Flames at the World Juniors day 6: To the elimination rounds we go

The final round robin game of the 2016 World Juniors saw two Flames prospects pitted against one another… kind of. While Brandon Hickey and Adam Ollas Mattsson were certainly playing against one another, both are defenders used, well, defensively, so the chances of them actually having to defend against one another were pretty small.

(Although Ollas Mattsson did take a shot from the point while Hickey was back defending, and the reverse happened later in the game, so it kind of happened, if only for a few moments.)

Neither Sweden nor Canada had anything to play for but pride, with the former having won Group A, and the latter locked into third place. That didn’t stop the game from getting emotional, though.

Sweden 5-2 Canada

Confidence begets confidence. Sweden has no doubt had the superior performance so far these World Juniors, particularly considering how they went into the game perfect, but you could tell they were feeling it. Maybe that was because of the quick two power play goals they scored, and Canada’s inability to score on their own power play – which has not been new this tournament – but Sweden was simply doing more.

It was even apparent when boiling the game down to the two Flames prospects. Looking at their stats from outside the tournament, if there’s any player you’d expect to be on the scoreboard, it would be Hickey. He has five goals and seven points through 16 games in the NCAA this season, while Ollas Mattsson has just one goal and four points through 22 games in Sweden.

And yet, it’s been Ollas Mattsson on the scoreboard this tournament. Not this game, but through four round robin games, he had a goal and an assist, whereas Hickey had nothing.

And in this game, Ollas Mattsson was the one jumping up into the play often. He ventured further into the offensive zone than Hickey ever really did, and he even had a bit of power play time, albeit at the end of the two minutes when Sweden was back in their own zone. Still – it’s more than Hickey has had all tournament thus far.

Both players were utilized on the penalty kill, though. There was a key difference I noted early on, right before Sweden got their first goal of the game. The Swedes rushed Hickey’s side of the ice on the first kill (it wasn’t targeting Hickey specifically, they rushed that side later when a different unit was on), forcing a mini two-on-one of sorts against him that resulted in a shot, which resulted in a huge rebound from Mackenzie Blackwood, which resulted in a Swedish goal. Hickey allowed the initial zone entry, but was very much outmanned.

Contrast that to Ollas Mattsson staring down Mitch Marner on Sweden’s first penalty kill, in which Marner had no choice but to pretty much skate right into him, effectively taking him out of the play. Canada couldn’t properly gain the zone for the rest of their power play after that.

While both players were used frequently on the penalty kill, they each took penalties of their own as well. Hickey’s was an IIHF penalty, which is to say, “technically it was a penalty but seriously, you called that? Really?” in the form of a simple crosscheck (which actually gave the Swedes a lengthy five-on-three, so, not ideal, but seriously: IIHF), while Ollas Mattsson’s infraction was much more egregious.

One-on-one against Travis Konecny, Ollas Mattsson took away his prime shooting lane. Konecny still got the shot off, but it was an easy save for Linus Soderstrom. Then, Konecny kind of nudged into Ollas Mattsson a little. Ollas Mattsson took exception to that, so he put his hand on top of Konecny’s head – he didn’t even have to reach because the Swede is really, really huge – and literally forced him down to the ice.

So yeah, that’s a penalty in any league. It was a moment of lost composure, but also a reminder that this guy is a physical monster.

Ollas Mattson’s no-goals-against streak did come to an end, as he was on the ice for both of Canada’s goals, though neither could be blamed on him. The first was due to a massive rebound from Soderstrom that went to the other side of the ice; it wasn’t him whom Mitchell Stephens had to beat to the puck to score. And the second came just seconds into a five-on-three, so there was pretty much nothing he could have done there. (Although: it’s great to know Sweden trusts him enough he’s one of the guys they send out to kill a five-on-three.)

But ultimately, to me, it looked like Ollas Mattsson was playing with far more confidence. He looked far more active than Hickey did, helped create at least one really dangerous chance with a nice feed into the offensive zone that only Blackwood ended up foiling with an impressive save.

