Connor McDavid set Hockey Canada records with 8 goals and 14 points, while only being 16 (Terry Wilson, OHL Im …
Connor McDavid is really, really ridiculously creative with the puck and competitive to boot, but you know that already. The better question is whether Canada seizes on its triumph at the IIHF world under-18 championship which was cemented by Sunday's riveting 3-2 gold-medal game win that snapped Team USA's four-year reign.
McDavid and mates winning in Sochi counts as significant. It represents a reboot of sorts, winning a tournament where it's typically struggled just three months after its 14-year medal streak was snapped at the more prestigious world junior championship. (No doubt there were some fans who panicked after the bronze-medal game boondoggle after realizing Canada has only five potential returning players). So one shouldn't get too hung up on Canada being outshot 35-12 by the U.S. since it was dealing with an obvious fatigue factor. There was some luck involved, but there always is, and Canada went wire-to-wire at 7-0 at an event which is just as competitive as that other teenager tournament that commands centre stage the week after Christmas. One should also keep in mind that this spring is actually exceptional for the number of 16- and 17-year-olds who were unavailable to coach Don Hay due to either injuries or competing in the OHL, QMJHL or WHL playoffs.
Canada does not collectively thump its chest over its performance in the U18 the way it did when the country was dominating the world U20 (aka the world junior or WJC) from 2005-09. It might want to start toning up those pectorals, though.
Granted, he typed while blushing, this is only brief and superficial. But here's a look at the last five WJC gold medallists and the results their U18 national teams had each of the two previous swings.
Team USA, 2013, Sochi — U18 gold in 2012, U18 gold in 2011
Sweden, 2012, Alberta — U18 silver in 2011, U18 silver in 2010
Russia, 2011, Buffalo — U18 fourth in 2010, U18 silver in 2009
Team USA, 2010, Saskatchewan — U18 gold in 2009, U18 bronze in 2008
Canada, 2009, Ottawa — U18 gold in 2008, U18 fourth in 2007
So yes, a 2013 gold-2012 bronze combo is would seem to be very auspicious for Hockey Canada. The one matzo ball hangin' out there is whether the window of opportunity will be open wider this winter at the WJC in Malmö, Sweden or in 2015.
(Better start bracing now for McDavid, as the projected No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 draft, leading host Canada at a WJC held in Central Canada, since it will be that insane. Do not read this as a suggestion he needs to be Canada's No. 1 centre next season. He will still only be 16. Contributing at that still tender age would be a feather in his cap.)
It's way too early to start picking the 22-player roster for Malmö. One talking point is whether it will be more of the classic Canada "it's a 19-year-old tournament" team or a squad comprised more from players from the deeper 1995-birthdate cohort and McDavid, who will turn 17 the week after the tournament.
That cohort of experienced 19-year-olds will be thin:
Returnees from 2013 — Charles Hudon, centre/wing, Chicoutimi Saguenéens; Griffin Reinhart, defence, Edmonton Oil Kings; Morgan Rielly, defence, Moose Jaw Warriors; Jake Paterson, goalie, Saginaw Spirit. (Hudon was replaced before the tournament due to a back injury.)
Cuts from 2013 — Mathew Dumba, defence, Red Deer Rebels; Derrick Pouliot, defence, Portland Winterhawks; Adam Pelech, defence, Erie Otters; Hunter Shinkaruk, Medicine Hat Tigers; Tom Wilson, wing, Plymouth Whalers; Sean Monahan, centre, Ottawa 67's.
(Yes, someone else will emerge, of course.)
One cannot project too far ahead since the last few seasons have shown rosters are a moving target until Dec. 25. Which precocious 18- and 19-year-olds will move up to the NHL next season — Reinhart, Wilson and Nathan MacKinnon, at least — is also a big question. In any event, the U18 team's result seems promising. It controlled play in its other six games. One can only imagine how the team's calibre would have been improved if anyone among the Halifax Mooseheads' MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin and Soo Greyhounds defenceman Darnell Nurse, Central Scouting Service's top-ranked North American 17-year-olds, had played in Sochi. The same goes for other projected first- and second-rounders such as the London Knights' Max Domi and Bo Horvat, Portland's pint-sized 120-point scorer Nic Petan, Edmonton's Curtis Lazar and goalies such as Halifax's Zach Fucale and Tri-City's Eric Comrie, who is rehabbing after hip surgery.
Domi, Drouin, MacKinnon and Petan are all top-three in league playoff scoring as 17-year-olds.
Point being, want of talent will not be reason for another hockey summit if Canada can convert this success to the next tier up. Meantime, McDavid, eh?
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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