The North American Rivalry (Pool A Preview)

Pool A

The World Juniors have long been Canada’s tournament as they have been the most dominant team in the tournament. For a long time the tournament would come down to the second place battle as nobody could beat the Canadians. A lot of that has changed in the past few years though as the Canadians have lost their grip on the tournament. A large part of this has been the rise of their neighbours to the south in the USA. The Americans have improved by leaps and bounds in the past decade as hockey has risen to a new level in the country. The Americans would rarely take the sport too seriously as they would focus on other aspects of their sports culture. In the last decade though, hockey in the USA has grown to be a serious contender with other major sports in the country. The NHL has grown in the USA and as a result the game has grown with it in the country. Hockey USA has taken the growth seriously as they have begun investing more and concentrating on making the sport a major past time in the USA. They have succeeded in this attempt as the national program has grown leaps and bounds in the last ten years. The Americans had won a total of 3 medals from 1974, when the tournament unofficially began, and 2003 as they were never really a serious contender. Since 2004 the Americans have won 5 medals in all including two gold medals which mark the only two that they have ever won. The Americans are now one of the best teams in the tournament and are considered one of the best teams every year. They have gone from being a non-factor to a favorite to win it all and for one team that is not a good thing. The Canadians have taken the brunt of this newfound confidence from the Americans as they have lost multiple times to the Americans in the last few years. The Canadians have gone from the most dominant team in the tournament to finishing outside of the medals last year. The Canadians and Americans are now a part of one of the best rivalries in the tournament with both teams playing at the highest level. This rivalry will highlight Pool A this year as the Canadians and Americans face off against each other in what will likely be a battle for the top spot. As the Americans and Canadians fight it out for the top spot the other three teams may find themselves simply fighting for a chance to stay out of relegation. Czech Republic, Germany, and Slovakia round out the pool as all three seem to be on their way to fighting for the third spot as they hope to earn a spot in the playoffs and stay out of the relegation round. It will be an interesting battle at the top and the third spot in Pool A as the group is clearly divided between the two top teams and the bottom but all with fight for their spot.

 

Canada

canada

The Canadians are in a panic as they would finish 2013 without a medal for the first time since 1998 in what is quickly becoming a trend. They would win 5 straight gold medals from 2005 until 2009 but would then finish in second in 2010 and 2011. The trend would continue in 2012 when they finished in third place and once again in 2013. The Canadians are only ever expected to win gold and so when they finish anywhere but first place it is a failure for Hockey Canada. In an attempt to get back where they are used to being the Canadians would bring back the last coach to win a gold medal with the team. Brent Sutter is back and Canada is hoping that his return marks the return to the top of the podium once again. The Canadians will be led by a young squad this year as there are few returnees from last year’s 4th place team. Although there are few returnees there are plenty of players with winning experience in the U18 tournament and Junior hockey. The Canadians would also go with a very small roster in the selection process as Brent Sutter would look to create team chemistry quickly. The small roster would mean less change and more chance for players to play together before the tournament as the potential chemistry should provide a better adjustment to the tournament. The young squad and the short list of selection camp members will be two strategies that the Canadians are hoping will bring them back to the medals and back into the gold. They will once again be the favorites to win it all as they look to players like Jonathan Drouin, Matthew Dumba, Bo Horvat, and Griffin Reinhart. It will be another year that the Canadians could once again fall to the wrong team but also a year where they can go undefeated as anything is possible with this team. Expect a strong showing this year as they will be back in the Gold medal game with a medal guaranteed although it might not be gold.

Player to Watch:
Connor McDavid, C (Erie Otters, OHL)
– He is considered the #1 pick in the 2015 draft and is considered the greatest talent since Sidney Crosby as he gets a chance to show what he has on the international stage at 16 years old after dominated the U18 tournament in 2013 with everyone watching to see what the kid can do

Czech Republic

czech_republic

The Czech Republic has had a long history of great performances in international hockey but a lot of that success has not come in the junior ranks. They have won a total of 14 medals as Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic including two gold medals. The glory years of the Czech Republic in the Juniors were in the early 2000s when they would win both of their gold medals. They would do so in 2000 and 2001 as they would go back to back in a brief period of dominance. This dominance would not last though as they would count those back to back championships as their only gold medals. Since 2001 they would only win one other medal and have finished in the middle of the pack for every other year. This year they are hoping to break that trend as they will try to make it to the medals once again. The Czechs will do this with a handful of drafted players but once again there will be plenty of players that have not received a chance in the NHL. There will be a total of three NHL draftees and four players eligible for the draft in future years. It is not a promising roster at the moment but there is plenty of potential. They will have an experienced goaltender in Marek Langhamer who was drafted by the Phoenix Coyotes in 2013 and currently plays for the Medicine Hat Tigers. He will be joined by Jan Kostalek, drafted by Winnipeg on defence. By far the leader of the team will be Radek Faksa who leads the Kitchener Rangers in scoring this year and has the experience from the 2013 tournament. The Czech Republic are looking to lean on their few players that are NHL caliber to take on the task of winner a medal again. The Czechs are trying to get back on the podium but the talent is not quite there to put them among the best teams in the pool. Still they are far from pushovers as another middle of the road finish seems to be in their future.

