Bill Meltzer: Meltzer’s Musings: Flyers Quick Hits, World Cup, Prospect Updates

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STREIT IS RIGHT: WORLD CUP FORMAT IS A MISFIRE

Flyers defenseman Mark Streit minced no words in telling the Camden Courier Post about his displeasure with the new World Cup of Hockey format. A perennial cornerstone of Team Switzerland, Streit told the Courier Post that the new tourney format ruins the spirit and intended purpose of players suiting up for their countries.

The tournament will have six national teams (Canada, USA, Sweden, Finland, Czech Republic and Russia). There will also be two hodgepodge teams consisting of “Rest of Europe” players and a “North American Youngsters” squad consisting of Canadian and North American players under the age of 23.

“It’s supposed to be the top eight [countries],” Streit told Dave Isaac. “For players, you want to play for your team. That’s the whole purpose of it. I don’t know. I don’t like it at all. There’s supposed to be the top eight. Go with that. Whoever’s in is in; whoever’s not is not. This is… I don’t know.”

I am in full agreement with Streit. The new format is horrendous. First of all, the Team Europe idea is an affront to the candidates for the Swiss, Slovak, German and other national teams. The NHL and NHLPA could not possibly have a sent a clearer “we don’t care” message to the NHL players who want to represent these countries or a more obvious show of disrespect to their countries’ hockey programs.

Yes, these national teams are underdogs and would have to fill out large segments of their rosters with non-NHL players. That is no doubt why the NHL and NHLPA shut the door on those national teams. They want the tourney to be theirs and theirs alone.

However, here’s a little “secret” about the underdog teams: They may be unlikely to win the entire tournament but, any given day, these squads with just a couple NHL players are still capable of coming up with a team-wide effort good enough to topple a team consisting entirely of NHL players.

For example, in the 2006 Olympics, the Swiss shut out the Czech Republic and Canada in back-to-back games. In 2010, the Swiss took Canada to a shootout. In 2014, the Swiss team beat the Czechs again and lost a 1-0 game to Sweden. At the 2013 IIHF World Championships, the Swiss team made it all the way to the gold medal game with an undefeated record — including wins over NHL-player laden teams from Canada (3-2 shootout), Sweden (3-2 in regulation) and the USA (3-0) — before losing to the Swedes in the championship game.

Mind you, these were big-rink games played under IIHF rules. Nevertheless, the Swiss national team has earned the right to try its hand at pulling off similar upsets on the small rink under NHL rules. They won’t get that chance.

The Slovak team is probably the biggest omission of all. This is a team that has even been in Olympic medal contention a few times — such as when they beat Sweden (3-0), Russia (5-3) and USA (2-1) en route to going 5-0-0 in the preliminary round at the 2006 Olympics. The Slovak team is not as strong as it was nine or 10 years ago but it did reach the World Championship gold medal game as recently as 2012 and just won a World Junior Championship bronze medal a few weeks ago.

Meanwhile, Germany has periodically pulled off upsets at international tournaments. I was covering the 2006-07 World Junior Championships in Leksand, Sweden, when the Germans knocked off Team USA (in overtime) and Slovakia in back-to-back games. Back at the 1996 World Cup of Hockey, the German team embarrassed a listless Czech team, 7-1, in a game played in Garmisch. As a result, the Germans reached the playoff round and the Czechs got knocked out.

Would Slovakia, Switzerland, Germany or another underdog team pull off a World Cup upset of a top six team in 2016? We’ll never know. Instead we will get a lumped-together team that has no built-in identity or anything to represent except themselves.

The “North American Youngsters” is just as ridiculous. If these players can earn spots on Team Canada or Team USA, great. If not, let them work toward it in the future rather than being part of a thrown-together combined team.

