|Jordan Eberle after scoring against Russia in 2009.|
epic proportions against the Russians in the gold medal game, a devastating semi-final loss to the Americans, leading to a bronze and an all time low, finishing fourth in the tournament last year, getting sent home without a medal. Hockey Canada has altered their team this year, introducing more young talent and equipping a faster team that plays an electric style of play. As usual, Team Canada will be missing out on some high-end talent that have already made the jump to the NHL, such as Avalanche forward Nathan MacKinnon and Leafs defenceman Morgan Rielly. Hockey Canada is accustomed to not having star players available, and they will deal with it again as they have assembled a competitive team for the upcoming tournament in Malmo, Sweden.
Team Canada’s offense consists of both veteran CHL players and draft eligible, rising stars to accompany them. The team looks to only have one line set so far, and that line contains two players who are both rising stars in the CHL that are both draft eligible, one in 2014 and one in 2015. Canucks prospect Bo Horvat will
center 16-year old sensation Connor McDavid and probable #1 pick in this years’ upcoming draft, Sam Reinhart. McDavid is the first 16 year old to compete in this tournament since Sidney Crosby back in 2004. Besides the one line, Team Canada head coach Brent Sutter has been playing around with the lines, but expect the Horvat line to be anywhere in the Top-3 lines. Expect the Canadians’ offense to rely heavily on Jonathan Drouin, last year’s 3rd overall pick by the Tampa Bay Lightning. Drouin already has World Junior experience, and he excelled at last year’s tournament. However, Drouin is coming off an injury, so it may take a while for him to get on top of his game. Along with Drouin, Sutter will also rely on veterans like Nic Petan, Bo Horvat, Anthony Mantha and captain Scott Laughton to provide consistent offence. Laughton is a great two-way center who can chip in at both ends of the rink, and Sutter expects the whole offensive core to do that. Amongst forwards, Canada’s core is arguably the best in the tournament, if the young guns can play well, Canada will have great success.
Team Canada’s defensive core is a bit more veteran than the offense, as Minnesota Wild defenseman Matthew Dumba leads the way on D. Dumba is supported by Josh Morrissey, veteran Griffin Reinhart and 2014 eligble Aaron Ekblad. Team Canada also adds some size and grit on the back end with bulky
defenders in Adam Pelech and some veteran scoring with Derrick Pouliot. Canada’s defense has collapsed in pressure situations before, and coach Sutter will be without Griffin Reinhart for the first three games of the tournament, as Reinhart is facing a 3-game suspension from last year’s tournament. Matthew Dumba almost faced a suspension for kneeing a Swedish player in an exhibition game earlier this week, luckily no further discipline was handed out. Expect Dumba and Reinhart to lead the way, but don’t be surprised if Ekblad, Pouliot or Morrissey step in to chip in with the offense and play a pivotal role for Canada.
There has been one position that has been scrutinized ever since Mark Visentin lost his composure against the Russians back in 2011, goaltending. A lot of people believe that Canada’s goaltending development has weakened since 2009, and that could be true. Only two Canadian goalies have been drafted in the first round since 2009, that being Mark Visentin by the Phoenix Coyotes, before he shit the bed (twice) at the World Junior Championships, and Malcolm Subban by the
Boston Bruins. Visentin would leave the crease for Scott Wedgewood, who looked to be Canada’s saviour, until Wedgewood was barraged by the Russians and was yanked, leading to another failure in the eyes of Canada. Malcolm Subban played solid all tournament last year until the semi-finals, where Subban was lit up like a Christmas tree by the Americans. It will be Zachary Fucale who will start for Team Canada this year, and he hopes to bring back the gold for Canada, and end doubts of goaltending in Canada. Fucale was drafted 35th overall by the Montreal Canadiens in last year’s draft, and has already won a memorial cup with his QMJHL team, the Halifax Mooseheads. Fucale will be accompanied by Jake Paterson, a surprising OHL goalie who has really come out of nowhere to grab the backup job and backstop behind Fucale this year. A lot of people will be watching for Fucale to crumble in pressure situations, hopefully Fucale can prove the pessimists wrong.
I wouldn’t go out and say that Team Canada is the favourite to win the tournament, as Sweden are the hosts and they have nearly half of their roster returning this year in hopes of avenging their silver medal finish last season and winning gold on home ice. On paper, Team Sweden should win gold. Luckily, hockey is played on ice, not paper. If Canada can get some production from their younger players and their veteran players step up to the plate with some reliable goaltending, Canada (as always) has a shot to win it all. The Canadians will face stiff competition from the Russians, Americans, and the Swedes, but the Finns and the Swiss never fail to give the top teams a run for their money and could also pull off some underdog victories. I’m expecting great things from Canada this year, and I’ll be rooting them on all the way. Get ready for some late nights and early mornings Canada. The World Juniors are almost here.