Player to Watch:
David Pastrnak, RW (Sodertalje, SWE)
– An exciting offensive talent Pastrnak is one of the most promising prospects to come out of the Czech Republic as he is the highest ranked prospect out of the country this year and will look to show what he has in the tournament

Germany

germany

The Germans have long been the team that flirts with relegation on an almost yearly basis as they continue to be left out of the playoff rounds. The Germans would once again be in that position in 2013 when they would beat the Latvians to stay in the top division. It has been a theme that the Germans are trying to change this year as they try to make their way into a more solid position. The Germans are hoping that they can begin to build a better system and it will start this year. The Germans are going in to the tournament with no players that have been drafted by NHL teams but a handful of potential NHL players. That includes a number of talented draft eligible players that are hoping to improve their draft stock. There are a number of good players on the German team this year but there is not the talent that many other teams will have. They will have to rely on their young talent to get ahead of their usual position and they will have a few players that could help them there. The player that the team will be looking to for the most leadership will be Leon Draisatl who looks to be a top five pick in 2014. He will try to help this young squad out of the bottom of the rankings as the Germans try to change their pattern. Draisatl will also be one of four returning players to the junior team for Germany as they look to the future for leadership. Marvin Cupper, Frederik Tiffles, and Dominik Kahun will round out the veteran leadership for the team. The Germans are not able to challenge the top teams in Pool A or the top teams in the tournament as they will fight for the 4th place spot this year. Still the system seems to be improving and the Germans are getting better as they will earn a spot in the playoffs and avoid the relegation series this year.

Player to Watch:
Leon Draisatl, C (Prince Albert Raiders, NAHL)
– He is not a typical European player as he has played in the WHL for the last two years and has found a proper home as he uses his size to his advantage in a league known for their size and defence and as a potential top 5 pick in 2014 he will looked at to lead this team

 

Slovakia

slovakia

The Slovakian team is one of the most interesting every year as they are never considered a top team but can provide some big surprises. Last year they would finish in 8th place as they would stay out of relegation but remain in the relegation pool. They have only ever won one medal in the World Juniors as the Bronze medal they won in 1999 was their only accomplishment in the tournament so far. The Slovakians are a team taking a new approach to development when they established their U18 development team last year. This team plays year round and is a place where many players spend most of their time. The team provides a much better team atmosphere for the Slovaks and that may be a main reason why they have become one of the trickiest teams in the tournament. The Slovakians have gained a reputation over the last few years as a team that can win at any time. They are not a team that will win a lot of games in a row to move to the playoff stage of the tournament but there is at least one or two big upsets in them every year. They have been able to beat teams like Canada and the USA over the years as they can pull out some big wins. The biggest reason for this is usually an amazing performance by their goaltenders who have stolen plenty of games for the team. This year the Slovaks are hoping for the same as they will once again be in a position to play the upset kings. Beyond that they will not have much else to challenge for a spot in the playoffs. They will have a limited amount of drafted players on the team while many of their younger players are not considered top prospects for upcoming draft. It is another year with what seems to be the same result for the Slovaks as they will likely earn a big surprise but will find themselves in the relegation series with a chance to stay in the top tier.

Player to Watch:
Patrik Koys, RW (Slovakia U20)
– He was considered one of the greatest prospects from Slovakia being named the Gretzky of Slovakia but with a failed tryout for the Shawinigan Cataracts he is losing his luster and this year could be a chance to show that he is a top prospect

 

USA

usa

The Americans are becoming one of the most dominant teams in the tournament as they have now won two of the last four gold medals. Last year would be their second gold medal as they would go into the tournament with some promise but not as the favorites. Yet they would fight through it all and come out on top as the best junior team in the world. They will now enter the 2014 tournament as the defending champions and will try to be the first team in four years to win two tournaments in a row. They will do this in what has become the signature American hockey style as they will come into the tournament with size and strength. The US teams have long been one of the biggest teams in the tournament and that helps much more when they put those big players on the blueline. It has been the calling card of the Americans and this year it will be the same thing as they will come to the tournament with some big players once again. They are the only team that can rival the Canadians for the amount of NHL and potential NHL talent on the roster. For this they will once again be favorites to make it out of the pool as their defence and goaltending looks to carry them to the playoffs again. The American will look to only a handful of returnees though including Riley Barber, Ryan Hartman, and Jon Gillies. It will be an inexperienced team but there are plenty of players that the NHL has seen potential in. The turnover is big this year and they will suffer a little for that but there are plenty of teams moving forward and they are built to do it successfully. The Americans will make it out of the pool once again this year and making their way to the finals is not out of the question. Expect them to fight it out with Canada the entire way though as a repeat is tough to do even with a much improved system like the one in the USA.

Player to Watch:
Jack Eichel, C (USNTDP)
– Much like Connor McDavid on the Canadian team Eichel is one of the most promising players in the US system and at only 16 years old could make his debut for the Juniors and will begin to fight with McDavid to be a top pick in 2015

Prediction:
1. Canada
2. USA
3. Czech Republic
4. Germany
5. Slovakia

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

  • Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 159 other followers

%d bloggers like this: