December 26th isn’t just another day in Canada. It is a national holiday. Yes it is Boxing Day, but I am talking about the start of the annual World Junior Championships, the far more important event of the day.
For those who do not know, The WJC is the most prestigious tournament held at the junior hockey level. It is an Under-20 event with the host city rotating every year, with the only stipulation being that it is held in Canada every other year. They did this because Canada fills the arena for even the most obscure matchups like Denmark-Slovakia.
But enough about the setup, let’s get into why we are all here; to read about a proud Canadian waxing poetic about the greatest hockey nation in the history of Earth.
Canada has won this tournament record 16 times in the 39 years of it’s’ existence, but have recently been less prolific. Canada won in 2015 ending a five year drought, which attests to the quality of international hockey and how the world has become more competitive. Canada finished a paltry sixth last year, causing mass national hysteria.
Now, even though the rest of the hockey world has somewhat caught up to Canada, we still expect to win every year. This isn’t a half-hearted expectation either; it is gold medal or bust with silver and bronze medal teams being regarded as bad and any non-medalling team as downright horrific. There are high expectations in Canada, even though the players are still teenagers.
This year, Canada is back on home ice with a team that isn’t packed with the usual household names. The big reason is because the Canadian juniors are actually too good and are playing vital roles in the NHL. Mitch Marner, Jakob Chychrun, Anthony Beauvillier, Lawson Crouse, and Travis Konecny are all NHL contributors and are not being released to play by their big clubs. This means Canada is coming in to the tournament with no true star to carry them. Oh yeah, Connor McDavid is still eligible but the Oilers are not letting him go anywhere.
Sadly San Jose does not have a Canadian junior this year with Rourke Chartier now in the AHL. However, Canada does have some players to keep an eye on, as they have been drafted by division rivals and we could be watching them for years to come.
Kale Clague: is a left-handed defenseman out of Brandon (WHL) drafted by L.A. in 2016. He figures to be the extra D or a low pairing guy.
Dillon Dube: he had an extremely strong camp and ended up forcing the coaches to keep him around and cut a forward projected to be on the roster. He is a Calgary draft choice and will be quite interesting to watch to see if his strong play continues.
Dylan Strome: this is the guy to watch for future Pacific Division stars. He was drafted third overall and is seen as a future franchise building block. He is looked at to be the go-to guy for Canada this year and the one to lead us to gold.
Team Canada opens the tournament today at 8 p.m. EST against bitter and hated historical rival Russia. The Soviets have won 13 golds and Canada-Russia has been a bitter hockey rivalry since the 70’s with beautiful and breathtaking hockey taking place.
Canada then plays Slovakia at 8 p.m. EST on the 27th, Denmark on the 29th at 8 p.m. EST followed by the traditional New Year’s Eve matchup of Canada-USA.
Canada-USA will go down at 3:30 p.m. EST because the schedule makers know everyone in the country will tune in before they head out to celebrate a win and NYE. It is the ultimate pre-drink party before the night’s festivities. There is no need to explain the rivalry between Canadians and United States of Americans, but in terms of hockey, the USA is a cut below the standard Canada has set. The USA has only won this tournament in ’04, ’10, and ’13 with the first two coming against Canada in the gold medal game. This is about the only time that Canada has ever given way to the USA in international hockey at any level.
If you have made it this far, thank you, but feel free to skip to the end because I am about to go full Captain Canada and flex on the USA here. The United States hockey program is inferior to Canada. At the WJC the tally comes in at 16 gold, 8 silver, and 5 bronze for Canada and 3 gold, 1 silver, and 5 bronze for the USA. If we extrapolate this to international play the gulf becomes even wider with Canada having 48 World Championship medals to USA’s 18 and Canada having 13 Olympic golds to the USA’s 3. If you haven’t figured it out yet, Canada takes beating the USA very seriously. The round robin always centres on the NYE clash with that game being incredibly important here in the Great White North. Every player speaks to how much they are looking forward to it and what it means to win that game. We should be so lucky if we get another gold medal Canada-USA throw down as the games are intense and extremely fun with all of the Canada-USA rivalry bubbling to the surface. That will be a tall order for the USA having to go through Canada, then playing them again in the gold medal game.
Welcome back to those who skipped the Canada pride section. This year’s version of the WJC should be very competitive with a lot of junior eligible stars for all countries currently taking the NHL by storm. By all means, check out as many games as you can because this is great hockey. The skill level is high and the raw emotion on display tells a gripping story. For a lot of these kids, these are the biggest and most important hockey games they will ever play. They have worked their whole life for this and they put everything into the tournament. This becomes even more apparent when a supreme underdog takes down a favourite or two high octane heavyweights meet up in the semi-finals. I can’t overstate enough how much fun this tournament is.
I hope you tune in and watch and I also hope you watch the tournament favourite Canada. And when you do take in a Canada game always remember: Canada is the best there is, the best there was, the best there ever will be.