For the past couple of weeks, the eyes of international hockey have been focused on Latvia for the annual International Ice Hockey Federation World Championship. Unlike the Olympics with NHL participation, this is not truly a best-on-best tournament. Most of the 16 participating teams had some stars not available because the NHL’s Stanley Cup Playoffs overlapped, and many star players from teams that didn’t make the NHL’s playoffs declined invitations to participate. The Columbus Blue Jackets, however, were well represented.
Four Blue Jackets players and prospects earned medals, two gold and two bronze medals.
Gold! In overtime! After losing their first three games! It’s been five years since Team Canada stood atop the podium (so to speak).
Forward Liam Foudy played in all 10 games for Team Canada, tallying two assists in an average time on ice (ATOI) of 11:21. In Canada’s first three games, all losses, he recorded just one shot on goal and registered a plus/minus of minus-2. His best game statistically was against Team Norway, in which he was credited with three shots and one assist.
The speedy forward split time between the Blue Jackets and the AHL Cleveland Monsters during 2020-21. In 24 games with the big club, he registered only four assists, playing about 12:30 average time on ice. His time with the Monsters was far more productive: three goals and 13 assists for 16 points in a dozen games. He may start the 2021-22 season with the Blue Jackets.
Forward Justin Danforth scored once and recorded a dozen penalty minutes in nine games for Team Canada, averaging just under 15 minutes ATOI. He scored a goal against Team USA in the semifinal game. He may be most remembered from this tournament, however, for his 12 penalty minutes in the gold medal game against Finland (two for boarding with a 10-minute misconduct tacked on).
An undrafted free agent, forward Danforth recently signed a one-year contract with the Blue Jackets. He is likely to start the 2021-22 season with Cleveland.
Bronze is better than bust, right?
Big and fast, Eric Robinson appeared in all 10 games for Team Canada. Two of his three points in the tournament (all assists) came in the quarterfinal game against Team Slovakia. (The other came against Team Italy.)
One of only four Blue Jackets to appear in all 56 games of the 2020-21 NHL season, Robinson put up 18 points (eight goals, 10 assists) and registered a team-leading plus-6 while playing under 12:30 ATOI. Known for his exceptional speed, he scored three of his goals and six of his points in the final seven games of the season.
Robinson’s performance during 2020-21 complicates the Blue Jackets’ decisions leading up to the Seattle Kraken expansion draft this summer. A number of mock drafts have the Kraken selecting Robinson rather than defenseman Dean Kukan or goalie Matiss Kivelnieks. Adding him to the protected list would mean exposing another forward the club would like to keep.
Defenseman Adam Clendening missed three of Team USA’s 10 games and played very limited minutes in two more. However, in the other five games, he scored twice and added three assists. He had a goal and an assist in the preliminary round game against Canada. His five points were second among defensemen. (Christian Wolanin of the Los Angeles Kings scored six points in 10 games.)
On the verge of unrestricted free agency, Clendening spent part of the past season on the Blue Jackets’ taxi squad but saw no NHL game action. He did, however, play nine games with Cleveland, scoring once and adding three assists.
Finishing outside the medal round, there were only eight games for
Team Russia, sorry, the “Russian Olympic Committee” team. A doping scandal resulted in a two-year ban on Russia from participating in international competitions, such as the Olympics and the world championships in various sports. But the Court of Arbitration in Sports ruled that players not directly implicated in violations of the doping rules could compete but could not represent Russia itself. So even though Russia could not compete in the Olympics, the eligible players would therefore compete representing the, um, ”Russian Olympic Committee.” Yeah, I think they could have worked that out a bit better, too.
Anyway, regardless of the team’s name, “ROC” lost to Team Canada in the quarterfinals in overtime, knocking them out of the tournament. Former Blue Jacket Sergei Bobrovsky was the goalie in the OT loss, his only game in the tournament after arriving following the Florida Panthers’ ouster from the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Alexander Samonov of the KHL’s SKA St. Petersburg had started six of the seven previous games, with a record of five wins (one shutout, one shootout) and one loss. His save percentage (SV%) was officially .944, and his goals against average (GAA) was a miserly 1.32. Yet Bobrovsky got the start against Canada.
Shutdown defenseman Vladislav Gavrikov appeared in all eight games for ROC, recording two assists. He played over 20 minutes in five of the eight games and never less than 18 minutes.
With Seth Jones likely to be traded this summer, Gavrikov’s role in Columbus for the 2021-22 season is somewhat up in the air. In 124 NHL games to date, he’s only scored 30 points but has recorded 169 blocked shots and 148 hits. I expect him to remain a second-pair defensive defenseman (although, besides a new partner, with Davis Savard traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning at the deadline this season).
Despite playing only five games at the World Championship, Mikhail Grigorenko was second on the team in points. He scored three goals, added four assists, and had a plus/minus of plus-7 in 17:08 ATOI.
Grigorenko will not be back in Columbus next season. According to the Russian website Sport-Express.ru, he’s returning to the KHL. (For those of you who don’t read Russian, there’s a very accurate summary of the story at ProHockeyRumors.com.) He was a 2012 first-round draft pick (No. 12 overall) of the Buffalo Sabres. After five years of modest results in the NHL, he returned home to Russia to play for CSKA Moscow. His decision to return to the NHL was a limited success, with only 32 games and 12 points for the Blue Jackets.