But Ollas Mattsson doesn’t have Hickey’s skating ability or smarts. Hickey simply looks, and projects, to be the better prospect due to those factors, which aren’t entirely being showcased this tournament.

What we have here are two defenders being used exclusively in defensive roles, except it looks like the Swedish kid is getting more of a chance, and he’s working with it.

Up next

It’s elimination time. Win, or go home, starting on Jan. 2.

Team Sweden, the number one seed in Group A, will play Team Slovakia, the number four seed in Group B, at 7 a.m. MT. Then Team Canada, the number three seed in Group A, will play the home Team Finland, the number two seed in Group B, at 9 a.m. MT.

Finland is currently leading the tournament in goals with 23 over the round robin, so Canada is going to need their best in net. At this point, I’m not sure who between Mackenzie Blackwood and Mason McDonald is going to get the start for Canada’s first sudden death game. 

Based on play outside this tournament, Blackwood has the better numbers, but neither really established himself as the better option through the round robin. Against Sweden, Blackwood was primarily victimized by the power play; but it’s not as though much of what went against McDonald in his round robin games was his fault, either, as both another victim of the power play – and his own teammates apparently conspiring to score against him, for some reason.

Both goalies age out of the tournament this year (or technically next year, because 2016), so age won’t be a factor. McDonald gave up five combined goals to the U.S. and Danes, while Blackwood gave up six to the Swedes and Swiss. It’s tight.

  • The GREAT Walter White

    Thanks for this as usual Ari and Happy New Year to you and all at FN!

    I tried to watch both but it seemed to me that O-M had a lot more minutes than Hickey AND he started the game for the Swedes .. if that means anything??

    I liked both but as a 6th rounder O-M looks like he has the developmental stuff to really surprise in his early 20’s.

    But to me the surprises in the Tourney have been the draft-eligble Finns …. big Puljujarvi would look real good in the a Flames uniform. Make it happen Ari!!

    • Ari Yanover

      My pleasure! I found the same thing happened with me, Ollas Mattsson stood out way more. I don’t think it really means anything in regards to the two as prospects; really, I think Hickey is being under-utilized if anything (though pretty much all aspects of Canada’s performance this tournament have left a lot to be desired).

      Puljujarvi is so good and so big and I want him on Gaudreau’s line SO BAD.

      • piscera.infada

        I think Hickey is being under-utilized if anything (though pretty much all aspects of Canada’s performance this tournament have left a lot to be desired).

        I would agree with this. I haven’t been bringing it up, because I thought it was just Flames-bias, but I really think he could be giving them more in the offensive zone. I would have definitely tried something different on a couple of those later power plays in that game. They really didn’t generate anything on the power play against the US or the Swedes (save the 5 on 3). I mean, there has to be something they could do instead of just going back to the same well repeatedly.

        More broadly, I don’t understand why Canada as a whole doesn’t utilize their defensemen as much in the offensive zone. It seems they want to shrink the ice surface, and play “small-puck” down low, instead of using the big ice to their advantage. The Swedes, Fins, and US have been able to us their defensemen to create offense with a great deal of success.

        I’m also not wild about Chabot. His game just seems, sloppy(?) to me. I don’t know. Anyone else see that?

        • Ari Yanover

          When Canada had a huge lead over Team Denmark and extra power play time to work with, they didn’t even try experimenting, they just stuck with their same old units.

          When Sweden had a huge lead over the Swiss and extra power play time to work with, Ollas Mattsson got PP time.

          I don’t think anybody is expecting Ollas Mattsson to be a PP regular, let alone he himself, but it’s worth noting Sweden actually bothered playing around with their lineup.

          Canada apparently has no desire to do that, even when they have a five goal lead and are clearly going to win the game. Everyone’s been pigeonholed into their roles. Hell, Fleury has 20 points in 24 games in the WHL as a defenceman and apparently he’s Not Allowed to be used offensively either.

