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World Juniors Days 5 and 6 – Great stories from downtown

Filed under: Puck Stop, Sports

If you’re catching the drift of any dour news about the World Juniors, ask yourself first, who is delivering this information to you, what is their familial political or business connection, and what axe do they have to grind.

Pool play is now complete, and the World Juniors is taking the day off, with medal round play set to begin Sunday at HSBC Arena and relegation play over at Dwyer Arena. But make no mistake, these last two days have been absolutely incredible, and the 2011 U20 World Juniors is shaping up to be one of the best ever. Everything has gone without a hitch, well, for the most part. Throngs of people are taking in the games, perhaps not the sellouts that were initially envisioned, but record breaking ticket sales nonetheless. People are having fun, and finding their fun with things to do around Buffalo. So for today we offer a random list of stories, of sightings, of anecdotes in and around the Games, to give a sense of the excitement and pageantry and energy that this tournament has become.

Day 7 gets underway at 3:30PM downtown on Sunday with Canada taking on Switzerland, and the nightcap has Russia meeting Finland on the schedule. The two winners move on to the semi finals. The losers go on to the 5 v 6 game. And over at Dwyer, the four bottom teams begin a relegation round. When all is said and done, two of those countries will be knocked out of the 2012 tournament.

-Parking scandal? What parking scandal!
OK this was SUI-SVK after all, not exactly the big marquee sellout attraction. Nonetheless, here’s a snapshot of prices for parking, running in a line from County Hall over to the arena: HSBC Center block, $5; Aud Block next to the projects, $6, Webster Block, $15, and over at the Donovan, that vile and evil Mark Croce was charging $10. So exactly how many Euros exchange into US$10? Whatever it comes to, we bet our visitors found it to be a bargain. Maybe even cheaper than the lots in downtown Helsinki or downtown Bratislava.

-Best sign of the day
Dad and son were at the SUI-SVK day game on Thursday, with the two fellas sporting these signs, caught on the HD Board: “My Dad was too cheap to buy Canada tickets”. Not to be outdone, Dad’s sign read “Pay him no attention, my kid’s a Leafs fan.” With Canada off on Thursday, the crowd had a distinctly more American and Buffalo crowd feel, so of course the signs elicited a huge cheer.

-A fan from Kitchener holds vigil for her German player
Embassy Suites at Avant was a hopping place on Wednesday after Canada’s big win over Norway, but on Thursday night things were pretty quiet. Yet one lone lady was out on the curb in front of the hotel entrance, with her scarf wearing dog no less. So when asked who she was waiting for, Heather Ross of Waterloo, Ontario, explained it was for the return of the Team Germany bus from the arena following the USA-GER game earlier that evening. Clutching a small Germany flag, she said “I’m a die hard hockey fan and season ticket holder for the Kitchener Rangers and I’m waiting for Tobias Rieder, we just want to let him know how much we love him and how proud we are of him.” Rieder plays for the OHL Rangers, and turns out that Ross (and her dog) are two of Rieder’s biggest fans.

And what about the Chippewa strip and the Elmwood district?
Things were really coming to life over on Chippewa on Thursday night, with most of the clubs open and patrons milling out on the street as a thaw hit WNY. Jack Devine’s had the best sign, “Curling Fans welcome”, while also promising a maple syrup chugging contest. Over at Bada Bings, staff reported that business has been brisk and better than usual, with a packed house on Thursday. Meanwhile, over on Elmwood, it was all Canada and Canadian jerseys on Wednesday as throngs of visitors packed the streets and bars to celebrate their teams trouncing of Team Norway. “Blue Monk and Bullfeathers was absolutely jammed, and I didn’t see a single green colored piece of currency anyplace,” reported my associate at the Erie County Leg Jim Gambino, who was down there on Wednesday.

Let’s get this straight, as long as Canalside remains a crater in the ground, a collection of empty windswept cobblestone streets and some lame pile of rocks and excavated foundations, no one is going to hang out down there. The Tielmans, Goldmans and Fishers don’t get it… people want cool places to go and fun places to visit and food and drink and entertainment. It’s taken a few days but our visitors are finding and getting to the fun venues at last.

-Jim Johannson chimes in…”Not a single problem”
Talking to USA Hockey General Manager Jim Johannson on Thursday, and he offered this status report. “Not a single glitch or complaint, and I can make that claim on behalf of all ten teams.” Johannson had nothing but praise for Buffalo. “The practice facilities and accommodations are outstanding, transportation, meals and other needed amenities have come off fine. About the only problem we had was the overseas weather and some of our teams getting here from Europe. Other than that everyone is just so happy to be here.”

-The Emerson Etem flap dies down.
Just one day after tweeting that Buffalo was a ghost town and incurring the wrath of the locals, that #26 guy, Emerson Etem, was booed every time he touched the puck in the USA-SVK game on Tuesday night. When Etem scored the 6th goal for the Americans, the cheers quickly turned to boos once the crowd realized who had scored the goal.

