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Quick Exit – The World Junior Championships were once the sole domain of Canada and the Russians. For the first 27 years of the tournament, Russia or Canada won gold 23 times.  They have combined to win only three times in the last ten years. There are no longer any easy games in this tournament once the medal round gets underway and it’s certainly no longer a given that Canada wins gold. So it came as no surprise that Canada would make a hasty exit in the quarter-finals against Finland. It took a series of bizarre bounces and misfortune but this team was simply not one of Canada’s best. I questioned where the scoring was going to come from and that turned out to be Canada’s undoing. The power-play was dreadful and that’s on Tim Hunter. He failed to make any adjustments and should take criticism when it was clear the power-play unit was not clicking.

I definitely don’t agree with changing the head coach every year. What purpose does that serve?  Every other country has continuity in their coaching staff and I don’t think that can be understated.  We switch things up every year and that doesn’t make any sense to me. The head coach should be leading our Under 17 and Under 18 teams as well as the World Junior squad in order to become more familiar with the top players as they come up through the program. Find the right guy and stick with him.

So the U.S. and Finland will now meet for gold. You can’t help but think it should be the U.S. and Canada in the final. TSN certainly wishes that was the case.

World Junior Notebook –

  • As soon as Quinn Hughes steps into the Canucks lineup, he will immediately become the fastest skating defenseman in the NHL. This guy has jets and I have never seen a player use his edges as well as him. He can turn away from trouble on a dime. Very impressive but he will have to learn that some of the things he can get away with now will not work in the NHL. His puck management will have to be smarter and safer. Some of his giveaways in the World Juniors will end up in the back of the net in the NHL.
  • Brother Jack finally got back into the lineup vs. the Czechs in the quarter-final matchup and he had an immediate impact. He is moving all the time without the puck, working to be open so when he gets the puck he has time and space to make plays. Like Elias Pettersson, he will be an instant star as soon as he enters the NHL. Amazing skater, incredible puck skills, great vision and awareness, high hockey IQ and boy, is he fun to watch!
  • The Columbus Blue Jackets got a steal when they drafted Swedish winger Emil Bemstrom in the fourth round of the 2017 draft.
  • The Montreal Canadiens have a future captain in centre Ryan Poehling. He single-handedly brought the Americans back from a 4-0 deficit against the Swedes.  He had an assist on the first goal then scored a natural hat trick. He had five goals and three assists in the four preliminary round games. Poehling will walk right into the Habs lineup when his college career at St. Cloud State is over.
  • Vegas is going to get a big boost when smooth-skating defenseman Erik Brannstrom and Canadian centre Cody Glass move into their lineup. Both are captaining their respective teams. Brannstrom is not big but he controls the game. Glass is the much coveted big right-shot centreman in the mold of Mark Schiefele and Ryan Getzlaf.
  • The Flyers must have had a legion of scouts at the U.S.-Sweden game. The Flyers had no less than 6 drafted players playing in that game.
  • Have you noticed how the Russians always seem to hide in the bushes during the early stages of major world tournaments only to emerge when the stakes go up? Again in this year’s World Juniors, the Russians showed little interest until meeting Canada on New Year’s Eve.
  • Sweden had won 48 straight preliminary round games but came up empty when it counted, losing 2-0 in the quarters to the upstart Swiss. Despite not losing a preliminary round game since 2008, the Swedes have only one gold medal to show for it during that ten-year period.
  • Best name of the tournament goes to Finnish forward Kaapo Kakko who could go second overall in next summer’s NHL draft. I took the dog for a walk the other day and stepped in some kaapo kakko.

Canucks Report – Canuck fans can only hold their breath for news on the status of uber-rookie Elias Pettersson.  He’s undergone an MRI on his knee after an awkward fall in Montreal. It would be shame if he is out for any length of time. The Canucks are optimistic it is not serious but we have heard that tune before. Their record on forecasting the seriousness of injuries is questionable at best.

Pettersson had quite the day in Ottawa this week. He was named to the NHL All-star squad then went out and notched his first NHL hat trick. It proved particularly fruitful when he found out he had just earned an added 425 grand in bonus money for going over the 20-goal mark.

