Team Canada looks to open the World Junior Championship Tournament on a winning note against one of their fiercest rivals: the United States. The rivals are set to open their respective tournaments against each other at 11 am Mountain Time on Boxing Day.
Team Canada will be led by players such as Strome, Marner, and Virtanen and, after a third period scare versus Sweden in pre-tournament play, will be looking to prove themselves in a big way. While this game has often been found on New Year's Eve and is immensely popular, the change to Boxing Day is a welcome one. There are two reasons for this; the first is that this will allow those watching Team Canada to evaluate team performance right away. A game against a weaker opponent might be a good warm-up, but honestly, that's what pre-tournament is for. It's time for Team Canada to be tested.
The United States is always a good test. The United States brings a team headlined by offensive threats in Auston Matthews and Alex DeBrincat. DeBrincat had a sensational rookie year with Strome and McDavid on the Eerie Otters last year, but he's had no problems continuing in a similar manner this year with a whopping 56 points in 30 games played. Matthews, on the other hand, is busy playing his first professional season in Switzerland and is the current favourite for the number one overall selection in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft.
With that kind of offensive firepower, Team Canada will have to be strong defensively and stay out of the penalty box, something they obviously struggled with late in their pre-tournament game against Sweden. Canada's defenseman are drawn in large part from the WHL, a league which places a high value on size and physicality. If Canada's defensemen can limit the offensive opportunities of the USA's top players, Canada will have much easier time playing the United States. Team USA is bringing two goalies playing their junior hockey in the OHL. This might be a little bit of an advantage for Canada as both Strome and Marner will be facing familiar brand new opponents.
The fact that both Strome and Marner will have seen the Team USA goalies before is good because Canada will be relying on continued strong offensive performances from Marner, Virtanen, and Strome to beat Team USA. These three are the biggest names in Team Canada's offense, and it is expected that the rest of the offense will follow where they lead. Virtanen is the only player on Canada's roster who is playing in the NHL, a fact that hopefully provides an edge.
Over all, this Boxing Day match up looks to be an extremely physical confrontation where both teams' defensemen do their very best to stifle an offensively powerful opposition, and that means it could either be a low-scoring or high-scoring affair.
Team USA defeated the host nation of Finland 3-2 in their final pre-tournament game, so this game will be a test for both sides. The last pre-tournament game for both sides finished with a score line which doesn't convey a message of dominance, and this game will most definitely show both teams' abilities to the fullest.
A great deal of how the tournament will progress will be decided by which team starts on a high note. The rest of the USA-Canada group is rounded out by Sweden, Switzerland, and Denmark, making Team USA one of the stiffest competitors Canada will face in the round robin. If Canada can pick up an early victory, the round robin looks like a much easier task than if they start with a defeat.