Tag: 2011 IIHF World Championships

USA Craig Smith

Is Predators prospect Craig Smith Nashville’s big hope for a game breaker?

The Nashville Predators aren’t the kind of team that’s going to blow the doors off the building offensively. Last season the Predators were tied for 21st in the NHL in goals scored with 213 tied with Toronto and Montreal. While goaltending and defense are reasons why they can win games and make the playoffs, they’d like to be able to add that quality to their game in order to better challenge for the Stanley Cup.

With offensive players like Martin Erat, Sergei Kostitsyn, and Patric Hornqvist the Predators have a few nice complimentary offensive pieces to use, but without a game-breaking offensive talent they don’t put a scare into opponents when it comes to scoring goals. While the Predators have done a great job developing talent in goal and along the blue line, producing a few more guys capable of scoring 30+ goals a year would be nice too.

That’s why former University of Wisconsin standout and Predators prospect Craig Smith is grabbing everyone’s attention during the team’s rookie camp this week. In two game, Smith has scored six goals notching two goals against Florida in a 3-1 today and four goals against Tampa Bay in a 7-3 win yesterday.

Did Smith just get hot for a pair of games against equal-aged opponents or is there reason to believe he can do this at the NHL level? The Tennessean’s Josh Cooper finds out that no matter what, Smith’s play has opened eyes for Nashville brass.

“His skating is strong for all levels. He plays with energy and plays with a purpose,” Milwaukee Coach Kirk Muller said about Smith. “He finds holes and he has a good release that’s quick enough to capitalize like he did tonight. I liked his effort and smart decisions with the puck.”

It’s only a rookie game, but Smith comes to camp with the highest expectations out of any Preds first-year players. The team already lists him on the Predators roster on the website — not the prospects roster.

Impressing Kirk Muller is one thing, but impressing Barry Trotz would mean something else entirely. If Smith can show up during Predators training camp and continue to find the net and play strong hockey, it reasons to believe that he could make the NHL this season. One thing going for him now is he’s impressing team captain Shea Weber with his abilities on the ice.

“He’s ultra-skilled,” Weber said. “You saw him skate out there with us. He can really shoot the puck. He has a quick release and he really knows where to put it. He has a goal-scorer’s touch.”

Smith was one of two guys on Team USA’s 2011 IIHF World Championships roster that represented America without having played a single game professionally as of yet (Rangers prospect Chris Kreider the other). Smith’s performance in the World Championships was that of a kid taking advantage of every opportunity as he led Team USA in goals in the tournament with three and finished second to former Wisconsin teammate Derek Stepan in points with six (Stepan had seven points).

While Team USA’s roster wasn’t much to write home about, he got to play against some of the best talent in the world, with a lot of those players being current NHLers. That kind of trial by fire for Smith shows he can handle some of the pressure of playing in a big spot. Can he handle playing in the NHL? So far he looks like a man amongst boys, we’ll see what happens when he goes up against the real men of the NHL.

Predators sign Team USA and Wisconsin forward Craig Smith to entry-level deal

Craig Smith

Craig Smith might not be a name you know very well as a hockey fan and depending on how intense of a fan you are, you may not know him at all. Smith was a member of the 2011 Team USA squad at the IIHF World Championships and played his college hockey at the University of Wisconsin.

After being a fourth round pick of the Nashville Predators in 2009 and having a meteoric rise in his production, he’s taking his talents to the pros after signing a two-year entry-level deal with the Predators.

While at Wisconsin last season, Smith scored 19 goals and added 24 assists in his sophomore year in 41 games with the Badgers. Through two years at Wisconsin, Smith finished with 27 goals and 49 assists and earned a spot on Team USA last year at the World Championships.

There he impressed fans and curious onlookers with his steady and strong play despite being one of two amateur players on the team (Rangers prospect and Boston College player Chris Kreider being the other). In seven games of the tournament, Smith had three goals and three assists as the United States finished eighth. While that eighth place finish sounds bad, the year before saw Team USA end up in the relegation round where they survived finishing 13th out of 16 teams.

Smith now gives himself a chance to make the Predators roster out of training camp and with the Preds always in need of more offensive talent, he’s got a chance. It’s a small one, but a chance nonetheless. At 6’0″ and 180 pounds, Smith has decent size but his age and lack of experience in the Preds system could make the team want to keep him in Milwaukee of the AHL for a bit. If or when he makes the NHL, he’ll have a couple of fellow former Badgers there to greet him in defenseman Ryan Suter and former Hobey Baker Award winner Blake Geoffrion.

As for whether he can play in the NHL right away, Josh Cooper of The Tennessean spoke with his coach at Wisconsin, Mike Eaves, to get his thoughts.

