Monday, 24 December 2007

Christmas In Canada = Gold Medal

With today being Christmas Eve, tomorrow being Christmas, and the following day being Boxing Day if you live in a Commonwealth country, the holiday season is like family, piling through your front door and asking about Christmas dinner. While Christians around the world celebrate one of their biggest days on the 25th, Canadians prepare for the 26th of December when the hunt for another gold medal begins.

The 2008 World Junior Hockey Championships get underway at 10am EST on December 26 when Sweden plays Slovakia in the first game of the tournament at the Pardubice Arena in Pardubice, Czech Republic. The USA squares off versus Kazakhstan at 10am EST at the Tipsport Arena in Liberec, Czech Republic.

Canada plays its first at 2pm EST that day against the host Czech team, and it is expected that Canada will be one of the favorites to capture the gold medal. If Canada succeeds in its quest for gold, it will be the fourth straight year that Canada has defeated the world. Yeah, it makes me proud as a Canadian.

However, there will be some definite competition at the World Junior Championships this year, and that competition will come in the form of the Russians and Americans. The Russians have been the silver medallists the last three years while winning gold in 2002 and 2003. The Americans won bronze last year and gold in 2004.

Here are my medal picks for the tournament.

Gold Medal: Canada.

The Canadians possess something that no other team has: depth and experience in goal. Jonathan Bernier and Steve Mason are both big and athletic, and both have experience playing in high-pressure games: Bernier in the NHL and Memorial Cup; Mason in the 2007 Super Series and for the OHL's London Knights. Bernier started the season with Los Angeles in the NHL, but was returned to the Lewiston Maineiacs where he has put up decent numbers as the starter. Mason has excelled as the Knights' goaltender, and the Columbus Blue Jackets prospect looks to build on a solid junior career.

Canada's defence will be fast, mobile, and hard-hitting. Led by captain Karl Alzner, a Washington Capitals prospect, the Canadians will wear down teams and capitalize on turnovers. Expect Luke Schenn to throw his body around. The 2008 draft-eligible defenceman is 6'2" and weighs 210 lbs.

The Canadian forwards are quick, agile, and high-scoring. Kyle Turris, the Phoenix Coyotes prospect, has looked as good as he was in the Super Series. Linemate Brad Marchand, a Boston Bruins prospect, has been excellent in his international career, and looks to continue Canada's winning ways. The Central Scouting Services' top draft-eligible player in Steven Stamkos looks to make a mark for the upcoming NHL entry draft, and 2009-eligible player John Tavares is expected to contribute for the Canadians as well.

Overall, Canada's depth and skill should lead them to a fourth-consecutive IIHF World Junior Championship gold medal.

Silver Medal: USA.

The Americans have now run into the problem that Canada faces each year, thanks to their development camps and training: who goes, and who doesn't. Their medal hopes basically come down to their goaltenders, a position of international inexperience for the Americans.

Jeremy Smith and Joe Palmer are the tandem in between the pipes for the Americans, and neither has had a ton of big-game experience. Smith has played well for the Plymouth Whalers in the OHL, but he'll have to be very good for two straight weeks in order for the Americans to win. Palmer is the goaltender for the NCAA's Ohio State Buckeyes, and has played well enough to lock his position down as the back-up.

On the defensive side, Bobby Sanguinetti of the OHL's Brampton Battalion will bring a pile of offence from the blueline. The New York Rangers' prospect is expected to see a load of time on the powerplay. Jonathan Blum, a Nashville Predators prospect, will also get a lot of ice time. The California native has played well for the Vancouver Giants of the WHL.

The Americans should have the firepower up front to compete with the Canadians and Russians. Kyle Okposo, who recently left college to join the New York Islanders, should be an offensive force in the tournament. He's joined by Philadelphia Flyers prospect James vanRiemsdyk, Islanders prospect Rhett Rakhshani, and Montreal Canadiens prospect Max Pacioretty up front in what should be a talented American forward group.

Overall, the big game for this group in winning a medal comes via their third game of the round robin when they meet up with the Russians. If the Americans can play well in that game and secure the top spot in the pool, it will go a long way in helping them bring home at least a silver medal. Complacency in the playoff round will be something that the Americans will have to overcome, though, especially against some of the weaker teams in the tournament.

Bronze Medal: Sweden.

The Swedes look to be a force this year, ending their twelve-year drought of not winning a medal. The Swedes boast some world-class talent this year, and are expected to play a puck-possession game in the same style that the Detroit Tre Kronor Red Wings play.

