Michael Russo's Sunday Insider: Juniors in a world of their own

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 8, 2012 - 2:07 AM

The participants in the annual World Junior Championships put on a show you can't find anywhere else.

hide

Wild draft pick Jonas Brodin, center, celebrated with Team Sweden at the World Junior Championships.

Photo: Jeff Mcintosh, Associated Press - Ap

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

As he sat in his stall in the visitors' locker room in Vancouver on Wednesday morning talking about the virtues of the World Junior Championships, Mikko Koivu got interrupted by his road roommate, Nick Schultz.

"I can bring in my ring from the world championships when we beat Finland in the final," the Wild defenseman said.

"No, no, no. We did," the Wild captain snapped.

"What?" said Schultz.

"Yeah, we did," Koivu said. "Last year. We won worlds."

"I wasn't there. I'm talking about when Canada beat you guys," Schultz said. "I'm talking about that time in the world championships when I played in the gold medal game and I won."

"Why don't you bring the medal from Russia? Oh, you don't have any," Koivu yelled back. "We're talking about world junior anyway. You never beat me in world junior. Oh, that's too bad, Hammer. Still bothers you, eh?"

OK, where were we?

As you can see, NHLers are proud of their international hockey, and for good reason. There's something unique about throwing on your nation's crest and playing for your country.

And there's something specifically unique about the World Junior Championships. Maybe it's getting to see tomorrow's NHL stars baby-faced and today. Because of the youthful enthusiasm and immaturity of the best under-20 players in the world, we get to see the dramatic highs and lows that come not only throughout a tournament, but in a single game.

Look no farther than Canada's 6-5 loss to Russia in the semifinals last week in Calgary. The Russians had a 6-1 stranglehold. The Canadians couldn't do anything right, completely lost their minds discipline-wise. But in one of the most exciting periods imaginable, the Canadians roared back in the third period and came within one goal post of sending the game to overtime.

The raucous atmosphere inside the Saddledome rivaled any big game in the States. The passion involved in the World Junior Championships in Canada is like March Madness in the United States, but on a grander scale because it's one nation rooting for one team.

"In Canada growing up as a kid, it's your dream to play in the world juniors," said Schultz, who did so in 2001. "Christmas time, Boxing Day for us, you get up and watch the games. It's a big tradition over the holidays."

It's just what you do in Canada.

"I'd love it to catch on in the States," said Schultz.

Slowly but surely, it seems to be in Minnesota. It started two years ago when Minnesotans Jake Gardiner, Derek Stepan, Danny Kristo, Jordan Schroeder and Mike Lee helped lead the United States to an upset gold over Canada in Saskatchewan.

Unfortunately, the U.S. bowed out early this year, and some interest waned. But fans of the Wild were interested because the team had six prospects partake -- Swedes Johan Larsson, Jonas Brodin and Johan Gustafsson, Finn Mikael Granlund and Americans Jason Zucker and Charlie Coyle.

Larsson, Sweden's captain; Brodin, Sweden's silky smooth-skating defenseman; and Gustafsson, the goalie, helped lead the country to its first world junior gold medal since 1981.

"Unbelievable feeling," said Brodin, the Wild's 2011 first-round draft pick who was scintillating.

"We wanted to win so much," said Larsson, the Wild's 2011 second-rounder who brings immense skill to go along with an even greater work ethic.

"Biggest game of my life," said Gustafsson, the Wild's 2010 sixth-rounder who made the save of his life with 30 seconds left.

In a game in which Sweden held a 39-4 shot advantage over Russia after two periods (remember, this wasn't Sweden-Latvia), Ottawa draft pick Mika Zibanejad, who predicted he would score the overtime winner before overtime, scored on Sweden's 58th shot after a steal and a breakaway for a 1-0 win.

Zibanejad -- a k a the Persian Prince -- is now a national hero, and his last name doesn't even end with "sson" or "berg" or "strom."

"He'll be remembered forever," said Brodin.

So will all the Swedes.

