2017 IIHF World Junior Championship: Breaking Down Canada's Path to Gold
Team Canada Seeks Redemption. And Revenge.
Silence befell the Bell Centre as Troy Terry of Team USA scored what would become the championship-clinching goal in a hard-fought shootout against their bitter rivals, Team Canada. Over 20,000 fans, mostly Canadians, watched excruciatingly as their brightest young hockey players fell short yet again... Fast forward to 2017 with Canada opening as the second favourites to win the tournament at +157 next to the US at +134.
Canada's loss to the US marks the second time in seven years they were defeated by their southern neighbours in the gold medal game. Also, despite having the most gold medals with 16, Canada has only one gold medal since the start of the decade.
As the undisputed superpower of ice hockey, this is bothersome. The US, on the other hand, has won three gold medals since and they won two of them on Canadian soil. This coming tournament, Canada not only has a chance to redeem themselves but gets to exact revenge as they head to Buffalo.
The Players to Watch
Canada will be returning seven players from last year's silver-medal team including bluechip defenceman Jake Bean, who has 72 points in 68 games with the WHL's Calgary Hitmen in these last two seasons. He'll have big skates to fill in place of last year's Most Valuable Player, Thomas Chabot.
Joining Bean on the blue line is Cal Foote, son of all-time great defenceman Adam Foote, a returning Dante Fabbro, and the fourth overall pick in the last draft, Cale Makar. The forwards get a boost with the returns of Michael McLeod, Dillon Dube, and Taylor Raddysh. McLeod, like Bean, will play a larger role and is the highest-touted forward on board.
Notable additions include Sam Steel, Brett Howden, and Robert Thomas. Steel will be an MVP-candidate as the 2016 first-round pick has exploded for 131 points in just 66 games for the WHL's Regina Pats after being named the captain.
In goal, Carter Hart gets to correct last year's shortcoming and will be backed up by Colton Point. Hart has played like a man on a mission with 13 wins in 17 WHL starts with lights out .961 save percentage on 1.32 goals against average.
The Schedule Breakdown
It's an annual Boxing Day tradition in Canada as the IIHF World Junior Ice Hockey Championships kicks off from Buffalo, New York, USA. The tournament runs from December 26 to January 5. It starts in the group stage with two groups of five with each team facing each opponent once. The four best teams from each group advance to the knockout stage.
Here's a preview of Canada's matchups. All odds via SportsInteraction.
Canada vs Finland
When: December 26, 4:00 PM ET
Odds: Canada (-212), Finland (+332), Draw (+401)
Canada opens the tournament with a tough matchup against Finland, who has more gold medals than Canada in recent years. The Finns disappointed greatly last season but return up to nine players from last year including star defenseman Miro Heiskanen of the Dallas Stars. Goaltending is their weak link but a skilled and experienced defence will make them a challenge.
Canada vs Slovakia
When: December 27, 7:00 PM ET
Odds: Canada (-2506), Slovakia (+1521), Draw (+1000)
What the Slovaks lack in skill, they almost make up for in size. The majority of the team stand 6'2" or over including their best player, Adam Ruzicka. The fourth-rounder was drafted by the Calgary Flames earlier this year. At 6'4", Ruzicka can skate and deke like a smaller player but even if he carries the team on his shoulders, they are longshots at best.
Canada vs USA
When: December 29, 3:00 PM ET
Odds: Canada (+113), USA (+127), Draw (+403)
Canada and the US continue their epic saga in the World Juniors' first-ever outdoor hockey game. Played at Orchard Park's New Era Field, the defending gold medalists return a slew of players from last year's team including Joseph Woll, who slew Canada in their group stage match last year. Blue chip forwards in Kailer Yamamoto and Casey Mittelstadt of the Buffalo Sabres will be dangerous. This will have a championship game atmosphere.
Canada vs Denmark
When: December 30, 8:00 PM ET
Odds: Canada (-10000), Denmark (+2400), Draw (+1300)
Goaltender Kasper Krog finished third in last year's tournament with a .920 save per cent. He'll have to be even better this year as the Danes have odds stacked against them. They have a nice blend of size and speed but Krog will have to steal the game like he did last year.
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