Quick Take: USA 7, Czech Republic 0

So a goal differential of 21-2 in the last three games. And Canada is out of it, too.

What happened: 

Auston Matthews is good. Really good.  The Scottsdale, AZ product and consensus #1 pick in the upcoming 2016 draft netted a hat trick, and notched two of them on the power play as Team USA ripped the Czech Republic 7-0. Matthews has been on fire throughout the tournament, and is showcasing the talent that makes him the most exciting and talented American prospect since Patrick Kane was drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks in 2007 as the first overall pick.

What it means: 

With Canada losing to host Finland 6-5, this certainly makes for an interesting final two rounds of the World Juniors. Gone is a team that honestly, worried me more than Sweden. Canada–at any damn level–has this knack of always knocking the US out in the final rounds. The final four–Russia, Sweden, Finland, and the United States–boasts three of the top four defensive minded teams. The Americans draw Russia while Sweden faces off against Finland.

More to follow as we wait for the US-Russia game on Monday.

 

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Quick Take: USA 10, Switzerland 1

Team USA destroyed Switzerland 10-1.  Our very own Jim Gatlin was bored after the third goal, but it was a happy bored. After a white washing, we’re not really going to go into specifics, and rip a game apart (though a post mortem following such a game is more fun, than say, a 1-0 loss to Sweden).

Some quick takes as the US prepares to take on Denmark:

  • Auston Matthews really played well. Good to see as the important games begin soon.
  • The US is 2-0-0-1 and can clinch second place by beating Denmark. Sweden took #1.
  • Canada had a tough time putting Switzerland away. Canada. The same Canada that Team USA beat 4-2. Here’s hoping that same Canada shows up in the later stages of the tournament.

Video Highlights via TSN:

https://bmplayer-a.akamaihd.net/shareable/embedssl.html?dc=tsn_web&cid=778716&col=379&w=480&h=270&pl=0&plh=0&adSite=ctv.tsn.ca&adZone=&omniAcct=ctvgmtvetsndesktop,ctvgmtvetsnglobalsuite&section=world%20juniors&site=world%20juniors&shareUrl=http://www.tsn.ca/matthews-leads-usa-in-rout-of-swiss-1.415965&v7=article&v8=&v9=&v10=

Interviews via USA Hockey:

Denmark is bright and early US time: 9:00 am Eastern and 8:00 am Central. You can catch it on NHL Network.

 

 

 

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After the Fact: Analyzing the US loss to Sweden

We’re back after some time away. After games, we analyze what went well and what didn’t during a Team USA game. Here’s the post mortem of the USA’s 1-0 loss to Sweden yesterday. 

After beating Canada 4-2 on Saturday, the US failed to register a goal as Sweden used a breakaway goal to beat the Americans 1-0 Tuesday. Alex Nylander  went backhand on American netminder  Alex Nedeljkovic to score the eventual game winner.

It was a shame after a great win over Canada and a dominant effort versus Sweden. But the goalies stood out and on their respective head, keeping all but one puck out of both nets.

Banner Play

  • Team USA outshot the Swedes on a two to one ratio, holding the advantage 46-23. There were several moments, as noted by coach Ron Wilson, where the puck just didn’t get through. The chances were there–they just lacked conversion. Not to mention Sweden’s Linus Soderstrom played out of his mind. When a goalie is hot, he’s hot. And the US couldn’t find a way to get one past him.
  • The Americans were stellar on the penalty kill–turning away all six chances the Swedes had. The Americans yielded a power play goal to Canada on Saturday, but were flawless yesterday.

 

A Closer Look: The Game Winning Goal

One breakdown led to the winning goal and it was a tough one. Take a look at the video and then we hack it apart.

And now to overanalyze.

Screen Shot 2015-12-28 at 9.38.50 PM

The play starts deep in Sweden’s zone. The key here is that defenseman Louie Belpedio is to the right of the net on the goal line. He’s trapped and will have to hustle back to negate a chance. However, at this point in Sweden’s breakout, the US has numbers.

Screen Shot 2015-12-28 at 9.39.20 PM

Belpedio is still behind the play, but he has two forwards and linemate Brandon Fortunato patrolling. Nylander is beginning his full stride at the top of the screen.

