Just the Facts:
What is it?: An international tournament of the best Under-20 years of age talent from ROUND THE GLOBE.
Where is it?: This year, the World Juniors are in Edmonton and Red Deer, Alberta, Canada, a couple of hours apart. Group A plays in Edmonton, and Group B is in Red Deer.
Why should I care?:
Because TSN needs programming Because some of the best draft eligible talent are going to be there, and until some rich maniac buys up the CHL/NCAA and plops HD cameras and a Sportsnet sponsorship into it, this is the best opportunity to see them play. And, if the NHL happens to not send it’s players to the Olympics, this is also a good place for the best young talent to possibly pick up a space on the Olympic roster.
Plus, they’re inoffensive hockey games in the middle of the afternoon right on boxing day/Dec 26th, usually with some form of drama added because teenagers don’t always play perfect hockey.
Who’s the current champ?: The United States of America, Baby! WOOOOO USA USA USA USA-
- Canada will have a far more local connection over the next couple of weeks, even more than the Seattle Kraken depth chart; as two of their forwards Olen Zellweger and Ronan Seeley, currently with the local Everett Silvertips, have made the final cut to be on the group favorite’s roster. We hope that they work hard, and hopefully they get the opportunity to dawn the red...and black....you know how it is.
- Team Finland has apparently a need of some big boys this tourney, because the 99th overall pick of the 2021 draft: Ville Ottavainen, will be playing for them as his strong play for JYP has garnered Leijonat's notice. Good on you, Ville!
- The USA announced their camp roster, and one Matthew Beniers, first pick of the Kraken, and of the Michigan Wolverines, is on it. Given how well he's playing for Big Blue, he's all but confirmed for a lock. Still! Work hard, Matty B!
Group A - Northern Gods vs. Teutonic Upstarts
As per usual, any group with Canada in it is one fighting tooth and claw, because Canada has the access to truly game-breaking talent three times over at every position. Any final rosters are immaterial, they’ll mostly be the kind of thing where Canada can easily dump 8 or 9 goals on an unsuspecting team. That said...it’s not impossible for some team to make noise and maybe catch those Canucks off their guard. Finland is one of those teams that brings comparative talent to Canada every other year or so, but is always hamstrung by something; a couple of years ago, it was their coach being a miserable failure, other years the goalie everyone thought might be ok turned out to be a pumpkin, and recently it’s been Penalty Minutes. Oh man the Finns have a bad time with discipline at these tournaments. Even if they bring good defenders, you can’t spend the entire game on killing penalties in a tournament that’s much more stringent than Liiga or Mestis. On another side, the Czechs are still trying to find a winning formula for their team; their defense for the last few years has been, uh...bad. Not good at all. Finally, they’ve begun to see some wunderkinds show up, specifically in the form of Stanislav Svozil, who’s all but a lock for this team. The team normally brings quite some punch, but otherwise their team buildup is...uneven, most of the time. Germany meanwhile has been making incredible strides year after year into becoming a world power, and survived a game in which they had almost half their roster gone from Covid, got pounded into dust most of the time, but still went out and won a whole-ass, come from behind game with half of their roster gone. Even if they may not have the talent right now to compete for a medal, they still have the hearts of champions
Also, Austria is here in this division this year, when elimination is back on the menu, without Marco Rossi, Austria's best player!
...Good luck with that!
Group B - Show up, then Fight like Hell
Where Group A is really just two teams keeping up appearances for the most part, this group is just unpleasant. The US, Sweden, Russia, Slovakia, and then Switzerland. All five teams at any point can cause you a lot of problems. Of the five, Switzerland is obviously the odd one out in terms of raw talent, but they are a team built on a rock-solid foundation; they play no-frills, simple, but very system-driven hockey that’s fun if you’re the kind of maniac who thinks that kind of thing is fun (or you’re me). Still, it’s nothing between the other four; Slovakia has gone through some...tribulations in their hockey federation, but now it seems like, at very long last, they’re going to see things through; they’ve got a real goalie in Rastislav Elias, and their best Center prospect in Oleksii Myklukha might get the last chance possible to make some noise. They’re a team best not left to their own devices, or you’re liable to take an ill-fated L. And then the last three...Russia, Sweden, and the United States. Russia is a passionate, high-octane monster that either careens off a cliff or drops 12 on you, and you’re not going to know which until you play them. Sweden can pull the kind of talent that Canada or Finland can, but often augment it with the kind of stringent, skill first defense and world class goaltending that makes them consistent medal favorites...and those boys in red, white and blue. Oh man do those boys in red, white and blue cause trouble. See, as hockey has grown in the US, more talented players have matriculated into the system, and now, while obviously Canada still has the ingrained logistics advantage, the USA has plenty of teenagers of top quality they can send to the World Juniors now too — as reigning champs, they deserve to be treated with utmost respect.
...Usually, anyway. There’s a real “character” to the Team USA experience, one that is definitely unique to the rest of the World Juniors; they are a team that almost plays in a self-imposed challenge mode. And by that I mean...they take periods off. Hell, one could say their brand is give the other team 40 minutes of game clock to do something then turn on the jets in the last 20. It’s burned them more than once. It’s also gotten them to a world championship more than once sooooo....¯\_(ツ)_/¯
The World Junior preliminaries begin on December 26th of this year, and the knockout/elimination round (played simultaneously) will begin on January 2nd. The hyperlink above gives you a full list of the games played in the Preliminary tournament.
Games to Watch:
The first two days: The entire first day of the World Juniors is generally quite fun because this is often the first time many of these teams go out in front of a live target for the first time, and have to actually play to win. There’s usually at least one really good upset in here somewhere.
Canada vs. Finland: Look, as much as I gave Group A it’s due, this is realistically the only game where Canada could be in any real danger before the knockout round.
USA vs. Slovakia: This is actually a game with a lot of unusual twists and turns, as Slovakia is well-known by World Juniors enjoyers for uniformly tarnishing what would be an otherwise perfect record for the States. It may not be a perfect game, but it’s usually one worth watching just to see if the US blows it.
Sweden vs. USA: The beauty of this game is that it usually happens twice: once in the prelims...and then once in the medal rounds.
Germany vs. Austria: It should be noted that this is the only game Austria is in that I would ever consider watching because c’mon, they’re gonna be suffering enough, right? This is probably going to be Austria’s most winnable game in theory, while also a triumph of non-traditional hockey nations getting to play on the world stage.
The Elimination Games: Unlike the medal rounds, these games are, in my opinion, some of the most dramatic in the entire tourney, and why not? If you lose in this best of three set, your team goes down a level, and can’t come back unless they win out in the IIHF 1A Championships. It’s never not produced close, bitterly contested games, and as rough as it can be for those youngsters, I never get tired of them.
The Gold Medal Game: C’mon, it’s for all the marbles. No matter what, it would be the game that is usually the most intense hockey of the entire tournament. People make themselves known, and legends are carved. You do not want to miss that tournament.
And that’s just about everything you need to know!