A year ago, Canadian junior team goalie Carter Hart sat on his duff in his crease at Montreal’s Bell Centre as he was being consoled by backup Connor Ingram.
Hart was in disbelief. The native of Sherwood Park, Alta., and his Canadian teammates had built a 4-2 lead early in the third period of the gold-medal game, only to see the rival United States draw even. Overtime failed to settle the score.
Then, the fourth of five shooters for the U.S., Anaheim Ducks prospect Troy Terry, continued his incredible run. He had scored three shootout goals in his team’s 4-3 semifinal win against Russia the day before, and he clicked again against Canada. Terry scored the lone shootout goal to give the Americans a 5-4 victory.
It was heartbreak city for Hart, a feeling the goalie and the other six returning Canadian players want no part of this time around.
The Canadians certainly have a solid shot to rebound and win world junior gold for only the second time since taking five titles in a row between 2005 and 2009. In the past eight tournaments, the U.S. has won three, Finland has claimed two gold medals, while Canada, Sweden and Russia have one title apiece.
Those countries are the top contenders once again in Buffalo, N.Y., where the tournament begins on Boxing Day with four games, including Canada taking on Finland.
Here’s what to watch for in this year’s world junior championship:
Canada left some fine offensive talent off the roster — point producers like Matthew Phillips (Victoria), Owen Tippett (Mississauga) and Morgan Frost (Sault Ste. Marie). This team, instead, was supposed to be strong in goal and on defence.
However, linemates Taylor Raddysh (Erie) and Robert Thomas (London) combined for three goals and eight points in Canada’s 9-0 exhibition win against the Czech Republic in London, Ont., on Wednesday. Interestingly, Thomas and Raddysh went head to head in the second round of the OHL playoffs last spring, with Raddysh and his Erie Otters needing OT in Game 7 to claim the series.
The defending champs
The U.S. has six returning players from its gold-medal squad, including Kieffer Bellows, the son of former NHLer Brian Bellows.
The younger Bellows, a New York Islanders selection who left Boston University to play junior for the Portland Winterhawks this season, scored twice against Canada in the final a year ago.
For the first time in world junior tournament history, the teenagers will take it outside. The U.S. will play host to Canada at New Era Field, home of the NFL’s Buffalo Bills, on Dec. 29 at 3 p.m. ET.
Canadian men’s Olympic team general manager Sean Burke will be busy during Christmas week with his team competing in the Spengler Cup in Davos, Switzerland. But Burke plans to be in Buffalo in time for the quarter-finals on Jan. 2 to see if there is a Canadian teenager who impresses him enough to play in the Olympics.
Meanwhile, Sweden will be led by defenceman Rasmus Dahlin, the consensus No. 1 pick for the 2018 NHL draft. Dahlin was the youngest player in the 2017 world juniors and will represent Sweden at the Olympics. He has drawn comparisons to Hall of Famer Nik Lidstrom as well as Erik Karlsson.
Finland has a pair of youngsters who likely will make its Olympic team in defenceman Miro Heiskanen and forward Eeli Tolvanen. Heiskanen is a Dallas Stars draft pick, while Tolvanen is a Nashville Predators pick. Both scored in Finland’s 4-3 win against Canada at the Karjala Cup in Helsinki last month.
Sweden received an early Christmas present when the Buffalo Sabres decided to loan Alexander Nylander from their AHL team, the Rochester Americans. Last year, the younger brother of Toronto Maple Leafs forward William Nylander tied for the tournament lead with 12 points, including five goals.
The younger Nylander, who played four games for the Sabres last season, isn’t the only teenager in this tournament with NHL experience. Canadian defenceman Victor Mete has seen action in 27 games for Montreal. Canadian forward Alex Formention started the season with the Ottawa Senators before he was sent back to the London Knights.
Finland centre Janne Kuokkanen played in four games for the Carolina Hurricanes this fall. Behemoth 6-foot-6, 220-pound forward Logan Brown and his U.S. linemate Kailer Yamamoto began the season with the Senators and Edmonton Oilers, respectively.
Filip Chytil played for the New York Rangers before being demoted to the AHL’s Harford Wolf Pack.