Screen Shot 2015-12-28 at 9.32.52 PM

This is the key moment because what was once even numbers led to the quick 2 on 1 that eventually opens up the chance for Nylander. Center Nick Schmaltz goes to change and Nylander springs free without anyone close. Nylander is all alone while two Americans trail the play. Fortunato rightly takes the puckcarrier (Dmytro Timashov), but Nylander coasts alone waiting for a pass.

Screen Shot 2015-12-28 at 9.36.06 PM

Belpedio (obstructed in this view) is desperately trying to catch Nylander who just received the pass from Timashov. Fortunato has no chance to  break up the play as it’s already behind him and being left handed, he has to make a full turn to even try to make a play.  Timashov’s head up play punished the US for a lackluster backcheck.

Screen Shot 2015-12-28 at 9.36.25 PM

Nylander begins his assault on the net. Both Fortunato and Belpedio chase, but Nylander is already a good two strides ahead. It’s up to Nedeljkovic to make a play but he’s absolutely on his own against one of the best prospects in the world.

Screen Shot 2015-12-28 at 9.36.44 PM

Nylander goes forehand-backhand to beat Nedeljkovic, who commits on the forehand. Belpedio looks absolutely gassed as he tried to stop Nylander but in the video, he’s a spectator to the game winner.

Final Thoughts

Honestly? It’s frustrating in the effect that the US outplayed Sweden 5 0n 5, and shorthanded, but were stifled by Soderstrom, who played his rear off.  You give a stick tap and move on.

This is the definition of a moral victory. I hoped for a split as the US drew two very tough teams in their first two contests and they got just that.

They lost to a superior goaltending performance after upending tournament favorite Canada in its first game. Switzerland and Denmark are next on Wednesday and Thursday respectively.

 

 

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December World Cup of Hockey Rankings: Top 12 Forwards

December is upon us and we’ve already scouted out the defensemen and goalies that we would select for the Team USA roster. Today, we focus in on the forwards and narrow our view to only 12. Later this week, we’ll begin pairing lines, and looking at those on the top four lines.

kane1. Patrick Kane
Quick Thought: Right now no one, American or other, is playing better hockey than Patrick Kane.

pavelski2. Joe Pavelski
Quick Thought: Nearly a point per game guy, Pavelski also brings versatility to the table. I put him in the middle but he can score on the wing as well.

wheeler3. Blake Wheeler
Quick Thought: USA fans may not know how good he is….yet. Come next September they will.

 

max4. Max Pacioretty

Quick Thought: 
Uncertainty surrounded his health to start the season, but it hasn’t slowed Pacioretty to this point.

ryan5. Bobby Ryan
Quick Thought: Ryan is proving the USA decision makers wrong for leaving him off of the 2014 team.

parise6. Zach Parise
Quick Thought: The Captain at #6? Injuries have slowed him a bit this season. No worries, he will make the team and as Nate previously wrote on the site, Parise will wear the “C” once more.

kessel7. Phil Kessel
Quick Thought: His numbers at the end of the year will likely be more impressive than his current projections. He still is a premier scorer on any team.

stepan8. Derek Stepan
Quick Thought: He is going to miss some time and the Rangers will feel his absence. That will let the rest of know how good Stepan is.


tyler johnson9. Tyler Johnson
Quick Thought: His postseason in 2015 was Conn Smythe worthy, but he hasn’t followed that up with the kind of season Team USA had hoped for.


backes10. David Backes

Quick Thought: While not a scoring machine his size alone keeps him on the list. Backes won’t do anything spectacular, but he won’t do anything stupid either.


okposo11. Kyle Okposo

Quick Thought: Was off to a good start, but has slowed recently. I still like his skill set for this team.


cally12. Ryan Callahan

Quick Thought: As stated before, you want a guy like this on your team. Unfortunately, Callahan is in danger of losing a spot.

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Choosing Captain America Part 1: Zach Parise

It was in 2012 that Zach Parise truly captured the attention of the nation. Before the free agent frenzy that captivated the hockey world, it was Parise’s leadership and play that drove up his price, and hastened his departure from New Jersey.

