By Adam Williams Hockey Now
Matthew Murnaghan/Hockey Canada Images
(ISN) – Canada hasn’t won gold since 2009, but they may be back on the path to greatness Redemption It’s the goal. It’s the source of pressure. It’s what has kept the likes of Josh Morrissey and Nic Petan up at night for nearly 365 days—that burning desire, the thoughts of how they’d do it all over again.
Redemption is what they seek and, if they have anything to say about it, redemption is what they’ll get. Team Canada enters the 2015 World Junior Hockey Championship without a gold medal since 2009—it’s a streak that is as unacceptable to Canadian players as it is to Canadian fans. It’s a forgone conclusion that the expectation in this nation is nothing short of gold each and every season—and this might be the year Canada once again fulfills that expectation. HockeyNow is predicting Team Canada will make a return to the top of the podium, capturing gold for the first time in five years. How will they do it, you ask?
Here’s HockeyNow’s breakdown of Canada’s road to redemption. Experience Canada’s roster at the 2015 World Junior Championship will include as many as seven returning players, which puts the team on par with most of the other powerhouse nations in the tournament. And, if the conversation HockeyNow had with returner Josh Morrissey (in the front half of this issue)is any indication, those seven returners will be a motivated bunch. Morrissey said he still has a bitter taste in his mouth from the 2014 tournament in Malmo, Sweden, in which Canada wound up a disappointing fourth. Silver or bronze would have been bad enough for the hockey-mad north; failing to medal was unacceptable. Experience in Malmo isn’t the only thing this roster will boast. Canada’s group at selection camp was an older one, with 21 of 30 invitees born in 1995 (19 years old). Canada will have a wealth of experience in 2015 regardless of the roster. Invitees include those with international experience at tournaments like the SUBWAY Super Series and the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup, and domestic experience with league titles in the WHL, OHL, QMJHL and at the MasterCard Memorial Cup.
Big game experience will not be lacking in Montreal and Toronto. Fifteen of Canada’s invitees are first-round NHL draft picks, most of whom already have a combination of NHL and AHL experience. All 30 members of the camp roster are property of NHL organizations. What’s more, there could be more help on the way from the professional ranks. Anthony Duclair has been loaned to Canada by the New York Rangers and head coach Benoit Groulx is still waiting to find out if winger Jonathan Drouin and centres Bo Horvat and Curtis Lazar might also be en route later this month. Canada won’t have as many returning players this year as in a few years past, but it will certainly benefit from a core with a wealth of big-game history.
The McDavid factor Connor McDavid has been tied to this team all year. Coaches and management, journalists and fans have all been waiting for the day he would again don a Team Canada jersey for the World Junior Championship. Which is why the country has been watching with bated breath since McDavid broke a bone in his hand during a game with his Erie Otters on Nov. 12. The centre had his cast removed the week before camp opened and was cleared for non-contact practice. Though, when HockeyNow went to press, it was still too early to tell if the 17-year-old phenom would be ready for Canada’s Boxing Day tilt against Slovakia. Odds are he’ll be there, but one can’t be too sure. McDavid is the favourite to go first overall in the 2015 NHL entry draft and has long been projected to be the next superstar in the NHL, drawing comparisons to the likes of Sidney Crosby.
In 18 games with the Otters before his injury, McDavid was by far the best player in the Canadian Hockey League, having recorded 16 goals and 35 assists (nearly a three-point-per-game pace). McDavid is the type of player who could be tournament MVP in 2015 and will almost certainly be Canada’s scoring leader—if he’s healthy. A generational talent centring Canada’s first line would go a long way towards securing gold in this tournament. A generational talent unavailable may leave Canada in shambles. Hometown motivation Only four of Canada’s 15 gold medals in the World Junior Championship have been won on home soil—not exactly favourable odds for the hosts of the 2015 tournament. But, Groulx believes his team will feed off of playing in hockey-mad locales like Montreal and Toronto. Sure, Canada always strives to win at this tournament, but expect them to get an added boost with all the red and white jerseys in the stands. Just as visitors can be stymied by Canadian fans, the home team won’t want to be embarrassed on home soil. The competition Canada finds itself in a pool with Slovakia, Finland, Germany and the United States this year—it’s a group that will give the hosts some good competition, but won’t overwhelm in early tournament action.
A look at the rest of the selection camps for this tournament shows Canada will stack up well against its competition. The defending-champion Fins will return seven players for the 2015 tournament, but will be without their two leading goal scorers from last year’s tournament, along with a few other top-flight talents. One returner to look out for, though, is goaltender Jusse Saros—he played fantastically for his country last year and was a big reason why the Fins captured gold. The Americans and Russians are both icing young rosters with plenty of players not yet of age to be NHL draftees. Youth can surprise people in this tournament, but it can also cause problems. Eichel and centre Auston Matthews are the sort who will impress in Canada, but the host nation should emerge victorious, eventually. The team that might put up the biggest fight is, unsurprisingly, the Swedes. Sweden will be headlined by Jacob de la Rose, one of 19 NHL draftees on the team’s camp roster. Even this Swedish team won’t be as dominant offensively as previous versions, but there’s decent talent here. Should the team get Andre Burakovsky back from the Washington Capitals, they’ll be that much more dangerous. It’s no secret that anything can happen at the World Junior Championship. Few people predicted Finland to win the tournament in 2014 and there’s an equally probable chance a team will surprise pundits and fans alike in Toronto and Montreal this season. Yet, Canada’s roster seems to stack up well against its competition in 2015. The Canucks will boast overall roster depth, with enough scoring to get them through the preliminary stages and, barring total meltdown, into the elimination rounds.
Then, Canadian redemption will be just a few victories away.