A friend of mine named Jeff (who runs the great website thirdstringgoalie.com) gave me one of the funniest hockey quotes of all time: "You don’t like to see 20 kids punching 20 other kids. But it’s not a disgrace, It’s hockey." - Michael Farber. The quote (about the Punch-up in Piestany) captures the essence of the IIHF U20 World Ice Hockey Championships in my opinion. Every year the world’s best prospects from the world’s top hockey countries go at it in a week long tournament (usually held in Canada recently) to see which country has the best of these prospects. The tournament showcases these young, developing kids playing every game like it’s their last, so that maybe some NHL scout will like them, and the dreams of these kids of playing in the NHL might come true. The game is at its purest form in this tournament. The kids are playing for national pride, without pay, and play every game like it could be their last. Usually the big dogs in Canada, Russia, USA, Sweden, and Finland dominate the tournament, but every once in a while there is an underdog crashing the party (case in point Slovakia playing for the Bronze last year). And nothing screams big dogs like the New Years Eve matchup of USA-Canada this year.
After John Tavares took the charge (with a hat trick) to lead Canada to a 7-4 win after going down 3-0 early, the United States is out for revenge. While each roster is loaded with talent (on team Canada only Taylor Hall, potential #1 draft pick has not been eligible for the draft, and on team USA only 3 players Jack Campbell, Jason Zucker, and Cam Fowler are not draft eligible) three names stick out on Team USA’s roster: Chris Kreider, Ryan Bourque, and Derek Stepan. All three of these players are Rangers prospects in the tournament. All three’s impact in the tournament is undeniable. Each prospect has at least one point, and all have positive ratings (through three games). Ryan Bourque (3rd round 80th overall 2009) has two assist and is a +3, while Chris Kreider (1st round 19th overall 2009) has four goals and an assist while being a +2 as well. Derek Stepan is the standout of the bunch though. Drafted in the 2nd round at 51st overall, Stepan is in his second year at the University of Minnesota, as well as the captain of the USA’s World Junior Squad. Stepan leads team USA with 3 goals and 5 assists in 3 games and is a +6. Ladies and Gentlemen these boys are our future.
Now while the future Rangers battle the evil yet star-studded Canadians, the Rangers of today have a matchup with the worst team in the NHL your Carolina Hurricanes. Now instead of listening to the Rangers announcers blab on about how there are two Staal brothers (Marc and Eric) playing in this game, slowly killing yourself with complaints about Wade Redden, Michal Rozsival, Ales Kotalik, and no secondary scoring for Marian Gaborik, and wishing the Rangers would take the next step and no longer be mediocre, why not watch the World Juniors game as a nice refreshing break. The World Juniors game is scheduled to start at 8pm on December 31 and will be aired on the NHL Network (or online at http://usahockey.fasthockey.com/login.php).
Here is what is happening over at the Rangers game: Rangers take an early lead 1-0. Gaborik gets the goal. Henrik Lundqvist stands on his head for most of the game but lets in a softie at some point to have the game tied 1-1. Each team trades goals and the score is 2-2. The game goes to overtime and Christopher Higgins misses a "goalden" opportunity as usual. Rangers win in a shootout as Henrik is unstoppable. Chris Drury and John Tortorella think we need to play harder, and of course we can only score on the Power Play. Redden and Rozsival play alright, yet their gaffes are criticized and ridiculous trade rumors are formed online. The team somehow gets two points, but we are reminded it is against the Carolina Hurricanes, so it is nothing special. Lecavalier trade rumors start up again, and the media attacks the team. Blah blah blah, been there done that all season long. Why not take a night off and watch some pure, inspired young guns work their butt off to get into the NHL in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan (boy that is hard to spell)? The Rangers are going to want to pay attention to this team because most of the prospects are outscoring, and frankly playing better than the veterans (I know, I know the talent pool is different but you get what I mean). These young men work their whole lives to get to this stage to show you what they got, so why not witness the magic yourself instead of watching the boring same old, same old mediocre Rangers that we love to hate!