While his numbers haven’t reached the zenith of his production from the 2008-2009 season, it’s Parise’s leadership that creates his value. Statistics wise, however, Parise has topped 20 goals in three of his last four seasons.

As we begin our look at the candidates for the role of Captain America, we start with the guy who provided one of the most memorable goals in recent USA Hockey history, and whose leadership is unparalleled. He also happened to be Team USA’s Captain in Sochi.

Continue reading

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December World Cup of Hockey Report: Top 3 Goalies

Elite goalies are tough to come by. But the Americans have been blessed with stellar goaltending in 2010 (Ryan Miller) and 2014 (Jonathan Quick). Though it didn’t translate into a gold medal, it certainly kept Team USA in the thick of things.

As we enter our second month of scouting, we’ve ranked by who we think should be starting between the pipes if the WCOH started today. Statistics and current performance trump our rankings. Past performance certainly plays a role.

Trending grades are based upon month-to-month stats.

#1: Cory Schneider cory schneider

The New Jersey Devils’ netminder continues to carry the team on his back, and has been the leading reason the Devils are in a playoff hunt through the first two months of the season. Schneider built on a strong October and posted even better numbers in November.

The biggest hindrance for Schneider is Jonathan Quick’s playoff and Olympic performances. Past performance often helps when making selections like this. With Los Angeles General Manager Dean Lombardi in charge of picking the team (with the advice of others), Quick would have a slight advantage going into the #1 race.

trending up

Trending Up

October: 6-2-1;  2.17 GAA; .919 SV%
November: 5-4-1; 1.90 GAA; .930 SV%
5 on 5: .940 SV%; SH: .885 SV%

 

 

ben bishop#2: Ben Bishop

Tampa Bay’s behemoth of a goalie, much like Quick, has been up and down during the season. Though his up, which was all of November, assisted in him leapfrogging Quick in our rankings. Bishop was outstanding in November, posting the best GAA and Save % of the three goalies listed here. Also helping his case is the stellar showing in last year’s Stanley Cup Playoff. Even with a torn groin in the Stanley Cup Final, Bishop’s efforts were still on a high level.

I know that he doesn’t have the accolades of Jonathan Quick, but if Bishop continues this trend, he’ll certainly push for the top two spots in September. Our reasoning to go with Schneider over Bishop as the #1? Schneider continued his stellar play through both months, and his defensive corps–as well as his team–is not nearly as strong as Bishop’s.

October: 5-5-1; 2.37 GAA; .916 SV%
November: 4-3-1; 1.60 GAA; .941 SV%
5 on 5: .943 SV%; SH: .840 SV%

trending up

Trending Up

#3:  Jonathan Quick jonathan quick

The Los Angeles Kings’ goalie has two Stanley Cups to his name and an impressive Olympics resume, but that still isn’t enough to give him the top spot in our December rankings.

Along with his team, Quick has been up and down through the first two months of the season. Quick’s strong numbers from October fell quite a bit in November. Some of this isn’t his fault. LA has struggled mightily with only Drew Doughty anchoring a once ruthless blue line. Depth has been suspect and as such, Quick has found himself on the bad end of many games.

But in the words of our very own Jim Gatlin: “When he’s on, he’s spectacular.”

down arrow red

Trending Down

October: 6-3-0; 2.09 GAA; .925 SV%
November 5-4-1; 2.45 GAA; .909 SV%
5 on 5 – .933 SV%; SH – .848 SV%

 

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December World Cup Report: Top American Defensemen

For a strong showing at the World Cup of Hockey, the United States needs anchors on the blue line and it’s going to be in a system run by the defensive minded John Tortorella. As the March deadline approaches for rosters to be revealed, here’s who we have for the top 6 (and some other names to be aware of).

1. Ryan Suter

Much like the 2015 playoffs expect Suter to log a lot of ice time.  He is a solid defensemen at both ends of the ice.

2. Ryan McDonagh

While he may not score (one season of double digit goals), McDonagh will prevent opposing teams from putting the puck in the net.  Has never finished a season worse than +11. He spends many nights on the ice against the other teams top line and still gets the job done.

