The holiday season brings Canadians the gift of what has become the country’s favourite annual sporting event: The World Juniors. The tournament this year will be played in Victoria and Vancouver. Canada is in Pool A with Denmark, Switzerland, Russia and the Czech Republic. As usual, Canada kicks off its tournament play on boxing day when they face off against Denmark at 8 pm eastern. That will be followed by an 8 pm game on the 27th against Switzerland and a game on the 29th against the Czech Republic. The New Years eve game will feature Canada vs. Russia.
Canada’s team is made up of nine players from the OHL, six players from the WHL, five from the QMJHL, and two from the NCAA. The team is coached by former Calgary Flame Tim Hunter.
The Canadian team features from the 2017 NHL draft, five first round picks, five second rounders, two third rounders and two fourth round picks. From the 2018 NHL draft the Canadian team carries five first round picks and one second round pick. The team is rounded out with a 2019 draft eligible player and a 2020 draft eligible player in 17-year old Alexis Lafreniere from the QMJHL.
Goaltending is always in the spotlight, for better or worse, in this tournament. This year the nervousness with our players between the pipes is no different. Vancouver Canucks 2017 third round pick, Michael DiPietro, who led the London Knights to a Memorial Cup in 2017 and Toronto Maple Leafs 2017 fourth round pick, Ian Scott of Prince Albert in the WHL, will share the duties. They are polar opposites. DiPietro is a small, outgoing, effervescent kid who is a throwback acrobatic goalie while Scott is the quiet, positionally focused, large goalie that tries to ‘make himself big’ to block and smother pucks. Scott currently leads the entire CHL in both goals against average with a sparkling 1.61 and save percentage with a .943.
Over the last five years Canada’s defence corps have usually proven to be its greatest strength. They feature steady defenders who can skate and transition the puck quickly up to Canadian forwards and then support them well in their high-pressure cycle game. Evan Bouchard played seven games with the Edmonton Oilers this season before being sent back to junior. He has a bomb of a slapshot which will be featured on Canada’s powerplay. Montreal Canadiens prospect Josh Brook is currently scoring at more than a point-a-game pace in the WHL this season. Towering 6-foot-3 defenceman Noah Dobson, a Memorial Cup champion with Acadie-Bathurst last spring, should also play a big role on Canada’s blue line. Finally, Ty Smith is 3rd in the CHL currently for defenceman scoring with 39 points in just 28 games.
Every year Canada features big, strong and nowadays, fast forwards – many of which are leading scorers in their respective junior leagues. This year is no different. Canada will look to Maxime Comtois, the only returning player from last years Gold medal team to lead the way. In the three pre-tournament games Canada played against Switzerland, Slovakia and Finland – Comtois has been big, fast and hard hitting. He scored three goals in three games and added two assists while on what looks to be the first line paired with centreman Cody Glass and right winger Owen Tippett.
Glass is 5th in WHL scoring with 12 goals, 42 assists for 54 points, despite only playing in 26 of his teams 34 games. Brett Leason leads the entire CHL in plus minus as of the Christmas break with a +44 mark. He has 28 goals and 36 assists for 64 points in just 31 WHL games for his Prince Albert Raiders junior team. Morgan Frost is 3rd in OHL scoring with 20 goals, 38 assists for 58 points the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. Joe Veleno and the young Alexis Lafreniere are tied for 4th in QMJHL scoring with 54 points.
As always it will be exciting hockey as a bunch of kids take Canadians to the edge of their seats during the holiday season.