Month: December 2017 (page 1 of 4)

Canada defends Spengler Cup title with victory over Switzerland

Canada Spengler Cup

By Canada Press

Canada has won its third straight Spengler Cup, beating Switzerland 3-0 on Sunday.

It’s the country’s 15th time winning the title overall and tying HC Davos for most Spengler Cup titles.

Goaltender Kevin Poulin led the game, making 36 saves in the shutout.

After a scoreless first period, Zach Boychuk and Maxim Noreau both scored in the second.

David McIntyre gave the Canadians a more comfortable lead in the third.

Hockey Canada is using the six-team tournament as a final evaluation before deciding on its Olympic roster next month.

Hockey Canada will announce the Olympic roster on January 11th, 2018

The Swiss National Team beats HC Davos in the semi-finals 8:3

By Spengler Cup.ch

The Swiss National Team secured its spot in the final at this year’s Spengler Cup by winning against Davos 8:3. The hands-down victory only became evident when the home team began to lose strength; Davos was leading 3:2 up until the 37th minute.

The initial situation was crystal clear: While the semi-final was Switzerland’s 3rd game in 5 days, for HC Davos it was the 4th game in 72 hours. Even though the physical per-conditions were very different, the home team delivered several spectacular and hard-fought battles for almost two full periods. In the initial phase, Robert Kousal and Brandon Buck both shot the equalizing goal almost immediately. In the 36th minute, Magnus Nygren sensationally put the Davos team in the lead (36.) in a power play situation.

However, this was to be their last show of strength. 77 seconds later Davos fell behind when Michael Fora and Dominic Schlumpf both knocked the puck in the net for a score of 3:4. Team Suisse relentlessly demonstrated their vigor while keeping the tempo high in the final period. By the 45th minute, Eric Blum, Reto Schäppi and Tanner Richard had increased the lead to 7:3.

Switzerland will face the defending champion Team Canada in the final on Sunday at 12 noon. While the Canadians will seek their 15th Spengler Cup win – equalizing the record held by HC Davos – Switzerland has never moved past the quarter-finals in this traditional tournament.

Canada clinches berth to Spengler Cup final with win

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By Canadian Press

Canada defeated Mountfield HK 5-2 in semifinal play Saturday at the Spengler Cup.

Zach Boychuk scored in the third period and Maxim Noreau iced the victory with an empty-net goal.

 David McIntyre, Jay McClement and Cody Goloubef also scored for Canada.

Lukas Cingel and Michal Dragoun tallied for the Czech side.

HC Davos is scheduled to play Switzerland in the other semifinal later Saturday.

The winner will play Canada — the two-time defending champion — in Sunday’s final.

Hockey Canada is using the six-team tournament as a final evaluation before deciding on its Olympic roster next month.

Canada downs HC Davos to advance to Spengler Cup semifinals

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By The Canadian Press

Andrew Ebbett scored twice as Canada beat host club HC Davos 4-1 and advanced to the semifinals of the Spengler Cup on Thursday.

Zach Boychuk and PA Parenteau also scored for Canada as the two-time defending champions finished first in their group with a full six points at the pre-Olympic tournament.

Kevin Poulin was solid in goal with 37 saves, allowing only Sam Lofquist’s first-period power-play goal.

“We knew what to expect — it’s here in Davos against the home team in the big, premier game,” said Ebbett. “We just kind of weathered the storm in the first period and we really got our legs in the second and got it going, and we took control in the last two periods.”

Gilles Senn stopped 38 shots for Davos (1-1, three points), which must now play a quarter-final game against Finnish side HPK Hameenlinna on Friday.

Canada will next face the winner of a quarter-final between Mountfield HK and Dinamo Riga.

Hockey Canada is using the tournament as a final evaluation before deciding on its Olympic roster in January.

Ice hockey without borders, Canada gives Korea an assist

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By Peter Rutherford – Reuters

What does it mean to represent your country at the Olympics? For Brock Radunske, the question has some nuance given the towering, blond-haired Canadian will be suiting-up for South Korea at the 2018 Winter Games.

The ice hockey forward is one of 16 foreign athletes granted South Korean citizenship ahead of February’s Pyeongchang Winter Olympics under changes to the country’s immigration laws that came into effect in 2011.

The changes, the Justice Ministry told Reuters, were aimed at boosting competitiveness in sectors such as sport, science and the economy. The key point was that dual citizenship was now an option for those deemed to have “outstanding ability” who could “contribute to the national interest”.

The first athlete without any Korean lineage ever to be naturalized, Radunske said it was an “honor” to be chosen for Team Korea but that being able to retain his Canadian passport had been a key factor in his decision.

“I grew up in Canada and I‘m proud to be a Canadian, and in a sense I‘m representing Canada too … when I‘m playing for Team Korea,” the 34-year-old told Reuters.

“I‘m proud to have lived in both countries, so when I‘m on the ice I‘m going to do everything I can for Team Korea.”

Under the previous immigration system, Radunske would not only have had to surrender his Canadian passport but might have been expected to do a 21-month stint in the military.

WHERE IS KOREA?

Radunske has played professional ice hockey in Korea since 2008 when he became the tallest player ever to sign for Anyang Halla. The signing was hugely popular with female fans, who fawned over his imposing 6ft 5in (1.96m) frame and good looks.

Their nickname for him appears to have got lost in translation, however, with Radunske unlikely to encourage the use of “Canadian Big Beauty” when his playing days are over.

A third-round draft pick by the Edmonton Oilers in 2002, Radunske never made it to the NHL and representing Olympic champions Canada was always out of reach.

South Korea was therefore an attractive option but becoming a citizen of one of the world’s least ethnically diverse countries was no easy task.

Radunske had to pass a battery of tests, including of his Korean language skills and knowledge of local culture and history.

His fellow Ontario native Matt Dalton also came through the notoriously difficult process and said his decision to take on citizenship had caused some confusion ‘back home’.

“Being in Canada, some people didn’t even know where Korea was,” said the goaltender.

“And some people were asking, they thought I was representing North Korea, they just didn’t know the difference.”

At a tournament in Russia earlier this month, Dalton said he had conflicting emotions during the playing of the anthems when Korea took on Canada – as they will in their final group game in Pyeongchang.

“When ‘O Canada’ was going on, it was special but it was definitely a little awkward,” he told Yonhap News agency. “I didn’t sleep very well that day.”

HIRED GUNS?

South Korea will have seven naturalized players on its men’s ice hockey team and forward Park Woo-sang said his team mates had proved their worth on the ice as well as their love for South Korea off it.

“We don’t think of them as naturalized players, we think of them as Korean players,” he told Reuters.

“You could say they are foreigners that love Korea more than Koreans themselves.”

With around 100 registered professionals in the country, South Korea needed all the help it could get just to secure an Olympic spot in a sport where the hosts are not guaranteed a berth.

Previous Winter Games hosts have also relied heavily on foreign-born players to bolster their ice hockey squads.

In 1998, Japan’s ‘Seven Samurai’ featured six Canadians and a Swede, while Italy had nine Canadian and two U.S.-born players in their 2006 squad.

While more of a factor at Summer Olympics, changing national allegiance has also become prevalent at the Winter Games.

Data from the Pew Research Center showed 120 of the 3,000 competitors in Sochi in 2014 represented a country other than the one in which they were born.

The IOC imposes a three-year wait period for athletes who want to switch but it has allowed them to cut short the process if their original Olympic committee and governing sports federation agree.

AGAINST OLYMPIC SPIRIT?

South Korea also has naturalized athletes in women’s ice hockey, figure skating, luge, biathlon and skiing set to compete in Pyeongchang, but not everyone is on board with the policy.

Roger Park, a professor at Hanyang University’s Sports Industry Department, said the practice could run counter to Olympics ideals.