3. Kevin Shattenkirk

Had a career high in assists (36) last season in only 56 games.  Shattenkirk can move the puck, but his isn’t afraid to hit you either.  At only 26, his best hockey is still in front of him.  That’s great news for USA hockey.

4. John Carlson

Even though his scoring pace has slowed a bit this season, Carlson still has 18 points through 23 games.  He just played his 400th consecutive game, so durability will not be a question with Carlson.

5. Justin Faulk

No defenseman has helped his standing more than Faulk this season.  Should team USA have the man advantage Faulk likely will be on the ice. He currently leads all defensemen with 8 power play goals.  He is a career -46, but playing for the Carolina Hurricanes doesn’t help.

6. Keith Yandle

A skilled puck moving defenseman, its likely that Yandle was the last man out for the 2014 Olympics.  He can get things started out of his own end that will be a key against some of the more skilled teams (think Canada).  As things sit right now, he’s got a spot.

Worth a Look:

7. Cam Fowler

If these ranking would have been done after the 2015 playoffs, its likely that Fowler would have been higher on the list.  Count him as a part of the struggles in Anaheim.  Wouldn’t shock me if he moves up the list, but his play has to improve.

8. Jack Johnson

This is the guy I’m rooting for. Nobody wants to play for this team more than Jack Johnson.  He produced his 2nd highest point total in 2015, but is on a much slower pace this season.  Are his talents being wasted in Columbus or have we seen the best of Jack Johnson? Tough call for Team USA management.

9. Nick Leddy

Leddy can really skate and like Yandle excels at moving the puck out the defensive zone. With only 6 points in 25 games, Leddy is off to a disappointing start and it might be too much to overcome.

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Around the Net: Captain America and #Free Wheeler

Team USA General Manager and architect Dean Lombardi was recently in the news saying that the Americans require better leadership than in their Olympic Showing.

Hilarious since it was Lombardi’s own Dustin Brown serving as Captain for the doomed USA team that fell short of a medal.  From Puck Daddy:

So in speaking about Team USA for the World Cup of Hockey next September in Toronto, Lombardi specifically mentioned three players that will have to know it’s their team now: Zach Parise and Ryan Suter of the Minnesota Wild, and Ryan McDonagh of the New York Rangers.

Like the other teams in the tournament, Team USA has to release its first 16 players by March 1. Lombardi hinted that the fact there’s a North American “young stars” team hurts Team USA a bit, with several names that could have made his club relegated to that under-24 team.

“Some of the best players aren’t going to be qualified [to play for us],” he said. “I think there’s a definite trend towards having a bit of a turnover. Not only with the [young] players but with the players that will be back in assuming more hands-on leadership role. I think that’s one of the things that we learned from the last team. I’m not sure some of those top players realized it’s now their team, it’s their responsibility to take over. So there’s a transition there as well in terms of new faces.”

We will look at 5 candidates for Captain on Thursday.

USA Today’s Kevin Allen took a peek at the best bets on the wing for the Americans. He’s also high on Wheeler–just like us. We ranked him as the fourth best American forward. From Allen’s article:

“(Wheeler) is one of the best athletes in the NHL,” McGuire said. “His board play and ability to get to the net makes him a true offensive force.”

Wheeler has scored 54 goals over the past two full seasons, and with eight goals is on a 40-goal pace this season. He’s 29, but it feels as if he is just entering his prime.

“The kid is a late bloomer,” said his agent, Matt Keator. “I still think he is figuring out how to use his size and speed to his advantage on a consistent basis. You could see over the past two seasons his game just turning the corner.”

Enjoy one of Wheeler’s finer performances below.

 

 

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November World Cup of Hockey Report: Top 15 Forwards

After looking at the top 5 goaltending options for Team USA yesterday, today we focus on the top 15 forwards that should be on the front office’s radar. For the initial scouting report, we’ve ranked them by what we saw as importance to the team. There will be considerable debate on this. Along with BLR staff writer and scouting guru Jim Gatlin, here are the top 15 American forwards.

kane1. Patrick Kane: Chicago Blackhawks

There’s no doubt he’s the best player on the team. Despite not scoring in the 2014 Olympic Tournament, Kaner is hands down the guy you must have on the team. His propensity to score big goals in clutch moments is what makes him a lock as #1 for November.

pavelski2. Joe Pavelski: San Jose Sharks

Pavelski was recently named the Captain of the San Jose Sharks. They respond by charging out of the gate with Pavelski netting 8 goals in 12 games. Leadership? Check. Goal scoring? Check.

