Belarus, Wheat Kings Eliminated

The quest for a championship has come to an end for two Devils prospects. Artur Gavrus and Belarus fell to Canada in the quarterfinals of the IIHF World Championship in the Czech Republic. At roughly the same time half way around the world, John Quenneville’s Brandon Wheat Kings were being swept out of the Western Hockey League’s championship series. Both teams made great runs but fell just short.

For Belarus, it was like hitting a buzzsaw. Canada blitzed them 9-0 as Brent Burns scored 27 seconds into the game and they never looked back. Tyler Seguin had a hat trick and Burns and Ryan O’Reilly had two goals each as the Canadians cruised to victory. Tyler Ennis and Jason Spezza rounded out the scoring for Canada. They will now face the winner of Tuomo Ruutu’s Finland club versus the Czech Republic, to be played later on May 14 at the O2 Arena in Prague.

Gavrus finished up as the fourth leading scorer for Belarus with two goals and three assists for five points. He also tied with Andrei Kostitsyn for the team lead in shots. They each had twenty. Belarus finished seventh overall, the second straight World Championship tournament that they have done so.

In addition to Ruutu and Finland still being alive, Jacob Josefson and the Swedes will faceoff with Russia in the next round. That game, a rematch of last year’s semifinal, should be a good one. Sweden finished the preliminary round 4-0-2-1 with 16 points and was second in Group A. Josefson has two goals and two assists for four points in the tournament so far. Ruutu has one assist for Finland, who will also see a rematch from last year’s semifinal against the Czech Republic. Finland finished 4-2-0-1 with 16 points, one behind Group B winner Team USA (who will play Switzerland in the next round).

The Brandon Wheat Kings, led by John Quenneville, met a similar fate in Game 4 of the WHL Finals when they were shutout 3-0 by the Kelowna Rockets. The Rockets completed the sweep and will head to Quebec City to play in the Memorial Cup Championship. The MVP of the playoffs was Kelowna’s Leon Draisaitl, who also had the Rockets’ first goal (a shorthanded goal) of the evening. The Rockets will now play the Quebec Remparts on Friday, May 22 in the opening of the round robin Memorial Cup tournament.

Quenneville finished the playoffs tied for second in scoring for Brandon. He had ten goals and nine assists for a total of nineteen points.

Although both guys came up short in the chance to win a title, their individual efforts for their teams were commendable. The Devils have taken notice, as the progress of both men was featured heavily on the Devils official website. Hopefully these performances bode well and their talent can translate to the NHL level if and when they get a chance to play with the big club (be it in training camp or out).

Ruutu Leads Finland over Belarus, Tootoo Resigns

For the Devils, the 2015 offseason has been a busy one, and we have not even approached the Draft yet. In the wake of the news of Ray Shero being signed as the team’s first new General Manager in 28 years, some other interesting happenings have occurred around the team.

On Monday, May 11, Tuomo Ruutu’s Team Finland took on Devils’ prospect Artur Gavrus and Belarus at the IIHF World Hockey Championship in the Czech Republic. Ruutu’s squad overcame the upstart Belarusians 3-2 in a shootout. Pekka Rinne of the Nashville Predators made 23 saves in the victory. Ruutu did not score a point in the game and has one assist in six games in the tournament. Finland and Russia are tied for second in Group B with 14 points, the US leads group with 15 points. Finland plays their final preliminary game against Russia tomorrow (May 12).

On the Belarusian side of things, Gavrus had a great chance to get his team up by two when he was denied by Rinne on a 5-on-3 man advantage. Yevgeni Kovyrshin had scored early in the third to break a scoreless tie. Finland would take the lead, 2-1, but Gavrus would strike again, setting up the game tying goal scored with 31 seconds left in the third period. After a scoreless overtime period, Jussi Jokinen scored in the shootout to give Finland the victory.

Belarus still has a chance to advance to the quarterfinals by earning one point in its game against Norway on Tuesday. That game is their last game in the preliminary round, so it is kind of a do or die situation for the team.

In other World Championship/Devils news, Jacob Josefson scored a goal as Sweden defeated France 4-2 on Monday. It was the opening goal of the game, giving Sweden a 1-0 lead. France scored two unanswered to take a 2-1 lead until Filip Forsberg of Nashville scored twice and Oliver Ekman-Larsson of Arizona (the World Championship tournament’s leading scorer) scored once to give Sweden the victory. The Swedes stand at second place in Group A and, in the quarterfinals, will meet the third place finishing team from Group B.

Back on the homefront, the Devils resigned their nominee for the Masterton Trophy, Jordin Tootoo. As per team policy, President Lou Lamoriello did not release the terms of the deal when it was announced on Saturday, May 9. The 32 year-old Tootoo, who led the Devils with 72 penalty minutes last year also potted ten goals and fifteen points. His goal tally was his best since 2007-08 (he had eleven goals that year as a member of the Predators). He played in 68 games after signing with New Jersey out of training camp. He would have become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.

The Devils have a lot to do this offseason to get ready for 2015-16. Hopefully, the re-signing of a potential UFA who saw a career renaissance here with the Devils will be a step in the right section. Tootoo is a high energy guy who got the team going with his grit and speed on nights when they were not fully in the game. He also won over the fans with his toughness and skill. If he can bring that to the table this coming season, then the signing will be good move.

The Devils will probably be making few more moves to get younger and faster up front. Another goal scorer that can take some of the burden off of Mike Cammalleri can only help New Jersey in the long run. Time will tell just what new GM Ray Shero has up his sleeve.