Five rounds of playoff action, and WHH experts predict how it will all unfold
Pool play is over at the ‘08 World Selects Invitational from Nashville. A field that started with 34 teams has been cut down to 24 left in the hunt for youth hockey’s world championship. Eighty-five games featuring some of the best 2008-born youth hockey players has seen 44 of those contests decided by two goals or fewer. It’s been a tightly contested tournament thus far, and playoff hockey moving forward should only continue that trend.
Elimination rounds begin on Friday afternoon with eight play-in games. Winners of those matchups will advance to face the top eight seeds in the round of 16.
Here’s how I see the playoffs unfolding in the Music City:
Play-in Game Upsets and Bracket Busters
Chaos in the early rounds could lead to chalk in the later rounds. I like Team Minnesota — the last team to qualify for the playoffs as the 24-seed — to pull off not one, but two upsets. Andrew Clark, Danny Peate and Ryder Siedow have shown to be offensive threats. Plus, I feel like Kazakhstan Selects may have benefitted from a weaker schedule in pool play. Obviously, not something they could control but all three of their wins came against teams that have already been eliminated from the tournament. I like Team MN to be victorious, but really whoever wins that 9-v-24 matchup should make it to the quarterfinals.
I like another Minnesota-based team to pull off a stunner in the opening round as well. Hard not to, I mean there’s six playoff teams that call the State of Hockey home. Similar to Kazakhstan, I think Swiss Selects benefitted from a 3-0-0 start against opponents that failed to qualify for the playoffs. Minnesota Generals, on the other hand, have played everyone tough, even in defeat. They win on Friday and set the stage for a Generals-vs-SKA Yunost rematch from Thursday — SKA defeated the Generals 4-1 and out-shot them 30-19 in the process.
Top Seeds play out to the Final Four
CCM Selects and Finland Selects have set themselves apart from the group in a big way. I like the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds to cruise to the semifinals, but only have one of them making it to the championship.
Should ID Selects and CCM clash in one half of the bracket, it’ll be the greatest collection of ‘08-born North American talent you’ll find in one place all year. J.P. Hurlbert, Michael Berchild, Cam Nimmer, Lukas Zajic on one side for ID. Alex McLean, Kent Greer, Maximus Crete, Avry Antsis on the other for CCM. It has the makings for an offensive track meet; a 6-4 type final. If you win that game, you win the tournament.
Finland Selects’ top players are something special. We’ve talked about players like Oliver Torkki and Viljo Kahkonen for about six months now. The team’s offense is dynamic, but in the playoffs of these elite tournaments, I think Finland may struggle to score. Teams tighten up defensively when it’s best on best. I just don’t see those top players having enough time and space to continue producing against Minnesota Blades, ID Selects and CCM. I’ll take Finland to squeak by the Blades, but come up just short in the title game.