        • MontanaMan

          I’ve noticed in every game that HIckey is being short shifted. Notice that he starts the play with Fleury but rarely plays an entire shift. The reason he is getting few offensive opportunities is because once the Canadians have possession in the offensive zone, Hickey typically leaves the ice and is replaced by a more “offensive” defenceman. I noted it again today when the Canadians had good pressure, Fleury tried a pass to “Hickey” but he had been replaced by Sanheim who wasn’t yet in position and the puck left the zone and negated a possible scoring opportunity. I can see it if Hickey has hands of stone but he has an offensive upside that he is unable to show. Another issue I have is the “me first” attitude of some of the forwards, notably Marner, Strome and Virtanen. I know they are trying to direct more shots on net but Strome is literally shooting from every angle and not using his line mates. This squad appears to be missing the “team” element that has been so successful in past WJC.

          • cberg

            Totally agree about Hickey, but that’s the least of Canada’s problems. This game seemed to pretty much be men against boys, with Canada disorganized, playing individually and not really in the game.

            Normally I wouldn’t be too interested in following another team but Sweden’s team play, passing, positioning and overall dominance was pretty clearly dominant throughout.

            I would agree Canada is not playing as a team. At one point in the third Marner skated it in and just meandered to the corner, right past Strome who was set for a great shot. And this seemed to be repeated several times by others. It makes me wonder what’s the issue? Players too selfish? Coaches not adjusting? Hard to say. Bet all the hype/controversy about Blackwood didn’t help matters (assumption he’d be starter if not suspended, and pre-game hype on him carrying the team to the final)….

            Oh well, it should be interesting on Saturday. Hopefully the Canadians can get it together and redeem themselves well.

  • piscera.infada

    I think that Canada is out of this league! Won against Denmark and the Swiss – whoopee!

    I wish them luck,perhaps they can regroup before their playoff game.

  • Ari Yanover

    I have not been impressed with Virtanen for awhile now. It goes back to the WHL playoffs last year. I know he came back from an injury at that time….so I chalked his performance up to that. I know he has NHL level skating, size, and shot but seems to lack an acute hockey IQ. He has a short fuse and does not seem to know how to contain his emotions. He could have received several penalties while walking a fine line.

      • MontanaMan

        Considering McDavid has proven (on a small scale) that he is the real deal, when will you admit that he was the class of the draft and will have a great career? You don’t need to like the Oilers to admit this kid is an outstanding player. Your McSuck&Luck campaign demonstrates your lack of knowledge of the game and frankly is getting old.

  • piscera.infada

    The one thing I noticed about OM (other than his size of course) is his ability to keep it simple. Always seems to play the way he is facing and rarely holds onto the puck. He angles much faster players very effectively…seems like a young Robyn Regher without the nastiness. He was not easily exposed against Canada’s small, quick forewards. He is not fast but seems fast enough.

    • Ari Yanover

      I agree totally Graeme! In an odd way, it makes him stick out. O-M merits a close watch in the years to come. Robyn Regher? Oh my … we would ALL like to see O-M transition into a RR clone eh?!!

      One item to potentially wonder about: I believe it is safe to say that FatRas really impressed us at training camp … YET … he is not invited to Sweden’s WJ team. Does that suggest that the Swedish brain trust thinks O-M is a better player at this stage? Goodness, if so, we might well have quite the young defensive corps developing!! 🙂

      • MattyFranchise

        I don’t think it’s that they feel that OM is better than PhatRas, more likely they were much more familiar with OM and what he brings than they are with what Ras does.

        IIRC, Sweden only invited a handful of NA players. I believe the bulk of their roster are players playing in Sweden this season.

    • cberg

      I agree, OM was very effective at both defending and making the first pass to start the play out of the zone. He seemed a lot more confident today, carrying the puck more and more decisively. First time I’ve really seen him and he has done better than I was expecting.