It’s hard not to get all googly-eyed over Pettersson’s early success. He’s showing us something each and every night but what has surprised me the most is his commitment to playing both ends of the ice and being hard on the puck. When I watched him play on the wing in the World Juniors last year, I didn’t see a player who showed much willingness to check. He’s changed my opinion completely and that’s a great sign because your best players can’t be guys who take shifts off and aren’t committed to battle at both ends. It’s not out of the question that he hits the 40-goal mark in his rookie season which would be sensational in today’s game.

Fans tend to get overly hyped when a team is rebuilding and they start to stock the shelves with young prospects.  This was going to be the year a bunch of Canuck prospects started making their mark in the minors.  Well, hold on it’s not happening. Goalie prospect Thatcher Demko and young Swedish forward Jonathan Dahlen were both sidelined with concussions. 2016 second round picks Kole Lind and Jonah Gadjovich have had very little impact, often finding themselves planted in the press box.  It only illustrates how difficult it is to make the jump from junior to the pros and why fans should hold off on penciling guys into the lineup before they have proven anything.

At last glance, Lind had no goals and three assists in 19 games.  Gadjovich has one goal and three assists in 20 games.  Talk about bringing them along slowly!  I just don’t understand the wisdom of keeping kids out of the lineup when the sole purpose of having them in the minors is to prepare them for the NHL. To top things off, slow developing defenseman Olli Juolevi is gone for the season after knee surgery, further postponing his Canucks debut. If only the Canucks could re-do that 2016 draft!  Do you think the Canucks maybe would have taken Flames burgeoning star Matthew Tkachuk?

NHL Notebook – I don’t want to say I said so but in my pre-season preview of the Edmonton Oilers, I referenced their lack of scoring on the wings and it’s now proving to be a huge problem.  The projected top three right-wingers – Ty Rattie, Jesse Pulujarvi and Kailer Yamamoto – have a combined six goals between them.  Yikes!  The Oilers are in full panic mode and the Hitch effect is quickly fading. No way this team makes the playoffs.

It’s amazing how a couple of good drafts can turn a general manager into a sudden genius when fans were just calling for his head.  Case in point – Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin. He had made a string of bad decisions including the free agent signing of Karl Alzner, the exorbitant contract for Carey Price and the trade of P.K. Subban, but now all of a sudden, the Habs have a host of kids coming from recent drafts and the opinion of Bergevin has suddenly changed.  It also didn’t hurt when he landed a bunch of assets in the deal that sent rapidly-declining captain Max Pacioretti to Vegas.  The Habs now have a future despite the albatross contracts of Price and Shea Weber.

Have we had enough of the Heritage Classic yet?  Will the shine finally come off these outdoor games? Chicago will be happy to take a break from playing in the game.  They are 1-5 in Heritage Classic games although I must say I liked the Black Hawks uniforms in their game against the Bruins.

Coyotes CEO Aaron Cohen has fired off a letter to fans (yes, apparently they have a few) to reaffirm the team’s commitment to keep the Coyotes in Arizona.  Insert yawn here! There is reportedly another sale in the works so the Coyotes felt compelled to let everyone know they have no plans to move the team. Here’s a suggestion – give up the charade! They are not going to get a new arena built in the area anytime soon.  Move the team to Houston.  Case closed.

Seahawks-Cowboys Preview – Before looking at this game, let’s consider for a moment the mythical Dallas dynasty and all the never-ending bluster about ‘America’s Team’. No, the Cowboys didn’t invent football! Last time I checked, the Cowboys had done little or nothing over the past 20 years including only two playoff wins in that span. But they still like to act like they are the most iconic franchise in the NFL.  Sorry Jerry, but the team has sucked more often than not under your ownership! The Cowboys have been so bad they no longer even have any relevant rivalries within their own division. How he still believes he should be the team’s quasi general manager is beyond me. Win something and then we can talk!

Like the Patriots, the Cowboys benefited this year from having six games against division teams within the weak NFC East. If you look at their schedule, they should have won five of six against the Giants, Redskins and Eagles right off the hop.

