The 2019 World Junior Championships (WJC) recently wrapped up. This is a tournament in which players can stand out early in their careers and start to make a name for themselves. Last year, Sam Steel and Maxime Comtois helped Team Canada win a gold medal. In 2013, John Gibson backstopped Team USA to gold in a spectacular performance. What standouts might this year bring?
This year, it was a quick and disappointing WJC for Anaheim Ducks prospects as none of them were able to make it past the quarterfinals. That being said, many of them played prominent roles on their respective teams and were among the best in the tournament.
After helping the team secure gold at last year’s WJC, Maxime Comtois returned to Team Canada and was named team captain. According to Team Canada head coach Tim Hunter, “He’s a leader in the locker room. He’s a leader off the ice. He’s led all the way through this on all the little details and the mindset we want and he’s played like a leader on the ice so really felt comfortable with Max.” Clearly Comtois conducted himself well in the eyes of his coaches and teammates.
Tournament viewers, however, had a different response to his play. Canada was upset in the quarterfinals of the tournament after an overtime goal by Finland. Earlier in the overtime period, Comtois was chosen for a penalty shot and was stopped by Finnish netminder Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen.
This, In addition to perceived embellishment by Comtois throughout the tournament, made him a lightning rod for social media criticism. The criticism got so extreme that his agency had to release a statement in response to the social media vitriol. He ended the tournament with six points in five games, including a four-goal performance against Denmark.
Isac Lundeström & Olle Eriksson-Ek
Team Sweden was thought to be among the best in the tournament after going 4-0 in their preliminary games. For their efforts, they met a Swiss team determined to prove people wrong, and that’s precisely what they did when they upset Sweden 2-0.
Isac Lundeström became a surprise standout for the Ducks in October when he made the team out of training camp. He became the youngest player to play for the Ducks since Cam Fowler in 2010.
For Sweden, he was given an alternate captain title and ended the tournament with four points in five games played. In reflecting on the loss, Lundeström said, “…I don’t think we should come here with some excuse for why we lost today. I felt we had a pretty good spirit in the group and positive things going. But it’s hard. I don’t know what to say.”
Olle Eriksson-Ek played in his second WJC and posted one win in one game played with a .909 save percentage (SV%). He was beat out for the starting position by Philadelphia Flyers draft pick Samuel Ersson who emerged from the tournament with a .922 SV%.
Lukas Dostal entered the 2018 Entry Draft as the top-ranked European goalie, and as such, was selected by the Ducks in the third round (85th overall). He proved worthy of that high standard in his capacity as the top netminder for the Czech Republic in this year’s WJC.
He played in four games and posted a .957 SV% with a 1.25 goals-against average. Dostal kept the Czech’s quarterfinal match against the United States competitive by only allowing two goals on 40 shots. However, the Czechs couldn’t compete with USA’s offence. As forward Martin Kaut said, “You know, we had great offensive guys like Zadina, and Filip didn’t score, so it’s not normal for him. Today we had about 20 shots and U.S. had 40. It’s not normal for us.” Dostal played well, but was eliminated by a powerhouse United States team 3-1.
Finland eventually took home gold at the 2019 WJC on the back of a stellar performance by goalie Luukkonen and some last minute heroics by forward Kappo Kakko. Now we wait for the 2020 WJC to see what exciting prospects the tournament will bring us next year.
Born and raised in Anaheim, and a Ducks fan for about that long.