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Ducks Prospects: World Junior Tournament Recap
By Thomas Harrington
The 2019 World Junior Tournament ended early for Anaheim’s prospects. The Ducks had sent four prospects to the tournament representing three countries: Maxime Comtois of Canada, Isac Lundestrom and Olle Eriksson Ek of Sweden, and Lukas Dostal of the Czech Republic. While the expectations for the Czech Republic weren’t sky high, both Canada and Sweden were among the favorites going into the tournament. Instead, all three countries were eliminated in the quarterfinals, while the US, Finland, Russia, and Switzerland made it to the semifinals. Eventually, Finland would beat the US 3-2 to win the tournament.
Comtois and Canada had as good a start to the tournament as possible. Facing off against Denmark, Comtois led Canada to a 14-0 victory, scoring four goals in the process. While Denmark is far from a hockey powerhouse, Comtois’ four goal performance was among some elite company. He was just the fifth Canadian player to score four goals in a game at the World Juniors. The others are Mario Lemieux, Simon Gagne, Brayden Schenn, and Taylor Raddysh. While Comtois won’t have a career like Lemieux, and it’s too soon to say what kind of career Raddysh will have, it would be great if he could turn into a player like Gagne or Schenn. After dismantling Denmark, Canada defeated Switzerland 3-2; Comtois finished the game with an assist. The cracks for Canada started to show in this game, but Canada defeated the Czech Republic 5-1 in the next game and those issues from the Switzerland game were largely forgotten. Comtois scored a goal in the victory over the Czechs. In the final game of the preliminary round, Canada faced off against Russia, a game that they lost 2-1; Comtois was scoreless in the defeat.
In Canada’s final game of the tournament, they faced off against Finland and took a 1-0 lead in the first. For a while, it looked like Canada might hang on for the 1-0 victory, but with 46.4 seconds left in regulation, Finland tied it up when a centering pass bounced off a leg and into the net. In overtime, Comtois had a penalty shot but was stopped. Later on, Canada almost scored again but a stick broke at the moment of truth. Shortly after that, Finland scored to end the game and Canada’s hopes for a medal.
Ever since that loss, a lot of blame has been put on Comtois for not scoring on the penalty shot in overtime, and for diving in the tournament. While some criticism is warranted, especially for the diving, the sheer amount of vitriol and cyberbullying that has been sent Comtois’ way is beyond ridiculous. Thankfully, the response to this bullying throughout the hockey world has been a strong condemnation of these attacks. Comtois finished the tournament with five goals and six points in five games. Comtois issued a statement about the tournament: Comtois’ Response Regarding WJC.
Sweden had a strong start to this tournament. In fact, they went 4-0 in the preliminary round, and Sweden has not lost a game in the preliminary round since 2006. Overall, they’ve won 48 straight games before the medal round, but that hasn’t translated into medal success, as the team only has one gold in that time. Sweden started things off with a 2-1 win over Finland; Lundestrom assisted on Sweden’s opening goal of the game. In their next win, Sweden defeated Slovakia 5-2, with Lundestrom collecting a goal and an assist. Next up, Sweden took on the United States, and the US almost ended the winning streak. Sweden built a 4-0 lead, but Team USA responded with four goals in the third to tie the game up. Sweden was able to scrape out the win in overtime. Lundestrom did not score any points in this game.
In the final preliminary game, Sweden played against Kazakhstan and won 4-1. This was Eriksson Ek’s lone appearance at the World Juniors, and he played quite well, stopping 10 of 11 shots, while Lundestrom assisted Sweden’s second goal of the game. In the quarterfinals, Sweden faced off against Switzerland, a game that many thought Sweden would be able to win without too much difficulty, but the Swiss proved to be more than a match. Switzerland scored once in the first, once in the second, and didn’t let Sweden score at all. Sweden had 41 shots on goal but lost 2-0. Lundestrom finished the tournament with one goal and four points in five games, while Eriksson Ek went 1-0 with a .909 save percentage and a goals against average of 1.00.
Unlike Canada and Sweden, much less was expected of the Czech Republic in the tournament. Dostal was the Czech’s starting goaltender in the tournament, playing in four of five games, and he certainly wasn’t the reason they lost. In the first game, the Czechs took on Switzerland and won 2-1 in overtime. Dostal stopped 26 of 27 shots. In the next game, the Czech Republic faced off against Russia, with Russia winning 2-1; Dostal stopped 26 of 28 shots in defeat. Next up, the Czechs took on Canada and were defeated 5-1. This was the one game of the tournament that Dostal did not play in for the Czech Republic. They finished the preliminary round off with a game against Denmark and won 4-0; Dostal stopped all 20 shots he faced in the win. In the quarterfinals, the Czech Republic took on the United States and lost 3-1. Dostal was under siege in this game, as he faced 41 shots and saved 38 of them. He finished the tournament with a 2-2 record, a save percentage of .957 and a goals against average of 1.25.
Plans After The WJC
With the tournament over, all four players will return to their respective teams. Comtois is heading back to Drummondville of the QMJHL. Following the conclusion of the World Juniors, it was announced that Comtois had been playing with a separated shoulder and would miss the next couple of weeks before playing with his junior team. This was Comtois’ final appearance at the World Juniors. He’ll be a full-time pro next season, playing in either Anaheim or San Diego.
Rather than return to San Diego, it was announced that Lundestrom would be heading back to Sweden to finish the season with Lulea of the SHL, Sweden’s top league. Depending on what his contract in Sweden says, he could be back in Anaheim and San Diego next season or spend another year in Sweden. This was Lundestrom’s first trip to the World Juniors, and it will be his last; he’ll be too old next season since he turns 20 in November. Eriksson Ek will also be heading back to Sweden to the Allsvenskan league, though he might see some time in the SHL too. This was Eriksson Ek’s final trip to the World Juniors. Given that he’s been in Sweden for the last couple of years, I think it likely that he’s in San Diego starting next season.
Dostal will head back to the Czech 2 league. He’s eligible to play in the World Juniors again next year, and given the success that he had with the Czech Republic this year, I anticipate him making the team again and likely being their starter again. I think Dostal will play overseas for at least another year before coming stateside.
Despite all four players going out in the quarterfinals, Anaheim’s prospects at the World Juniors all had solid tournaments. None of them had a truly great tournament, but they all played well and represented their country and Anaheim well.
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January 6th, 2019