In case you weren't paying attention, there's other hockey going on over in the Czech Republic where the World Championships are taking place. Today, Team USA got off on the right foot by posting a 5-1 win over Austria. A better beginning for ex-Isles coach Scott Gordon who also was behind the bench last year when they were upset by Germany in their first game.
Wisconsin was well represented with the Ranger duo of Derek Stepan and Ryan McDonagh donning the cool home white USA threads along with 21 year-old Craig Smith, who's a Nashville prospect. All had good days with Stepan setting up a pair of goals, including one for future Blueshirt Chris Kreider, who looked poised throughout. The Boston College standout is expected to return for his junior season, which probably is the right decision. No sense rushing the former No.1 pick when our team probably is a couple of years away from contending. It's encouraging to see Kreids looking like he belongs while getting the chance to reunite with WJC hero Stepan and McD.
Other highlights included Thrasher Blake Wheeler finishing off a nice dish from a tough angle and Blue defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk rifling one far side past Austrian netminder Jurgen Penker (27 saves).
Another familiar face represented the red, white and blue in net with Islander Al Montoya turning aside 12 of 13 shots. Seeing Al in net was cool, giving me flashbacks of his heroic effort in '03 that led USA to upsetting Canada when Marc-Andre Fleury's gaffe allowed our country to finally win the World Junior Championships. Of course, Ranger fans still fret over Glen Sather selecting Montoya sixth overall in the '04 Draft. What people forget is that Henrik Lundqvist was unknown and Dan Blackburn was finished due to that freak injury in the weight room. I will always feel Al never got a fair shake here due to Lundqvist's emergence. He was an AHL All-Star his second pro season in '06-07 but was blocked by Steve Valiquette. There were a couple of instances he was an emergency recall but for whatever reason, Ranger brass refused to start him when it could've boosted his value.
Eventually, Al was dealt to Rangers West in the Desert with Marcel Hossa for Freddy Sjostrom, David LeNeveu and Josh Gratton. Ironically, he was similarly blocked by Ilya Bryzgalov and former Ranger Jason LaBarbera. The former Wolverine got his break when the Islanders gave him a shot with the Chicago native producing nice results (9 Wins, 2.39 GAA, .921 Save Pct, SHO). Al was re-signed for next year and will likely split duty with Rick DiPietro.
Kudos to Versus for extending their hockey coverage this morning at 10 ET with familiar face Bill Pidto running things along with special guest analyst Zach Parise, which had to bring a tear to Devil fans. He looked a bit weird in studio but did alright. The next game is Monday at 10. So, if you can't catch it live, set the DVR. Somewhere in California, Brian's smiling. :P