What a time to be alive. 2020 started with an insane final between Canada and Russia. Then we went to lockdown in March. Only to end 2020 in lockdown as well.
The horizon looks great though. NHL starts soon. The Oil play the Flames 10 times! World Juniors are actually happening and their might even be a vaccine available to normal Canadians by 2027.
I will be watching the World Jrs very closely during the impending Boxing Day lockdown. I love international hockey. I used to only love my Czech team but now I genuinely love all the nations and their different styles. For instance, I’ll be watching the games between Switzerland/Slovakia/Germany very closely as those games are so important to those nations and should all be real close. I’ve grown really fond of the Russians and how they go like hell against Canada and never back down. I watch my Czechs intently through every lopsided defeat and cheer right to the end of the tourney.
Hockey has become a Big 5 sport. I honestly believe that any of those 5 nations can win the tournament (Worlds, Jrs, Olympics, best on best) and it is NOT an upset. Canada has the most players and the highest pedigree but losing to Finland/Sweden/Russia/USA should not come as a shock. No nation has won 3 golds in a row in a very long time. The days of Canada winning 6 in a row are probably over. I get Canadians love to huddle around the TV and watch Canada destroy nations like Denmark 10-0 and, somehow, use that as a symbol of dominance but, in the end, this a 2 week tournament for teenagers.
So here is my quick and dirty preview:
Canada has 20 first rounders which has to be a record. But none of them have played more than 10 games and the team got covid and were quarantined for 2 weeks. So a guy like Dylan Halloway played a handful of games, flew to Edmonton and sat in a hotel room for 2 weeks.
Canada has the best team but goalies aren’t a strength. 1 went undrafted and the other 2 are late round picks. To give you an idea of Canada’s depth. They just lost Kirby Dach (who was a stud in eliminating the Oil from the Play-ins) and are still the favorite. You always bet on Canada to win this tourney.
US has an amazing team but also haven’t played and are missing a few key players. They have elite goaltending though. One game and Spencer Knight might be a huge difference. Also, these guys have been together for several years.
Russia has the best goalie in the tourney. Some outstanding forwards. A new system brought by Igor Larionov. Their achilles will be their D which is lacklustre compared to their goalie and forwards. I’m not saying it’s a bad D but it’s probably the 4th best D unit in this tourney. Having said that, they can score and Askarov is on another level. I would not want to play them in an elimination game. I also hope the refs have got together and determined that if the puck hits the TSN camera that is an immediate delay of game this year.
Sweden got destroyed by covid and lost their head coach and number 1 centre. They are not allowed to play exhibition matches. Having said that, Broberg might be the best D in the tourney and they have an outstanding team. They haven’t lost a round robin game since WW1. It is truly a record that I don’t think will ever be matched again whenever they finally lose a game in the round robin. They should be expected to have a slow start but make no mistake, Gold is within their reach as well.
Finland has a really solid squad with some elite undrafted youngsters that should go top 10 next draft. Finalnd doesn’t have that ‘blow the doors off’ quality of the other Big 5. What they are good at? Beating the other Big 5 in elimination matches. They gel as a team, skate like hell and score a few goals. Also, a gold medal contender.
Nhl teams didn’t allow Kakko for Finland, Hughes for USA and Lafrenierre for Canada. All elite players. Another elite player, Seider, opted not to go to the tournament. As of this morning, Canada also lost Kirby Dach which is another elite player.
The bottom 5 is really weak. They are simply not on the same level. To put it in perspective, Canada will have more first rounders in the press box then these 5 nations have combined.
Czechs have their full team. Zero omissions, no covid, no controversy. They have 10 returning players and are a veteran club. Goaltending is a strength (no Askarov but all 3 guys are very good). The D core has 2 drafted players. We do have Stanislav Svozil and he looks to be a first round D (which is similar to a unicorn because you just don’t see them anymore). Zero first rounders on this team and maybe 5 guys will get an NHL game in before their careers are over. It may be bias but they are the best of the worst. Sort of like the smartest kid in summer school. (sidenote: If Germany had Seider and Reichel, I’d give them this distinction)
Slovakia is very weak this year. They are sending a very young team so will be better next year. Their goalie (Hlavaj) is very good and he will be very busy! They also left behind one of their best forwards in Maxim Cajkovic. In a Slovak vs Slovak exhibition game, Maxim was skating around crosschecking his teammates. They kicked him off the team for being a dick. True story.
Germany had a bumper crop and would’ve been a great sleeper but Covid got them real good. They left Germany with no cases and landed in Edmonton with 8 cases. They have no clue what happened. As a sidenote, if you think Covid is fake and it won’t happen to you, please remember what happened to the Germans. On top of that their best D declined because he will be in NHL soon. Another top player, Lukas Reichel, got covid and couldn’t come. They are also not allowed exhibition games.
Austria is weak overall. They are happy to be here and more happy there is no relegation this year. Marco Rossi is an all world stud and could help them defeat the Czechs and secure 4th.
Switzerland is a good hockey nation but this is a weak team by their standards with very few drafted players.
The pools are something else.
Canada has Finland, Germany, Austria and Slovakia in the weakest pool I’ve ever seen. Expect people to be really excited when they are beating the shit out of Slovakia, Switzerland and Germany. I expect their goals for and against to be 20-3 by the time they play Finland on New Years Eve. If you love hockey and drama then watch the Slovakia/Germany/Swiss matchups as they will be amazing! All 3 nations fighting for their playoff lives.
The other pool is stacked. Sweden, Russia and the States. Czechs will be battling Austria for the honor of 4th and a quarterfinal pounding by Canada.
Canada might not have a real opponent till the semis. Whoever that will be has already played several good teams. This could be to their disadvantage. While they are destroying weaker nations the other pool will have close contests and be battle ready. I’ve always said it’s best to lose early and win later.
Canada is the favorite but average goalies and no competition could hurt them in a close game. They’ll be globetrotters to the semis though.
I’d say Russia, USA and Canada are the most likely gold medal favorites. As a true lover of international hockey though please know that Finland and Sweden could easily win this and it won’t be surprising. 1 game knockouts in mini tournaments are a crapshoot. It may be Canada’s game but other nations are taking this quite serious.
Here are the last 10 years of results. If you see a clear cut number 1 then you might be buying into a little too much hype from your fanbase and watching too many TSN reruns of Canada victories. Make no mistake, the hype about this tourney is created by TSN and is a big marketing strategy. It went from an empty arena tournament in the 70’s to a small town sensation. Then it became all about NHL arena’s and small towns stopped getting it. Then it became all about being in Canada or border towns to Canada because it is so profitable.
In the end, it’s a teenager hockey tourney with a lot of ups and downs.
Who do you think gets gold?
Who wins gold this year?
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