Pressure is on for the Hosts (2015 World Juniors)

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Montreal will have a massive magnifying glass on it throughout the first round of the tournament. That is all thanks to the fact that Canada will spend the entire first round of the tournament along with the rest of Group A. Thanks to Canada the other teams in the group will all be put under the microscope as they have the unique challenge of beating one of the best teams in the tournament on their home ice. Then again it also comes with the unique position of being in a group where there will not be a lot of pressure on anyone else. The entire group is expected to come down to the Canadians as they, as always are expected to take the group and head into the medal rounds. It will be a lot harder than expected though s the Canadians are good but they also have the last two champions in their group. Finland comes in as the defending champions with a great 2014 tournament. It was the first time they had won the World Juniors since 1998 and now they come into Montreal looking to repeat as champions and begin a reign at the top. Meanwhile the only team to win more than two championships in the last five years will travel to Montreal looking to be the most dominant team in the new era of the World Juniors. The United States have put together great tournaments winning three medals in the last five years. They come in to a new year with hopes of earning their fourth medal and hopefully their third gold to solidify their spot as one of the most dominant teams in the World Juniors. As these three teams fight at the top two more teams will try to find their way into the mix with what would be a surprising tournament. Germany is back for another year in the top division but without some of their top talent that has made them a dark horse in previous tournaments. They will hope to bring some surprise to the tournament this year and challenge one of the top teams. Then there is the Slovakia who seems to be the team that nobody looks at and yet seems to continue to pull out one upset a year that shifts everything in a group. As these five teams face off the majority of fans will be watching and waiting to see how Canada can do against the last two champions and two teams that could bring some surprise to the tournament. With the focus in Montreal, Group A will be the biggest part of the tournament for many fans. The gold medal winner could very well come from this side of the tournament. It will be a rough run for everyone in the group as they will try to get through one of the tougher group in the tournament looking to get to the top four and a trip to Toronto for the medal rounds.

canada

There is no doubt that the pressure is on the Canadians this year with the tournament in their backyard and the last time that happened it did not go to well. In 2012 the Canadians could only muster a bronze medal in Calgary while they earned a silver in 2010 when the tournament was in Regina. For most teams that is a great showing at home but it is far form a good showing in Canada. It is gold or bust every year and things are no different this year. The Canadians will be trying to put on a gold medal performance but it will not be easy. Every team is getting better and that means that any small weakness will put their hopes of a gold medal in jeopardy. That weakness for the last five years has been the goaltending. With a single elimination tournament a goaltender can mean all the difference. The last five years have seen goaltending that has been good but has not been good enough to win a game when they need to win a game. This year the Canadians will enter the tournament with two goaltenders that look much the same as the goalies that have been to the tournament before. Zach Fucale and Eric Comrie are both good goaltenders but the biggest question will be if either can take a game over if need be. Other than the goaltending situation the Canadians have once again put together a solid team that can win a gold medal. With top NHL prospects like Darnell Nurse, Max Domi, Samuel Morin, and Curtis Lazar along with a potential top draft pick in Connor McDavid the Canadians have a strong group from the blueline up. With four lines that can score, a number of stay-at-home defenceman, and defenceman that can join the rush the Canadians are a balanced group. Still their goaltending remains a question as both goaltenders are good but there are questions about whether or not they can steal a game when it comes down to a goaltending battle. The Canadians are a good team once again and can win a gold medal but they will have to avoid the minefield that is a single-elimination tournament on home soil.

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finland

It will be a new feeling for the Finnish team as they enter the 2015 tournament as the defending champions. The Finnish team had a great tournament last year when they ran through the round robin and the medal rounds. With a great tournament from Teuvo Teräväinen who led the tournament with 15 points. Meanwhile Rasmus Ristolainen played hero scoring the golden goal to win their first gold medal since 1998 and beating their longtime rival, Sweden. More than anything else though the Fins won the gold medal thanks to the great performance of Jusse Saros who was named the best goaltender in the tournament. He was the main reason for the gold and luckily for the Finns he returns for another tournament. That will be the biggest advantage for the Finns as they go into the tournament with an experienced goaltender that has not only been there but has done great things. He will be the rock for the Finnish team this year but won’t be the only returning member of the gold medal team. The Finns will also see a number of returnees including Artturi Lehkonen, Jusso Ikonen, Aleksi Mustonen, Otto Rauhala, and Julius Honka. None of these players had the impact that Ristolainen or Teräväinen had in 2014 but they remain experienced players. They will not be overcome by the gravity of a national tournament. They are also players that did their job to help the Finns reach the gold medal and are all ready to take a step forward as leaders. The one returnee that seems poised to take that leadership role is Honka who has spent the year in the AHL as a Dallas Stars prospect. As one of the top prospects on the team Honka will likely take a leadership role among the many other prospects. With another solid group of players the Finns have a shot at repeating as champions and becoming the first team to win back to back golds since Canada won five golds in a row from 2005-2009. If Saros can perform the Finns will find their top players and will make it to the medal rounds although repeating is going to be a challenge.