“In most cases, (they) maintain their original citizenship and go back to their original country after the Games,” he told Reuters. 

“If they gain citizenship here solely to compete and earn a lot of money, it’s also against the Olympic spirit.”

Park also questioned the value of the medals they won.

”If these foreign athletes do not have any attachment for or relation to South Korea, what is the point of them competing for the national team?

“If they leave South Korea after winning medals, can we still consider those medals earned by South Korean athletes?”

Several Korean sports federations contacted by Reuters said naturalized athletes were offered greater financial support than locals, but declined to elaborate on figures.

An official from the Korea Biathlon Union, which has four Russian-born athletes on its roster, told Reuters such athletes were in high demand.

“Internationally there is a kind of competition going on to attract athletes who are willing to be naturalized,” said the official, who did not wish to be identified.

Ice hockey association media officer Kim Jung-min, however, said no financial package was needed to persuade the players to take on dual citizenship as they were already playing on professional contracts.

Kim also rejected the notion that Korea was trying to “buy” a medal.

“Clinching qualification was our goal because that is still such a big thing for us,” he told Reuters. “Getting a medal at the Olympics is simply beyond our reach.”

Switzerland first to qualify for the semi-finals

By Spengler Cup.ch

Switzerland is the first team to qualify for the semi-finals at the 91st Spengler Cup in Davos. Without any extra fanfare, they won Thursday afternoon’s game against Hämeenlinna HPK 4-0. Luca Boltshauser gets the shutout in his debut for the Swiss National Team.

After their 6:1 win in their first game against Dynamo Riga, Patrick Fischer’s Team had to fight a lot harder for the 3 points resulting from their 4:0 win against Hämeenlinna in front of 6300 spectators in the sold-out Vaillant Arena. The Finns were the better team during the first 10 minutes of the game. The Swiss goalie, Luca Boltshauser, prevented an early lead through several saves. Tristan Scherwey’s goal in the 14th minute was probably one of the first possible shots-on-goal for the Swiss. The forward (from Bern) was able to successfully complete a quick counterattack. Reto Schäppi increased the lead at the beginning of the second period when he deflected a long shot from Yannick Rathgeb.

The shots-on-goal ratio during the second period was 10-1 for the Swiss Team. Nevertheless, they were unable to consistently dictate the game against this 14th placed team in the Finnish league. Boltshauser was only tested once during this period, this was not only because the Finns regularly missed the net but also because of the self-sacrificing hard work and well-positioned defensemen of the Swiss team. This was especially clear in the box play phases.

Offensively, the Swiss also had some difficulties with the well-structured game of the young Finns under the leadership of Antti Karjalainen. Fischer’s team showed weakness in power play situations. They did not utilize their advantage in several five-on-four situations, even in 41 seconds of five-on-three. Noah Rod and Joël Vermin were able to make the final result clear with shorthand goals in the third period.

Canada opens Spengler Cup with win over Mountfield HK

Spengler Cup

By The Canadian Press

David McIntyre scored the eventual winner while shorthanded in the third period and added an assist as Canada got past Mountfield HK 5-3 on Tuesday in its Spengler Cup opener.

Victor Bartley, Curtis Hamilton, Mason Raymond and P-A Parenteau, into an empty net, also had goals for the Canadians (1-0). Barry Brust made 31 saves for the win in net.

Andris Dzerins, Oskars Cibulskis and Lukas Vopelka found the back of the net for Mountfield (0-1). Patrik Rybar stopped 21 shots in defeat.

Canada is two-time defending champions at the Spengler Cup and are using the tournament as a final evaluation before deciding on its Olympic roster in January.

Vopelka opened the scoring for Mountfield midway through the first.

Canada tied the game at 1-1 after a shot from Bartley had a weird bounce off the boards and then deflected off Rybar’s skate and into the net.

Curtis Hamilton finished off a nice passing play by lifting the puck over Rybar’s blocker to put the Canadians in front 2-1 late in the first period.