In net, the Swedes boast Jhonas Enroth, a Buffalo Sabres prospect. Enroth is figured to be the best goaltending prospect in the game, and will certainly put that on display in the Czech Republic. Enroth could boost this team to a silver if he lives up to his pre-tournament billing.

Defensively, the Swedes feature 17 year-old Victor Hedman, a young player who already logs a ton of ice time for Modo of the Swedish Elite League. They will be fast and quick, and certainly will provide offence from the blueline for a potent Swedish attack.

Up front, the Swedes have scoring. Oscar Moller, a draft-eligible player from the Chilliwack Bruins of the WHL, should lead the way for the Swedes. Mikael Backlund, a Calgary Flames prospect, should also light the lamp often for the Tre Kronor, and expect to hear a lot about Mario Kempe. Magnus Svensson-Paajarvi will be the first 16 year-old to suit up in the World Junior Championships since some guy named Sidney Crosby did it in 2004.

Overall, the Swedes should medal this year. Where they end up will depend on their willingness to play gritty with the Canadians and Americans. Getting a monster tournament out of goaltender Enroth will certainly make it easier for the Swedes to break the drought.

What About: Russia.

I'll be the first to admit that you can never count the Russians out. The problem with the Russian team is their goaltending. They haven't developed a deep pool of prospects in the net for some time, and that was reflected by the shelling they took in the Super Series at the hands of the Canadians. Because of their weak goaltending, I think they have a very exposed Achilles' heel. However, if one of the young Russian goaltenders develops a hot hand, the Russians could finish as high as second. My money would be on Sergei Bobrovsky as that goalie if I had to choose.

The Russians will certainly be able to score, and will feature New York Rangers' prospects Alexei Cherepanov and Artem Anisimov. The rest of their forwards will contribute, but aside from the first-line duo, they run thin into their third and fourth lines. Playing physical against Cherepanov has proven to be a way to eliminate him as a scoring threat.

Defensively, no one stands out. These players were man-handled by the aggressive and unrelenting Canadian forecheck in the Super Series, and they seem to play soft in their own end. The Americans should be able to capitalize on this in their round robin game, thus giving a gameplan to every other team in the tournament. The Russians seem to become undisciplined when they are played physically, a weakness the Canadians exposed in the Super Series.

In short, I feel that the Russians may not be able to match the Canadians or Americans in physicality, thus giving those two nations a distinct advantage. The Swedes, in my opinion, are much too skilled for the Russians to overcome them as well, and will fall in the bronze medal game to that Swedish group.

Overall, I am excited for the tournament to begin. TSN will have live broadband coverage on their website of the Canadian games if you have a Canadian-based internet service provider. If you're outside of Canada, TSN Broadband will replay the game after it has ended for all to see. If you live near the Canada-US border, you may be able to pick up the game on one of the radio stations below (frequency in parentheses), or by listening live through their streaming audio on their website.

Belleville, Ontario – CJBQ (800 AM)
Calgary, Alberta – FAN 960 (960 AM)
Edmonton, Alberta – TEAM 1260 (1260 AM)
Halifax, Nova Scotia – CJNI (95.7 FM)
Hamilton, Ontario – CHML (900 AM)
Kitchener, Ontario – CKGL (570 AM)
London, Ontario – CJBK (1290 AM)
Moncton, New Brunswick – CHNI (88.9 FM)
Montreal, Quebec – TEAM 990 (990 AM)
Ottawa, Ontario – TEAM 1200 (1200 AM)
Saint John, New Brunswick – CKNI (91.9 FM)
Sarnia, Ontario – CHOK (1070 AM)
Toronto, Ontario – FAN 590 (590 AM)
Vancouver, British Columbia – TEAM 1040 (1040 AM)
Wingham, Ontario – CKNX (920 AM)
Winnipeg, Manitoba – CJOB (680 AM)

Just as a note, I cannot guarantee a post for tomorrow with it being a major holiday. I will certainly try, but there's no guarantee. However, there will be one on the 26th. I also plan on having another book review ready to go for this week, so keep your eyes on this site for that.

Happy holidays to all! Merry Christmas to those that celebrate it. Happy Kwanzaa to all those that may be celebrating that festive occasion as well. All the best to you and yours in this holiday season.

And, of course, GO CANADA GO!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

1 comment:

Kirsten said...

HELL YES! GO CANADA GO! I'm so excited for the WJCs. I got to go in 2005 and hang out with all the Canadian fans, and it was the experience of a lifetime.