Whereas previous World Cup tournaments took place in multiple venues around the world — including a preliminary round, semifinal and Game One of the finals match in 1996 being held at the then brand-new CoreStates/First Union/Wachovia/Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia — the 2016 tourney will be held entirely in Toronto at the Air Canada Centre. That is another backward step in my opinion. Other cities and other countries deserve to bring their own atmosphere and a bit of a home-ice advantage. However, I suppose this is consistent with slopping together a Team (Rest of) Europe and a North American (Not Ready for the Senior National Team) Youngsters squad.

I am sure the 2016 World Cup tourney will feature a lot of great hockey. That does not mean it could not and should not have been organized in a more thoughtful way.

******** SUNDAY QUICK HITS

* The skills competition portion of the NHL All-Star Game weekend is always the most entertaining part. In Saturday night’s skills competition in Columbus, there were some truly breathtaking displays of talent as well as some genuinely humorous moments during the creativity-based “breakaway” competition.

Flyers captain Claude Giroux attempted probably the most difficult-to-execute tricks of the competition, including catching a pop-fly on his stick and flipping it over as well as one in which he tried to switch from his natural righthanded stick to Patrick Kane’s lefthanded stick while in motion. He wasn’t quite able to pull them off and missed the net on his attempts but he came close to succeeding.

Perhaps the funniest moment of the night came when, in response to Columbus’ Ryan Johansen guiding in a little kid to score a goal, the Flyers Jakub Voracek imitated the moment by grabbing diminutive Calgary Flames rookie and New Jersey native Johnny Gaudreau to substitute for a “little kid.” Gaudreau played his part to the hilt:

In the more serious-minded segments of the skills competition, there were many memorable moments. Tampa Bay Lightning rookie Jonathan Drouin dazzled in the fastest skater event. Shea Weber destroyed the rest of the field in the hardest shot segment. Patrick Kane’s stickhandling wizardry was on full display. Ryan Getzlaf’s passing acumen in an extraordinarily difficult event was breathtaking. Meanwhile, the level of difficulty involved in the accuracy shooting event was also very clear, under timed conditions, no one pulled off the nearly perennial Ray Bourque feat of going four-for-four from 30 feet away without a timer.

* With long commercial breaks and a lot of down time between skills competition events, I was able to catch much of the televised Phantoms game last night while flipping back and forth between the skills competition and the AHL game. The Phantoms defeated St. John’s, 4-3. Andrew Gordon, Kevin Goumas, Petr Straka and Taylor Leier (first goal in his last 13 games, ninth of his rookie AHL season) got the goals for Lehigh Valley. Martin Ouellette stopped 23 of 26 shots. Rookie defenseman Robert Hägg missed the game with flu-like symptoms, so frequent healthy scratch Jesper Pettersson made his return to the Phantoms lineup.

* Phantoms head coach Terry Murray told the Phantoms beat writers yesterday that the Flyers will recall Ryan White after the NHL announces Zac Rinaldo’s suspension come Monday evening. White would be available for the Flyers in Tuesday’s game against the Coyotes.

* I have said this before, but it bears repeating. Former Flyers goaltender Brian Boucher is one hell of a good — and surprisingly polished — hockey analyst. He does a great job on the Phantoms games as color commentator as well as his studio work on Flyers broadcasts. If that’s the direction Boosh wants to take his career on a permanent basis, he has a bright future ahead of him. I would personally take Boucher over Jeremy Roenick as a commentator any day. I realize that J.R. has the name recognition as a longtime NHL star with a big personality, but Boucher offers far more in the way of substance and insight.

* Here’s a trick shot that tops anything on display at the NHL All-Star Game skills competition. Former Phantoms and Flyers defenseman Danny Syvret, now a member of the Iowa Wild, pulled off shooting multiple shots from the arena balcony into the net at the other side of the rink:

* This is also All-Star weekend in the KHL. Former Flyers defenseman Erik Gustafsson is participating, representing Avangard Omsk. For the season to date, Gustafsson has 20 points (five goals, 15 assists) in 45 games. He ranks among the league leaders in ice time and is a plus-11 at even strength. Gustafsson did not fare too well in the hardest shot competition (not surprisingly, because he’s never been known as someone who shoots particularly hard). His best effort was 86.9 miles per hour.

