The eyes of the hockey world will be fixed on Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania next Saturday afternoon for this year’s Winter Classic but starting the day after Christmas they will be on the HSBC Center in Buffalo, NY for this year’s Under 20 World Junior Hockey Championships.
The defending champion, Team USA is favored to repeat as World Champions. With the benefit of playing on home soil and returning eight players from last year’s squad, Team USA looks poised to repeat as world champions, a feat no USA team has ever accomplished.
The United States has hosted the tournament just twice in the last fourteen years. In 2005 the tournament was played in Grand Forks and Thief River Falls, North Dakota and the 1996 showcase was held in Boston.
Other than soccer, no other team sport is as competitive world wide as hockey and the rest of the world is bringing a lot of talent to Buffalo. Team Canada has revenge on their minds as the USA spoiled Canada's chance at a record sixth consecutive gold medal last year in Saskatoon, Canada.
Much like the Olympic tournaments gold medal game in Vancouver last winter, the U20 Junior Championship game needed overtime to decide the champion as well. Washington Capital's defenseman John Carlson scored a little of over four minutes into the extra period to stun the host and win the under 20 tournament.
Canadians are concerned that this year’s roster does not feature an all world scorer like past rosters have but of the four returning starters, three are on the blue line. We will see if defense wins championships. With 15 first round picks on the roster Team Canada should get a crack at revenge against the Americans for gold.
Team Sweden, last year’s bronze medal winners always figures to factor in WJC play. With potentially two top five picks on the roster, the Swede's could send everyone away from Buffalo disappointed.
The Russians and Czech's look to improve upon their disappointing sixth and seventh place finishes last year. The Russians failed to medal for the first time in six years and last won gold in 2003.
This year’s tournament is jammed pack with the future of the NHL. Twenty Eight of the thirty teams have at least one player represented. The Washington Capitals have the most with six while five other teams have five prospects playing in Buffalo.
No tournament preview is complete without a prediction and I believe that team USA repeats as champion. Since 1996 the USA has made a committment to find and develope the best hockey players in the country.
The effort is paying off, one third of last years first round selections in the NHL entry draft were American players. Twenty one of the first sixty players chosen were American born.
Two first round selections hailed from Maryland (Jarred Tinordi) and Southern California (Emmerson Etem), not your typical scouting hotbeds of the hockey world.
The following is a list of ten players to keep an eye on this week. They are listed in no particular order.
The NHL Network will broadcast each of Team USA's games beginning with their opening match-up v. Finland at 8:00 p.m.est. on Friday December 26th.