Dallas lost to the Seahawks 24-13 in Week 3 in Seattle. You will recall in that game Cowboys QB Dak Prescott was scatter-gun. He went 19 for 34 for 168 yards with two interceptions. The big question with Dak is accuracy.  Can he throw into tight windows and can he throw the deep ball?  Prescott has a completion percentage of 43 percent on throws downfield over 10 yards with only six TD’s and five INT’s. The Cowboys really miss tight end Jason Whitten who was their big safety valve. They got an immediate boost from Amari Cooper after he was acquired from Oakland but Cooper has been very quiet the past three weeks. And don’t forget, Doug Baldwin didn’t play for Seattle when the two teams met earlier this season.

In that first meeting, Chris Carson got untracked and went over 100 yards for the first time this year.  The offensive line finally stepped up after surrendering 12 sacks in the first two games. The big question is – which team can do a better job of stopping the run? The Seahawks have had problems stopping the run game at times this season so they need to keep Ezekiel Elliot in check.

Bottom line?  I like the more experienced quarterback in this game.  I’ll take Russell Wilson and the Seahawks in a close one. I just think they have more ability to make plays in the passing game than the Cowboys. Here’s a stat for you – Wilson threw 13 more touchdown passes than Prescott this year (35-22) in almost 100 less attempts.

The Seahawks had only 11 turnovers all season long and led the league in turnover differential at plus 15. Nothing like protecting the football when the playoffs come around!

NFL Notebook – Is there anything more pathetic these days than the rabid Oakland Raider fans who continue to show up for games in their spiky Mad Max outfits and cling to the belief that they can actually intimidate the opposition?  They live vicariously with this long since faded Raider persona. In reality, all they can do is watch their beloved Raiders get their asses kicked every weekend.  After the game, they leave the stadium, hop on their bicycles, and ride head home to their mother’s house where they still live in the basement suite.  God love them!

A lot of teams have made it a club policy not to draft a running back in the first round. You can see why. The Jacksonville Jaguars used the fourth overall pick two years ago on LSU’s Leonard Fournette. He’s had two OK seasons but has not been a huge difference maker as anticipated.  Meanwhile, they passed on two franchise-type quarterbacks in Pat Mahomes and Deshaun Watson. KC traded up to get Mahomes tenth overall and you wonder how nine other teams passed on this guy. The Jags decided to hang their hat on the immortal Blake Bortles and you know where that got them. Nowhere.

How about this for unrivalled petulance!  Antonio Brown of the Steelers became completely unglued when he found out he hadn’t been voted the team’s MVP for this season. That distinction went to fellow wide out JuJu Schuster-Smith. (Way better name) Brown had a hissy fit and now Pittsburgh has two high-priced head cases on their hands along with LeVeon Bell. Brown presents a big problem for the Steelers because he is almost untradeable. He has a 2019 cap hit of 22+ million which is the remaining financial commitment from the 72 million dollar deal he signed in 2017. Even if he is traded, the Steelers would be left with a massive 22 million in dead cap space.

Playoff picks for Wild-Card Weekend – Seahawks over Dallas, Chicago over Philadelphia, Chargers over Baltimore, and the Colts over the Texans in Houston.

More Tulo – So Troy Tulowitzki exits the Blue Jays with a ton of cash only to surface with the Evil Empire.  So it goes in MLB where the Yankees rule.  Good riddance! I will set the over/under at May 31 on Tulo getting his first injury of the season. Former Blue Jays manager John ‘The Hillbilly’ Gibbons waded in and praised the Yankees for signing Tulo. Sorry hayseed, when we want your opinion we will ask for it.

The Jays were left at the altar again when Seattle signed Japanese pitcher Yusei (Tomato) Kikuchi to a four year contract. The Jays reportedly made a strong play for the 27 year old leftie. It was the same thing last year when the Jays apparently went hard after Shohei Otani. Somehow I think the Blue Jays front office is leaking their modest interest to certain U.S. media types to make it appear as though they are actually trying to spend money and improve the team, when in fact, they have done very little.