********* FLYERS PROSPECTS: WEEKEND UPDATES

* WHL: Flyers 2014 first-round pick Travis Sanheim is back in the Calgary Hitmen lineup after missing two games with an upper-body injury. On Friday,he went plus-four with an assist in his team’s 7-0 home win over Swift Current. On Saturday, he posted a pair of assists in the team’s 5-2 home win over Edmonton. For the season to date, Sanheim has 10 goals, 42 points and a plus-14 rating in 43 games.

* WHL: Sanheim’s Hitmen teammate, Flyers 2014 sixth-round pick Radel Fazleev, scored a goal in the Swift Current game and did not post a point against Edmonton. For the season, the Russian left wing/center has posted 14 goals, 36 points and a plus-eight rating in 47 games.

* QMJHL: Flyers 2014 second-round pick Nicolas Aube-Kubel has been one of the hottest players in the league for the month of January. On Friday, he scored a goal in Val-d’Or’s 4-2 win over

Sherbrooke. He has scored at least one goal in 4 straight games (six goals, three assists) and in six of his last seven. For the season, Aube-Kubel has 23 goals and 49 points in 40 games.

* QMJHL: Flyers 2013 first-round pick Samuel Morin recently played one of his best games of the season in shutting down Moncton star Ivan Barbashev (2014 Blues second-round pick and one of the top offensive players in the Quebec League). On Friday, Morin’s Rimouski team dropped a 6-3 decision to Blainville-Boisbriand. Morin was an even-plus minus in that game with three shots, three minor penalties and one credited hit. He also scored a shorthanded breakaway goal. It wasn’t exactly artistic-looking — he went in straight, flubbed the puck a bit and the knuckleball fooled goalie Marc-Antoine Turcotte — but they all count the same. For the season, Morin has 17 points (four goals, 13 assists), 24 penalty minutes and a plus-11 rating in 17 games.

* SHL: Flyers 2014 fifth-round pick Oskar Lindblom did not register a point for Brynäs in either Friday’s 4-2 loss to Växjö or Saturday’s 3-2 loss to Leksand. However, the 18-year-old has earned his way up over the course of the season to date from the fourth line to the second line and now receives regular ice time in a variety of different situations.

* NCAA: Flyers 2014 third-round pick Mark Friedman has been one of the hottest freshman offensive players at any position or in any collegiate division over the last few weeks. The freshman Bowling Green defenseman has posted points (one goal, nine assists) in eight of his last nine games and points in five games in a row. On Friday, Friedman assisted on the lone Bowling Green goal in a 3-1 loss to Lake Superior State. On Saturday, he had power play and even strength assists in a 3-1 win in a rematch with Lake Superior State. Although he is a bit undersized, Friedman has some sandpaper to his playing style (55 PIM) and has also blocked 44 shots. At even-strength he is plus-five to date.

* NCAA: Flyers 2010 fifth-round pick Michael Parks continues to enjoy a strong senior season for powerhouse North Dakota (18-5-2). On Friday, Parks had a goal and an assist in a 2-1 win over pesky underdog Colorado College. In Saturday’s return match, Park assisted on the go-ahead goal (3-2) in the second period of North Dakota’s 5-3 win. For the season, Parks has 26 points (nine goals, 17 assists) in 25 games.

* NCAA: Frequently paired with San Jose Sharks prospect and New Jersey native Joakim Ryan, Flyers 2012 fifth-round pick Reece Willcox has been a reliable defensive defenseman with some puck-moving ability in his junior season with Cornell. On Friday, Cornell downed Harvard, 3-2. Unfortunately, Willcox left the game in the first period with an undisclosed injury and did not return. On Saturday, Cornell fell to 8-9-0 on the season with a 5-2 loss to Dartmouth. Willcox was out of the lineup. For the season, Willcox has four points (one goal, three assists) and is plus-two in 18 games.

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