The 6-foot-4, 190-pound forward Dmitri Voronkov continued to show why the Blue Jackets selected him in the fourth round of the 2019 Entry Draft (#114 overall). With two goals and six points in eight games, he tied for third on the team in scoring.
He has yet to play in North America. In 90 games with the KHL’s Kazan Ak-Bars over the past three seasons, he’s put up 31 points and 70 penalty minutes. Last year with the Russian Under-18 team, he scored nine points in 12 games, including seven-in-seven at the World Junior U20 Championship, from which he took home a silver medal. No, he won’t be the short-term fix for the Blue Jackets’ woes at center – he’s under contract for two more years in the KHL.
The host team came within a goal of advancing to the quarterfinals, losing 2–1 to Germany in the last game of the preliminary round. All-in-all, however, I suspect that despite the disappointment of not advancing, the team will eventually look back at this tournament as a success.
Blue Jackets goalie Matiss Kivlenieks opened the tournament with a history-making shutout of Team Canada. His 38-save performance led the team to a 3–0 victory, and it was the first time Latvia has beaten Canada in international competition. Ever. Including the Olympics, World Championship, World Juniors, and the under-18 tournaments, the national teams had met 21 times previously, with the best result being a tie. Latvia now “improves” to an all-time record of 1-20-1 against Team Canada.
Less than 24 hours later, he was back in goal for a 3–2 shootout loss to Team Kazakhstan. He sat out the next game, a 3–0 shutout of lowly Team Italy. In Game 4, a 4–2 loss to Team USA, he stopped 22 of 26 shots. Starting again the next day, he and Team Latvia lost in another shootout to Team Norway. He didn’t dress for the final two games of the preliminary round, an overtime loss to Team Finland and the crushing 2–1 loss to Team Germany that prevented the host team from advancing to the quarterfinal round.
Kivlenieks finished the tournament with a record one shutout win, a regulation loss, and two shootout losses. Counting regulation and overtime, he recorded a SV% of .920 and a GAA of 1.75. (IIHF statistics, which include shootouts, show a SV% of .922 and a GAA of 2.18.)
If not claimed in the Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft, and if either Elvis Merzlikins or Joonas Korpisalo is traded, Kivlenieks is expected to start the NHL’s 2021-22 season as the no. 2 goalie in Columbus.
The Swiss finished sixth at the 2021 World Championship, with a preliminary round record of five wins and only two losses. Unfortunately, their eighth and final game was a shootout loss to Germany in the quarterfinals. The team was an offensive juggernaut, ending the opening round just one goal from the tournament lead. They scored five goals against the Czechs and eight against Team Slovakia, along with six against both Great Britain and Belarus.
Forward Gregory Hoffman led Team Switzerland with six goals and eight assists in eight games. He had two goals against the Czechs and a pair of goals and a pair of assists against the Slovaks.
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The Blue Jackets have not yet signed Hofmann. This past February, they flipped a seventh-round pick in this year’s draft to the Carolina Hurricanes for his rights. (Hofmann was originally drafted by Carolina in 2011 in the fourth round, No. 103 overall.)
The Slovaks squeaked into the quarterfinals with a preliminary round record of 4–3. They lost to Team USA 6–1 in that quarterfinal game, leaving them in eighth place for the tournament. The squad included one player with ties to the Blue Jackets organization.
Slovakian defenseman Samuel Knazko was held pointless in eight games at the World Championship, with 12:25 ATOI. Columbus drafted him by using a pick acquired in the trade that acquired Max Domi from the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for Josh Anderson. He was the 78th overall pick in the 2020 Entry Draft. The teenager has played for the Slovakian national team in the World Junior U-20 Championships during each of the past two tournaments, but this was his first appearance for his country in the men’s tournament.
With a record of two regulation wins, one overtime win, and four regulation losses, Team Norway finished 13th of the 16 teams participating in the World Championship.
Born in Oslo, Bjorgvik-Holm (as his name is spelled in the NHL) played a season of junior hockey with the Mississauga Steelheads prior to Columbus drafting him last year in the fifth round (No. 145 overall). He played 16 games for Cleveland, scoring one goal and adding four assists. At the World Championship (where he was officially “Ole Julian Holm”), he recorded no points, playing in six of Team Norway’s seven games.
What Could Have Been
I’m sure I’m not the only Blue Jackets follower who would have loved to see Daniil Tarasov in goal and Yegor Chinakhov up front for Team Russia. I’m also pretty sure that some of the other national teams would have welcomed other Blue Jackets for the World Championship. Emil Bemstrom declined an invitation from Team Sweden in order to rehab an injured ankle (“Blue Jackets Sunday Gathering: Gerard Gallant’s redemption, John Tortorella wanted to quit a year earlier,” Aaron Portzline, The Athletic, May 16, 2021). Columbus players who likely could have had an impact in the tournament (but didn’t) include Seth Jones, Oliver Bjorkstrand, and Patrik Laine.
World Championship statistics from the International Ice Hockey Federation, IIHF.com. Other statistics from NHL.com and Hockey-Reference.com.
Pete Bauer is both a hockey fan and player. As a columnist for The Hockey Writers, he covers the Columbus Blue Jackets, NCAA hockey, and NHL trends, statistics, and history. He is also the author of over a dozen books on photography, digital imaging, and graphics, including “Photoshop CC for Dummies.”