 

max3. Max Pacioretty – Montreal Canadiens

The University of Michigan grad is easily one of the top 5 Americans in the game. He can shoot, play solid two-way hockey, and provide clutch scoring. 7 goals in 14 games and a +8 gives credence to Montreal’s hot start. His leadership is another asset that could be a difference maker.

wheeler4. Blake Wheeler – Winnipeg Jets

A member of the 2014 team in Sochi, Wheeler has been nothing less than impressive in over a dozen games this season. 16 points in 14 games, two game winners, and logging close to 20 minutes a game. Wheeler is dependable and lethal when close to the net. A valuable commodity with a slew of all-world goalies minding the net for other countries. (Think Canada).

parise5. Zach Parise – Minnesota Wild

Parise was recently hurt, suffering a lower body injury as a result of a James Neal hit. The Minnesota alternate captain is nearly scoring a point per game, notching 7 goals in just 11 contests. His experience and leadership helps him round out our top 5.

tyler johnson6. Tyler Johnson: Tampa Bay Lightning

Johnson put the NHL on notice in last year’s Stanley Cup Playoff with 13 goals in 26 playoff games. He was a goal short of 30 in the regular season. Though he’s off to a slow start this season, Johnson should live up to his billing as a dangerous scoring threat soon.

kessel7. Phil Kessel: Pittsburgh Penguins

Nothing like sharing a line with Sidney Crosby to help your confidence and stats. Since leaving the hell that is Toronto, Kessel has 4 goals in 12 games and looks like he doesn’t miss that hot dog stand at all.

stepan8. Derek Stepan – New York Rangers

Stepan earns this spot because of the little things that he does–not to mention his craftwork in the playoffs. Remember, the US needs the guys that can show up in for the big moments. Stepan fits that profile well.

 

cally9. Ryan Callahan: Tampa Bay Lightning

Coming off a season where he tied his career high in points there is no reason to believe he wont be playing at a World Cup worthy level this season.  Callahan has a nose for the puck and I want that on my team.

ryan10. Bobby Ryan: Ottawa Senators

With four 30-goal seasons to his credit (although none since 2011-12), we know he  can score. Likely one of the last guys left of the 2014 Olympic roster, he deserves a spot  on this team.  Team USA had trouble scoring against the elite teams in Sochi, Ryan has proven he can score.

okposo11. Kyle Okposo: New York Islanders

He had a career high in points 2 seasons ago and scored 50 points in an injury plagued season last year.  Okposo can make things happen and Team USA shouldn’t leave this kind of talent at home.

backes12. David Backes: St. Louis Blues

Size, size, and more size.  He’s big, but he also knows how to play the game.  2014-15 was the second highest point total of his career and it’s likely that Backes will be in the middle of the 3rd or 4th line.

jbr13. James Van Riemsdyk: Toronto Maple Leafs

Just missed the starting line up, but my bet is that he cracks the opening night roster come next September. We know JVR has the ability to score goals, but a -33 last season shows he doesn’t do much on the other end. Playing for Toronto doesn’t help that, though.

oshie14. TJ Oshie: Washington Capitals

Oshie has only one 20 goal season to his credit. Sure he provided the best moment of the 2014 Olympics, but I don’t know that I give him a spot “in case we need him.”

foligno15. Nick Foligno – Columbus Blue Jackets

If he repeats his 14-15 season, then Foligno is a lock to make this team. Right now, I need to see him do it again.

