Man, it felt good to see some hockey again. The World Juniors are always a great Christmas gift, but it felt a little more special this year to help take our minds off the months preceding the tournament.
Winnipeg hockey lovers (AKA all of Winnipeg) also got to see some Winnipeg ICE players playing in Canada for the first time since the WHL paused. All of them are advancing and have a chance to bring a medal back home.
Eugen Rabcan – Goaltender; Slovakia
zero games played
Eugen Rabcan is the only Winnipeg ICE player who has yet to play in the tournament. Unfortunately, with do-or-die games ahead, he probably won’t get to this year.
The Winnipeg ICE’s second Import Draft selection came into the bubble as one of four goalies on Slovakia’s roster. Sherbrooke Phoenix backstop Simon Hlavaj had the starting role heading in but may have lost it to Simon Latkoczy. The small Slovakian is top-five in save percentage and goals-against average in the tournament and shut out Switzerland for Slovakia’s only win in the preliminaries.
Slovakia is the final qualified team in Group A and it’s hard to see Rabcan leaving the press box. They face the USA in the late game tomorrow.
Michal Teply – Winger; Czech Republic
zero goals, two assists in four games
It’s been a quiet tournament for Teply, but the big games ahead are where he plays best.
Teply only has two secondary assists so far in the tournament, but the Czechs advanced on strong defense of which Teply is a big piece. Being quiet against heavyweights like the US and Sweden can be a good thing – it means you’re not messing up. He still sits tied for fourth in points on a team that’s winning through systems and team defense rather than star power. He hasn’t stood out, but he hasn’t been invisible either.
The Chicago Blackhawk prospect hasn’t played in North America since last season with the Winnipeg ICE. It’s not surprising seeing players who’ve played on bigger European ice surfaces adjusting to the lack of space and time on North American rinks. Teply adjusted well last year, but he’ll need to do it again, and fast.
When Teply adapted to smaller ice last year, he became one of the ICE’s best players. If he can do it again, his size and physicality can make the Czechs a frustrating team to meet in the Quarterfinals. Teply’s first test is against his ICE teammate Peyton Krebs and team Canada.
Henri Nikkanen – Centre; Finland
one goal, one assist in four games
A great start in the first game slowed through the rest of the preliminaries, and Finland will need him back on the score sheet to help Finland win gold.
After tallying the insurance marker that helped Finland beat the shorthanded Germans, Nikkanen hasn’t registered a point. Also, like the rest of his team, he wasn’t ready for the first real test they faced on New Year’s Eve. Canada ran all over Finland in a game far more lopsided than it’s 4-1 final suggests. Against the tournament’s best, Finland failed.
With only the tournament’s best left standing, Nikkanen could be the key piece to a gold medal. He’ll be able to play against other teams’ depth players, something he can manipulate to his line’s advantage. Whether through his size, vision, or strong net-front presence in both zones, Nikkanen has every piece an X-factor needs. We saw how Akil Thomas became Canada’s hero last year; Nikkanen can do the same for Finland.
Finland faces archrival Sweden in quarterfinal action.
Peyton Krebs – Centre/Winger; Canada
three goals, three assists in four games
It’s hard to stand out on a Canadian team with so much star power – Krebs has made it look easy.
He scores important goals from tight places, positions himself perfectly to keep up pressure everywhere on the ice, and elevates everyone out there with him. It’s not surprising to see him in the top ten in scoring through the preliminaries, and that doesn’t look likely to change.
In Canada’s first match against a contender, Krebs scored the game-winner and was named player of the game. All last year with the Winnipeg ICE, Krebs was the player his team counted on to bring home the win. It looks like it’ll be the same through the rest of the World Juniors.
Krebs has been the most impressive ICE player at the tournament this year, and it’s not even close. Sadly, these few games may be the last we see of Krebs in Canada for a long time.
One of these games comes in the Quarterfinals against teammate Michal Teply and the Czech Republic. It’ll be fun to see which ICE player helps his team keep their medal run going.