Ring in the New Year with U.S. vs. Canada: FTHN’s WJC Preview
So what are you doing for New Year’s Eve, hockey fans? Here’s our WJC preview.
Yes, the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames will renew their “Battle of Alberta” in Calgary as one of 11 NHL games on Dec. 31. But further east and across a few provinces in the Great White North, the U.S. will take on Canada at the World Junior Championships in a battle that is sure to grab the attention of hockey fans across North America.
It’s the U.S. vs. Canada at the Bell Centre in Montreal, the center of the hockey universe. It’s Jack Eichel vs. Connor McDavid. It’s the U.S. colleges vs. Canada’s best juniors (for the most part), with some NHL-level talent sprinkled in. And most importantly, it may just be a chance to see who takes control of Group A on the final day of preliminary round action.
Welcome to the 2015 World Junior Championships.
For 10 days beginning the day after Christmas, the hockey world (or at least all of Canada and several European and Scandinavian countries) will be captivated by these under-20 (or younger) players as they pursue gold for their countries while showcasing the talents that have many of them already drafted by NHL franchises.
The fun begins on Dec. 26 when the World Junior Championships kicks off at two sites in eastern Canada, the Bell Centre in Montreal and the Air Canada Centre in Toronto. Both the U.S. and Canada will be in action on the tournament’s opening day, with Team USA battling defending champion Finland and Canada facing off against Slovakia, both at the Bell Centre. In Toronto, Russia will face Denmark followed by Sweden vs. Czech Republic.
The 10 participating teams will be divided in two, five-team groups, with the U.S. and Canada both in Group A along with Finland, Slovakia, and Germany. Russia and Sweden lead Group B with the Czech Republic, Switzerland, and Denmark also in the mix.
The tournament’s preliminary round will wrap up on New Year’s Eve, with the U.S. vs. Canada game sure to captivate North America. The quarterfinals will begin on Jan. 2, 2015 and the semis on Jan. 4. The bronze and gold medal games will conclude the festivities on Jan. 5.
U.S. vs. Canada
While there are several teams that potentially could win the tournament, all eyes throughout North America will be focused on the U.S. and Canada and their highly-anticipated clash on New Year’s Eve. For host Canada, nothing would be better than to win the title in front of their home-town fans and end its five-year gold medal drought. For the U.S., a gold medal would be its third in the past six years, its last coming in 2013.
Here’s a closer look at both the U.S. and Canada as they prepare for the 2015 World Junior Championships:
• United States – You can’t talk about Team USA without talking about Jack Eichel, the Boston University sensation who is currently tied for the top spot among all Division 1 scorers in the nation with 27 points in 16 games for the Terriers. Team USA head coach Mark Osiecki has much more to work with than just Eichel, however, with the red, white and blue also featuring the likes of Boston College netminder Thatcher Demko, University of Minnesota forward Hudson Fasching, and Auston Matthews, the youngest member of the team at just 17 who has caused quite a stir in camp and is projected as a top 2016 NHL draft pick. Unlike Canada, the U.S. is not expected to make its final roster cuts until the day before the tournament.
• Canada – The host team made its final roster cuts over the weekend and appears to be loaded, especially up front, as it begins pursuit of its first WJC gold medal in five years. Its top line of Max Domi (son of former NHL enforcer Tie Domi), Sam Reinhart (son of former NHL all-star Paul Reinhart), and Anthony Duclair (on loan from the New York Rangers) is as good as it gets in the tournament. And don’t forget about Connor McDavid (OHL’s Erie Otters), the projected No. 1 pick in the 2015 NHL draft, and Curtis Lazar, who is already a member of the NHL’s Ottawa Senators. Will the pressure of playing in front of their home-town fans be too much for the young Canadians or will it lift them to gold?
• Others to Watch – Russia is always dangerous and boats two top goaltenders (both selected by New York NHL teams) in Igor Shestyorkin (Rangers) and Ilya Sorokin (Islanders)…Defending champion Finland could return as many as seven players from its 2014 WJC gold medal team, including first-round NHL draft pick (Dallas Stars) Julius Honka…and don’t forget about Sweden, always a threat and led by Philadelphia Flyers’ prospect Robert Hagg.
Look for updates from FTHN throughout the tournament with special focus on Team USA and Canada beginning next weekend.