 

Keep an Eye On

abdelkaderJustin Abdelkader: Detroit Red Wings

Abdelkader started out hot, netting two goals in his first game. Abby added two more and an assist since, but his play–along with his mates–has stalled with the Red Wings inconsistency. Abdelkader would add a rugged net presence and grit up front for a USA team that features an array of goal scorers. It’s a long shot–but the US might want to keep an eye on him. 

statsPaul Stastny: St. Louis Blues

Another center would be great for TEAM USA but he’s been a disappointment since the move to St. Louis.  An injury already this year doesn’t help his case.

keslerRyan Kesler: Anaheim Ducks

How the mighty have fallen.  Kesler isn’t what he used to be and his current -8 is a reflection of that.  Once thought to be Team USA’s top center, he will struggle to make this team even with a solid season.

Finally, we know Dustin Brown isn’t on this list. Jim will have an article about why that is next week.

Missed it? Our Top 3 American Players Right Now

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November World Cup of Hockey Scouting: Top 5 Goalies

Elite goalies are tough to come by. But the Americans have been blessed with stellar goaltending in 2010 (Ryan Miller) and 2014 (Jonathan Quick). Though it didn’t translate into a gold medal, it certainly kept Team USA in the thick of things.

As we begin our scouting, here are the top five goalies right now who could compete for the three spots on the US roster. Outside of the headers, these are in no particular order.

The Contenders

1.) Ben Bishop ben bishop

Coming off a hot season and leading his team to the Stanley Cup Final last season, Ben Bishop certainly left no doubt in anyone’s mind that he can steal a game or two.  Coming from Ottawa where he was the back-up for Craig Anderson, and moving to a young and growing Tampa team, he backstopped them to be one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference. As of now Bishop is currently 5-6 this season posting up a current 2.34 GAA and a .917 SV%. Don’t let that record fool you-Bishop has been playing fantastic lately. Bad bounces and luck have cost them a few games. It is still early. That’s why the season is a marathon, not a sprint.

cory schneider2.) Cory Schneider

Schneider so far has a record of 6-3 with a GAA of 2.16 and a SV% of .922. He actually is looking really good so far this season considering all he was went through within the past few years with constantly battling for a starting spot in Vancouver and New Jersey. He seems to be finding his groove lately and is fitting in quite nicely. Scheneider’s name should be penciled in if his dominance continues. He could push both Quick and Bishop for the top spot.

jonathan quick3.) Jonathan Quick

Quick as of now has a record of 6-4, a GAA of 2.28, and SV% of .918. His resume is one of greatness: 2 Stanley Cups, a Conn Smythe Trophy, and an international showcase in 2014. Don’t let the early numbers fool you–Quick is already rounding back into his usual form. Ryan Miller challenged Quick for the top spot in 2014, but Quick ultimately secured himself as the starter. The competition between Quick-Bishop-Schneider will unfold uniquely as each is expected to back stop their team to greater heights. Bishop–a return trip to the Final. Schneider–a team with low expectations. Quick–a team back to the playoffs.

Quick’s best work is in the clutch.

On the Outside Looking In

craig anderson4.) Craig Anderson:

Due to last season’s poor performance, Anderson was usurped by Andrew Hammond during the Senator’s torrid run to close the 2014-2015 regular season. Anderson has since rebounded. Right now, Anderson is starting the season with a 5-3 record and a 2.83 GAA. His save percentage is a modest .913% When Anderson is on, there is no solving him. The Red Wings shelled him for five goals on Saturday, however, showing that when he springs a leak, the net becomes a flood of pucks.

jimmy howard5.) Jimmy Howard

Jimmy Howard rounds out our top five in November. Howard this season is currently splitting time with  Petr Mrazek after having a nightmare finish to the 2014-2015 season. As of now, Jimmy is 3-2 and isn’t looking too bad. Regardless of his hot start, I expect injury or inconsistency to victimize him again.

A Wings fan talking here, Howard has always been a step too slow when the Red Wings have needed him. The up and coming Mrazek was favored over Howard in last season’s Atlantic Division Semi-Final, and took the Wings within a whisker of upsetting the Lightning. Howard has been battling for his job since. Sporting a .934 save percentage and a 2.01 GAA, Howard has certainly made some wonder if the second half of last season was an anomaly. After all, Howard enjoyed an All-Star caliber season prior to a groin injury in January. It remains to be seen if he can continue this pace–and remain healthy.

Tomorrow, BLR looks at the top ten American defensemen.

 

 

 

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