  • related content

  • The Wild's week ahead

    Sunday January 8, 2012

    THE WILD'S WEEK AHEADTuesday: vs. San Jose, 6:30 p.m. (NBCSN). Thursday: at Chicago, 7:30 p.m. (FSN). Saturday: at St. Louis,...

  • Michael Russo's short takes: Jan. 8

    Sunday January 8, 2012

    Ducks willing to clean houseAnaheim GM Bob Murray has had it with his disappointing team. He told the Los Angeles...

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Baltimore 2 FINAL
Detroit 15
NY Yankees 5 FINAL
Philadelphia 5
Northeastern 1 FINAL
Boston 2
Miami-Fla 1 FINAL
Miami 7
Pittsburgh 8 FINAL
Toronto 7
San Francisco 4 FINAL
Oakland 9
Cleveland 0 FINAL
Cincinnati 10
Boston College 0 FINAL
Boston 1
Arizona State 0 FINAL
Arizona 4
Boston 36 3rd Qtr
Cleveland 61
LA Lakers 50 3rd Qtr
Charlotte 50
Sacramento 56 2nd Qtr 4:32
New York 29
Houston 31 1st Qtr 1:45
Atlanta 17
Utah 7:00 PM
Memphis
Washington 7:00 PM
Chicago
Milwaukee 8:00 PM
Denver
Nashville 1 2nd Prd 17:30
New Jersey 2
Calgary 1 2nd Prd 17:52
Philadelphia 0
Washington 2 2nd Prd 18:43
Columbus 0
Buffalo 0 1st Prd 6:50
Tampa Bay 0
Toronto 0 1st Prd 6:23
Florida 0
Ottawa 7:00 PM
Minnesota
NY Islanders 7:30 PM
Dallas
Anaheim 8:00 PM
Arizona
Los Angeles 8:30 PM
Edmonton
San Jose 9:00 PM
Vancouver
Ole Miss 27 2nd Half
Alabama 30
Eastern Mich 35 2nd Half
Ball State 24
Kent State 41 2nd Half
Bowling Green 36
Ohio 29 2nd Half
Buffalo 41
Georgetown 30 2nd Half 19:30
Butler 24
Toledo 37 2nd Half 18:52
Central Mich 39
Rhode Island 28 2nd Half
Dayton 36
Youngstown St 37 2nd Half
Detroit 31
North Carolina 43 2nd Half 17:34
Georgia Tech 21
Loyola-Maryland 20 2nd Half
Holy Cross 32
Iowa 32 2nd Half
Indiana 28
Akron 23 2nd Half
Miami-Ohio 17
Army 26 2nd Half
Navy 24
Maryland 31 2nd Half
Rutgers 23
Kennesaw St 17 2nd Half
USC Upstate 42
Jacksonville 34 2nd Half
Fla Gulf Coast 38
Lipscomb 37 2nd Half
Northern Ky 38
Stetson 18 1st Half 8:00
North Florida 30
Wright State 7:00 PM
Ill-Chicago
Western Mich 7:00 PM
Northern Ill
Nebraska Omaha 7:00 PM
North Dakota
Houston Baptist 7:00 PM
Abilene Christian
NC State 8:00 PM
Clemson
Texas A&M 8:00 PM
Florida
Kentucky 8:00 PM
Georgia
West Virginia 8:00 PM
Kansas
Auburn 8:00 PM
Missouri
Michigan 8:00 PM
Northwestern
Villanova 8:15 PM
Creighton
Longwood 55 FINAL
Gardner-Webb 63
Charleston Southern 39 FINAL
Presbyterian 47
Coastal Carolina 54 FINAL
UNC-Asheville 68
NJIT 23 2nd Half
UMass Lowell 34
West Virginia 7:00 PM
Kansas State
TCU 0 1st Half 20:00
Texas 0
Fresno State 8:00 PM
Air Force
San Jose St 8:00 PM
Boise State
Nevada 8:00 PM
Colorado State
UNLV 8:00 PM
San Diego State
Wyoming 8:00 PM
Utah State
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: How will the Wild finish out the season?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close