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germany

The German team has not had the greatest success in international tournaments as they continue to struggle to create a solid system of development. There are some signs of improvement though as they saw one of their highest draft picks ever this past year. Leon Draisaitl was selected third overall in the 2014 NHL draft, after a six point performance in last year’s World Juniors. He was the leader for the Germans but they didn’t have much around him to compete with the best countries in the world. After only one win they were forced into the relegation round where they took on Norway in a best of three series. After two wins the Germans solidified their spot in the 2015 tournament but just barely. Now they look to stay among the top-tier for another year but once again may not have the power to compete with the best teams in the group. With Draisaitl in the NHL the leadership role will fall to Markus Eisenschmid who returns for another year and hopes to improve on his performance from last year. The German forward had only one goal all last tournament after being expected to provide a compliment to Draisaitl. This year he is coming into the tournament with 18 points in 16 games with the Medicine Hat Tigers and hopes to keep that pace going in Montreal. The Germans will also return a number of players from last year’s team including Frederik Tiffles and Dominik Kahun who will provide some offensive punch for the team. Among the other returnees are a number of defenceman including Tim Bender, Janik Möser, Dorian Saeftel, and Fabio Wagner. Moser is one of the more promising prospects on the team as he currently plays for Ohio State in the NCAA. Last year he totaled three points in the tournament and hopes to increase that production this year. In goal the Germans will also see a familiar face with Kevin Reich returning after playing only one game in last year’s tournament. The good part for the Germans this year is the fact that they are a team with plenty of experience but they will still find it tough to compete as the level of talent and the depth of talent is just not up to the standard of the others in the group.

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slovakia

The Slovakians are not one of the major powers of the tournament but they have become the team that nobody can overlook. Without the star power that can compete with the best teams in the tournament they can be a team that most don’t prepare well for. That gives them the opportunity to put together a big upset, which they tend to do every year. Last year they gave everything they could to the USA and Canada but could not pull the upset. Instead their only win came against the Germans where they looked like a dominant team. Putting up 9 goals against the Germans made it seem like they were one of the top teams but when it came to the true contenders they just didn’t have the firepower. This year they enter the tournament as a team that can once again surprise anyone. That surprise will come if they can get a great performance from their goaltender. It is the one ingredient every year that these teams need if they hope to challenge anyone in the top group of teams. That distinction will fall to Denis Godla this year who plays with the Slovakian U20 team for most of the year. If the Slovakian team can get that performance form Godla at some point they could get a surprise and shock the tournament. The positive for the Slovakians is also the emergence of Martin Reway in last year’s tournament. He racked up 10 points in last year’s tournament and with another year under his belt the captain of the Slovakian team will attempt to increase his production and provide a true star. Joining Reway will be Peter Ceharlik and Robert Lantosi who return to provide an offensive trio that can help the Slovakians up front. On the defence they are not very strong as Erik Cernak is the only returning player at just 17 years old while the rest of the defensive corps will be made up of inexperienced players. The Slovakians are once again a team not to be overlooked as they can easily get the best of a team that doesn’t prepare for them. That is about all they can hope for though as the Slovakians do not have the depth to compete at the top-level reserving them to the role of spoiler.

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usa

The Americans had high expectations heading into the 2014 tournament as they came in with a gold medal the year before. They also had a young player that many were looking to as one of the top picks in the 2015 draft. Throughout the tournament they didn’t seem like they had that punch that had guided them to the gold in 2013. It was a poor showing for a country that seemed to be on the rise. Just as they looked like they were going to be one of the most dominant teams in the tournament they fell to 5th place and out of the medals. They enter a new tournament with a goal to get back to the medals and win another gold. They are already the only team in the last five years to win more than one gold medal and are no looking to be the most successful team in the last five years. The USA is hoping that a matured Eichel can lead them there this year after he was named the captain. As the draft approaches the debate between Connor McDavid and Eichel will continue as both seem like sure bets to be picked at the top of the draft. This tournament will be Eichel’s chance to prove that he is better than McDavid and the Americans will lean heavily on him but he won’t be the only player that can help them in their quest for gold. Along with Eichel will be Sonny Milano, Alex Tuch, Dylan Larkin, and Nick Schmaltz on the offence. All are first round selections in the NHL and will give the USA a usual scoring depth. The strength of the Americans has always been their defence though and this year they put together a good group. The group will have first round selection Anthony DeAngelo along with top prospects Brandon Carlo and Zach Werenski. It is not the powerhouse unit they have had in the past but with Thatcher Demko providing a solid backstop they should still be good. The Americans will once again be one of the best in the tournament this year and a medal is likely but they may fall short of earning the gold that they want.

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Prediction:
It is hard to think that the top teams are going to fall out of the top four in the group as the usual suspects will remain at the top. For the first place spot it seems to be a matchup between the USA and Canada and their matchup on New Year’s Eve. That game could be the deciding factor for the first place spot while the loser takes second place. For the last two playoff spots the Finnish team seems like the natural choice as they will have a hard time with the Canadians and Americans but should get through everyone else. The Slovakians and Germans will fight for the final spot but the Slovakians will come out on top sending the Germans back into relegation fighting for their lives in the top division.

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