Come Thursday and Friday the flap was all over with. Etem played his shifts and hit the ice almost incognito, as fan scorn on Etem’s silly and off the cuff comment was quickly forgotten. The story book ending to this tale would see Etem score the championship winning goal for Team USA in dramatic fashion at the gold medal game on Wednesday night.

-Some very special guests at the MVP presentations
Following each game a special presentor comes out on the ice to present the team MVP awards to each team, and now it has become a matter of speculation as to who will be that guy. Over the past few days we have seen former Sabre Richard Smehlik at the CZE-SWE game at Dwyer, Tyler Ennis at the CAN-NOR game, Andrej Sekera at the SUI-SVK game, Jochen Hecht at the USA-GER game, and they brought back former Sabre Teppo Numminen for the FIN-SVK game. For USA-SUI, it was Sabres Nathan Gerbe and Drew Stafford sharing the honors. And at the end of CAN-SWE, a shaken looking Sabres coach Lindy Ruff was out on the ice, just moments after leaning over to Sabres broadcaster Kevin Sylvester and prognosticating that Canada was doomed as the shootout unfolded.
Wondering who might be the surprise guests for the medal round. WIll be worth watching.

-Uwe Krupp has some choice words for Buffalo
He was the first German to play in the NHL, spending almost six seasons as a member of the Buffalo Sabres. Now very active with the German hockey program as a scout and coach, Uwe Krupp returned to Buffalo this week as a coach for Team Germany, and reminisced about his time in Buffalo, the first stop in his long NHL career. “The fans here are so special they really understand their hockey and are so proud of their team and their city,” said Krupp. “This is where I grew up and became a man that is why Buffalo will always be dear to me.”

Krupp made no excuses for his team’s disappointing week, where they fell behind 4-0 to Team Switzerland in the first 10 minutes of play downtown and just never found their rhythm. “Our boys were a bit overwhelmed and all at the big crowd and the big arena. Our expectation wasn’t high coming in so we were honored to be part of this and represent our country.”

As for his impressions of Buffalo? “The arena is magnificent, although I have already visited here before. The hospitality of Buffalo people has been felt by not only myself but our entire team and contingent. Buffalo, you people hold such promise for great things. There really is no city on the planet that is as special as this one.”

-How to squeeze ten teams into one locker room
Well there are seven locker rooms at HSBC Arena, and Sabres spokesman Mike Gilbert tells us that team USA has dibs on the Sabres locker room, while Canada gets the Bandits room. From there, they have parsed out the remaining lockers to the other teams, while Russia and Sweden have pretty much spent the week out at Dwyer Arena. “We juggle the spaces as needed,” Gilbert explained, “and keep in mind we bring the Sabres and Bruins in here on New Years Day.”

The media setup downstairs is actually pretty efficient. Attendants come through the press box in the third period asking media members who they would like to interview. Reporters aren’t allowed into the locker rooms, but players and coaches are brought out into a spacious and well laid out “mixed zone”, where interviews take place and these guys spend as much time as necessary with the press.

Oh, Canada? Nooooooooooo, Canada!
News was filtering out of Dwyer Arena all week that the Swedes were big, tough, skilled and powerful, but Friday would be their first big test before a big crowd, as the highly anticipated matchup between Sweden and Canada finally happened.

The full house of rabid Canadians was ready and pumped and loud, and the game totally met up to its hype and billing. End to end action, skillful playmaking, bone crushing hits, and fans rising out of their seats for much of the game. It was the glory and artistry of the game of hockey in its full splendor, and fans just couldn’t get enough.

But for Team Canada, the game would end in heartbreak. Two of their goals came off of fortuitous bounces, and for much of the first half of the contest, Sweden totally dominated play, not allowing Team Canada to even get out of its zone.

At the end or regulation, the teams were knotted at five. It ended in a shootout. The Swedes scored twice, while Canada was unable to put even one puck into the net. On this day, there would be no postgame singing of “Oh, Canada”. Just the quiet shuffle of sad Canada fans hitting the streets, some of them handing their tickets to the USA-SUI nightcap to anyone who wanted them. For the players it was physically draining, and for the fans, an emotionally draining afternoon.

– A primer on the medal round
The hoped for USA-Canada finals rematch can not happen, now that Sweden has won their bracket. Sweden and USA get byes to the semifinals. Canada will have to play a quarter final game, which, should they prevail, will set up a semi-final matchup against Team USA. That game is scheduled for 7:30PM on Monday, and look for that game to be one very hot ticket. In the other semifinal, Sweden awaits the winner of the Finland v Russia matchup on Sunday night. If the CAN-SWE game is any indication, the medal games should bring out the best and most dramatic moments of this entire tournament. Enjoy Day 7 and enjoy the Games!