Today ended the 2009 IIHF World Championships in Switzerland. Russia took the gold medal in a 2-1 win over Canada. The real star of the show had to be Ilya Bryzgalov; as Canada just pounded him with 38 shots, but he was only beaten once by Jason Spezza in the first period. Russia was able to respond with a power play goal later in the same period by Oleg Saprykin. Alexander Radulov's tally early in the second period ultimately made the difference. The game became more disciplined (or the refs swallowed their whistles), and Russia held on to win.
In the bronze medal game, Sweden defeated the United States 4-2. Stefan Liv stepped between the pipes and did quite well; as Sweden's power play made the difference. 3 power play goals from Tre Kronor, as they made the United States pay for their penalties. While the United States outshot Sweden 39-28, it's those situations that truly made all the difference. Johnny Oduya iced the game in the last second with an empty net goal to ensure the bronze medal for his country.
Of all four Devils at the WCs, Oduya was the most productive and made the biggest impact with his abbreviated time at the tourney. In 5 games, Oduya put together 3 goals (on 6 shots - very efficient and lucky, Oduya should be shooting more though), 1 assist, and averaged 18:59 of ice time in his 5 games. I didn't see the games, so I cannot comment on how well he was in his own end. Given the amount of ice time given along with the +2 rating he finished with, I suppose it wasn't bad at all. Regardless, Oduya clearly made his mark on the team and head coach Bengt-Ake Gustafsson made the right decision to play Oduya as much as he did. I can't imagine how he won't be on Sweden's team in Vancouver now. This should raise his stock a little bit when becomes an unrestricted free agent this summer.
Travis Zajac ends up with a silver medal, but alas, he did not end up with any points - the only forward for Canada to not register a single point. As I understand it, he was centering the "fourth" line with Shawn Horcoff and Mike Fisher and so his minutes were limited. Still, no points on Team Canada. Again, I didn't see the games so for all I know, Zajac played well regardless. Even so, the literal lack of production really hurts his cause to be on Canada's 2010 Olympic team.
Patrik Elias stepped into the Czech Republic roster and put up goals right away. Granted, they didn't decide much of anything in either game, but goals are goals. He also had 13 shots, so he definitely made an effort - which is par for the course for Elias. Now, he got 2 goals and 13 shots in only 3 games which is impressive. I'm sure he would have had more had the Czechs not get eliminated in the Quarterfinal against the Sweden. I'm also sure he'll be in Vancouver as his national team will make sure they do not get bounced like that again.
The United States are medalless in the WCs once again and Scott Clemmensen was minuteless. Clemmensen was called up to sit on the bench and watch Robert Esche in net. Again, I didn't see the games, but based on the 89.13 save percentage and 3.12 GAA in 8 games played, I really don't want Esche to be the starter for the United States in Vancouver next year. I know goaltender is a position that can be controlled by momentum; but what was the point of calling up Clemmensen if he wasn't going to play?
Overall, Martin St. Louis finished the tournament with the most points: 4 goals and 11 assists. Yet, the best forward of the tournament and the tournament MVP named by the IIHF Directorate was Ilya Kovalchuk. And why not? He played an astonishing 30 minutes in the gold medal game and led the high-powered Russian offense with 5 goals and 9 assists - one point less than St. Louis. The Directorate named Canada's Shea Weber - the only defenseman with over 10 points (4 goals, 8 assists) - as the tournament's top defenseman. Belarus' Andrei Mezin was named the tournament's top goaltender with a 94.77 save percentage and a GAA of 1.72 in 5 games; only Chris Mason had better numbers, but he only played in 4 games.
Now that the World Championships is over, the question remains is whether the Devils were looking at anyone in the tournament as a possible free agent signing? Remember that last year, the Devils signed Anssi Salmela, who played for Finland in the 2008 WCs as a 23 year old - an impressive feat in of itself. I don't know who would stick out as many of the tournament's top players were NHL players or players who couldn't stay in the NHL (e.g. Mattias Weinhandl). Perhaps the scouts found a new potential target from this year's tournament anyway?
In the meantime, why not add your thoughts to some recent posts on here? Last week, I posted a poll on what the biggest need the Devils have and so far 236 of you responded. The poll closes next week, so have another week to have your say - as I will use the results to begin going through who the Devils can and should target for free agency (don't worry, Tom Poti's not available). You can also lament the state of the Devils' AHL woes and offer theories on what to do with Dainius Zubrus.