“What has to be proven is he has that next gear in his gearbox to take that next step. He’s a young man who can really skate. He shoots the puck like a national leaguer, he has confidence with the puck. He can do things with it. He’s a dynamic player in terms of his skating. He has things that you would like to think indicate that he can make that step, but he has to show everybody there that he has that gear.”

If there’s a guy in the NHL that will demand finding that gear before getting into the NHL, it’s Predators coach Barry Trotz. If Smith can continue to grow and build on what he was doing last year for both Wisconsin and Team USA, he’ll be yet another home-grown success story for Nashville.

Canada beats U.S. 4-3 via shootout in 2011 IIHF WC qualification round match

US goaltender Ty Conklin and Kevin Shatt

Every sports team needs to measure themselves against the best, so when it comes to international hockey, the spotlight increases for U.S hockey teams whenever they face Team Canada. Most of the time, our northern neighbors come out on top, but these games are still a nice barometer for how far this country has come.

In the case of today’s game, we know there’s at least one strong goalie on the United States roster.

Canada 4, United States 3 (SO)

Ty Conklin made 48 saves against a consistent Canadian attack, taking an over-matched U.S. team to a shootout before Rick Nash and Jordan Eberle ultimately won the skills competition. James Reimer only stopped 17 out of the 20 shots he faced, but he only needed to stop two shootout chances (one by Jack Johnson, the other by Blake Wheeler) to earn the shootout win.

The U.S. probably shouldn’t complain about the one point they earned after being out-shot 51-20.

After a scoreless first period, Mike Komisarek made it 1-0 for the United States. Brent Burns tied it up about three minutes later, but Johnson received a pass after leaving the penalty box and scored a nice breakaway goal to give the U.S. a 2-1 lead going into the third.

John Tavares and Jason Spezza scored goals about two minutes apart to give Canada a 3-2 third period lead, but the Americans had one more counter-punching goal in them. Derek Stepan shot a one timer past Reimer to make it 3-3, a score that would stand until the shootout.

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The 2011 IIHF World Championships handle things a bit differently than the NHL, though. A regulation win will earn you three standings points, while a shootout win gets you two and a shootout loss nets one. To qualify for the next round, the U.S. will need to be in the top four of Group F. Here’s an updated look at that group’s standings via Versus.

Group F

Canada – 7 pts
Norway – 5 pts
Sweden – 4 pts
United States – 4 pts
Switzerland – 3 pts
France – 1 pt

The United States plays France on Saturday, but the biggest remaining game is the last qualifying round game against Switzerland on Monday. That game might make or break their hopes of competing for a medal for the first time since they earned a bronze in 2004.

You can check out America’s games on Versus and stay up to date on the results right here.

Isles defenseman Radek Martinek hospitalized after vicious hit during World Championships

Czech Republic v Latvia: Group D - 2011 IIHF World Championship
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Head shots and dirty hits don’t just happen in the NHL, they’re happening at the 2011 World Championships in Slovakia as well.  Islanders defenseman Radek Martinek was severely injured during his Team Czech Republic game against Team Latvia this afternoon when he was unsuspectingly caught in the head by a shoulder hit from Thrashers defenseman Arturs Kulda.

During the first period of play in the Czech Republic’s 4-2 win, Martinek was moving the puck up along the boards and dished off just as Kulda launched himself into Martinek catching him in the head with his shoulder (video). Martinek went straight down to the ice out cold and was removed from the ice on a stretcher. The blow gave Martinek an injury to his spine and a concussion but he’s in stable condition in a Bratislava hospital.

The injury comes at a terrible time in his career as Martinek was set to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1. Martinek’s injury history would’ve made him a tougher than normal sell to a team in need of blue line help, but he was rounding into his game last season with the Isles.  With what figures to be a terrible concussion, his road to return in the NHL will be a longer one and without a team to play for come July 1, it might be a while before we see him hit the ice again in the NHL. Martinek is being ruled out of the rest of the World Championships.

U.S. team beats Austria 5-1 in 2011 IIHF World Championships opener


The 2011 NHL playoffs aren’t the only high-level hockey tournament taking place right now. The 2011 Men’s IIHF World Championships kicked off yesterday, but the U.S. team opened their schedule with a 5-1 win against Austria today.

New York Rangers prospect Chris Kreider scored the opening goal a little less than 15 minutes into the game. Blake Wheeler, Yan Stastny, Kevin Shattenkirk and Craig Smith also scored for the United States while Marco Pewal scored Austria’s only goal.

Al Montoya ended up being the U.S. team’s winning goalie. The next U.S. game is on Monday, May 2 against Norway.