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U-18 Day One: Sweden and Finland Shine

Day One of the IIHF Under 18 World Championships has come to a close with three favorites winning big and Finland winning a physical games versus Russia. I choose to watch the European teams today since I figured that Canada would destroy Germand (and they did 11-2) and USA would trounce Norway (and they did 8-0) over at the Urban Plains Center in Fargo, ND.

The two games in Moorhead Sports Center featured one of the best teams ever for Sweden taking on Czech team that has fallen on hard times. Unfortunately, I arrived late and missed the first half of the game. By the time I got settled in my seat Sweden had built a 5-0 lead. The Czech really only mounted pressure when they had the man advantage. One sign of Swedish domiance was their 39-12 edge in shots.

Who stood out? First a word of caution--I only witnessed a period and a half of a blowout and some players might have relaxed a bit. The two standouts for me were Jacob Josefson and Tim Erixon. Josefson showed a high skill level and made several dazzling passes. He probably would have to cut down on some of his razzle dazzle against better competition but he was very exciting to watch on the PP and at even strenght. Erixon played a nice all around game. Our Western College Hockey blooger marked him down in his previews for his skating stride and passing abilities but I was satisfied with what I witnessed.

The second match between Finland and Russia was the most competitive of the day. It was clear from the out set that both nations were ready to battle hard. The contest was physical with a couple of border line hits. The Fins looked very composed and played with cohesion and discipline. They ended up winning 7-4.

For me the real story of this game was Toni Rajala who made this contest a personal show case. He scored 2 goals and had 2 assists but probably had another two or three grade A scoring chances that he didn't cash in. He looked great whether he was passing or shooting. The one draw back I saw is that he didn't look particularly fast--but he displayed a Brett Hull like ability to slip

into dead spots on the ice and get wide open. At one point in the 3rd period he managed to elude both Russian defensemen and get a clean cut breakaway. The person sitting behind me asked "how does he keep getting that open like that?" After the game I had a chance to speak with Rajala and I'll post his comments soon.

On the Russian team defenseman Orlov showed off his tremendous skating skills going end to end at the very start of the game. He brings a lot to the table in terms of his passing and skating. Evgeni Kuznetsov and Kirill Kabanov also got my attention. Kabanov was quiet at first, but then he burst into the slot and rifled a shot high stick side. Both Kuznetsov and Kabanov are too young to be taken in 2009 but could be a high picks in 2010.

It is really sad how little attention the U-18 tournament receives, because Day One featured some very talented hockey players and some terrific goals. I was at the secondary rink in Moorhead today and there was literally no media coverage by the English speaking press other than myself and Hockeys Future.