepanov's goal for Russia but he was also even with 4 shots on goal. Bobby Sanguinetti (who is 4th in defensemen scoring) took 2 shots on goal but played a steady game. The 3-2 win was huge as it put Team USA into the semi-finals (unless Sweden loses their last preliminary game) as the 2nd seed.

Speaking of Sweden, Carl Hagelin has been very quiet in his World Junior debut but his team pulled off the biggest upset of the tournament so far scoring with just 7 seconds remaining in the 3rd period to win 4-3 over Canada.

The win ended Canada's World Under-20 winning streak at 20 games and has made a mess of the expected medal round match ups (more on that later).

David Skokan did not score and his Slovakian squad is headed to the relegation round after losing to neighboring Czech Republic 5-2. For Skokan this was not what he was wanting in his final appearance as a member of Team Slovakia.

As for the Czech Republic, David Kveton missed his second straight game and when we get confirmation as to why, we will pass it along. (UPDATE- David Kveton has an injured shoulder which is why he has missed the last 2 games.)

Danny Hobbs was held scoreless but was able to be a +1 despite his Ohio Junior Bluejackets losing to the Cedar Rapids Roughriders 5-4.

Max Campbell had an assist but it was not enough as his Western Michigan Broncos fell to the Quinnipiac Bobcats 2-1 in the opening round of the Catamount Cup in Vermont.

Billy Ryan and his Maine Blackbears got a 6-0 spanking from UMass-Lowell for their efforts in the championship game of the Florida College Classic.

Jordan Foote sat out the second of his 3 game suspension but he missed a dandy of a game. His Michigan Tech Huskies gave the top ranked Michigan Wolverines everything they had but it was not enough as the Huskies took the Wolverines to double overtime before losing 1-0 in the championship game of the Great Lake Invitational.

Eric Hunter missed his University of Alberta Golden Bear's 10-0 blowout win over Ranger Assistant Perry Pearn old team the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology Ooks (Yes Ooks is their team name). Our friend Matt Gutsch the Golden Bear's SIC also wanted to thank the Rangers for spanking the Leafs 6-1. You are welcome Matt, we enjoyed it too.

Sorting out the World Under-20

Sweden's win over Canada coupled with Team USA's win over Russia has made a mockery of the projected medal round match ups so we will try to explain them.

As it stands going into the final set of preliminary games, Sweden and the US have clinched the byes to the semi-finals. Even if both Russia and Canada win, while the USA and Sweden lose the tiebreaker is based on head to head.

Out of Group "B" it will be Russia and Finland, while from Group "A" it will be Canada and host Czech Republic. Now comes the crazy part as while USA is assured of it's spot, they will be rooting for the Czech Republic to hand Sweden it's first loss of these games.

A Czech win would give the US the top seed in the medal round which IF we have things understood would also mean the US would also avoid Canada until the finals. That of course will be a lot better than having to face Canada in the semi-finals.

In any case, the upset wins today now are going to make the finish of this year's edition of the the World Championships a lot more interesting than just a 2 team contest so many thought this would be.

(Anisimov picture courtesy of Chris Rousch/Hartford Wolfpack, Cherepanov courtesy of Avangard Omsk, Zaborsky courtesy of the Saginaw Spirit)

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