Mountfield tied it 2-2 with a goal from Cibulskis, but then Mason Raymond put the Canadians back ahead with a shot from the point on the power play at 9:34.

McIntyre scored the winner at 13:05 of the third. Dzerins cut the deficit to one later in the period before Parenteau rounded out the attack.

Canada was 1 for 4 on the power play and Mountfield was scoreless on three opportunities.

The Canadians have a day off on Wednesday before facing host HC Davos in their final preliminary round game on Thursday.

Swiss Kick Off Spengler Cup

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By National Teams of Ice Hockey

The Swiss made a lightning start in their return to the Spengler Cup after 38 years. 90 seconds into the game Eric Blum scored the first goal. Just two minutes later, Captain Raphael Diaz made it 2-0.  13 minutes later Damien Brunner scored for 3- 0 lead. Dynamo Riga is the representative of the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL)

Did the Swiss play so well or Riga so badly? The definitive answer to this question will come in the next few days. In any case the Swiss played efficiently. For the first three goals, they only needed seven shots on goal. With pace and stick technique the team of Patrick Fischer overwhelmed their opponent, in which almost half of the Latvian national team plays for.

The Latvians earned little opportunities. Mikelis Redlihs had the first noteworthy chance to score, but after three minutes at the score of 0-1 goalie Leonardo Genoni was not worried, and after the first Goal from Rigas to make it 1: 3, it took only 36 seconds until Dominik Schlumpf restored the three goal lead 1-4.

For Switzerland, the match against Dynamo Riga was the ideal start into the Spengler Cup. In November, the Swiss had lost in the Karjala Cup tournament against Canada, the Czech Republic and Russia, and in the last ten international matches, the Swiss never scored more than three goals. The Swiss scored two more goals in the game, Luca Fazzini (5-1) and Lino Martschini (6-1), should give the Swiss additional confidence.

The Swiss play in the Torriani group on Thursday against the Finns club HPK Hämeenlinna, who play against Dynamo Riga on Wednesday afternoon.

World Junior Preview: USA & Canada

By Steven Eliis – Eurohockey.com

The United States have been the topic of worldwide conversation for what seems like a nonstop rotation over the past year. It’s easy to look at everything and suggest changes needed to be made, one way or another.

On the ice, though, the team is looking to completely change the script. The country has only had repeat medals twice, but never has been able to win the tournament in back-to-back years like their neighbours north of the border.

The World Juniors have been hosted in the United States just five times, with the Americans only medaling once. That one time, ironically, happened to be in Buffalo, home to the 2018 World Juniors and the best chance for the team to grab their second straight title.

Early indications seem to suggest the Americans will at least earn a medal, but even though they’ll be missing many of the key elements from last year’s team, that won’t likely slow them down. They’re a deep team at every position, featuring stars from the CHL and NCAA.

There’s enough fans and scouts that believe that the United States have what it takes to celebrate their newly acquired on January 5th on home ice, something they stole from Canada in a year ago.

Offensively, the team has benefited from Logan Brown and Kailer Yamamoto getting sent back to junior after stints in the NHL. Sure, missing Clayton Keller, who’s still eligible for the tournament, hurts for sure, but considering he’s an early favourite for rookie of the year, it’s unlikely he’ll be crying in Arizona.

Defensively, USA should have no issue keeping the puck away from the net. The team may not have a lot of players returning to the blue line, but it’s a group chock full of hot hands and strong skaters that will also take advantage of the smaller ice better than their European counterparts.

History isn’t on the Americans’ side, at least statistically. But with the quality of success from the US National Team Development Program over the past few seasons and some impactful returning names, the United States truly look like one of the favourites heading into the 2018 spectacle.

Goaltending: Whether it be Jack Campbell, John Gibson or Tyler Parsons, the Americans have always counted on their goaltending to keep them in contests that would typically be high-scoring affairs. Parsons, in particular, was lights out in two starts against Russia last year, later helping the Americans to a thrilling shootout victory over Canada in the final.

This year, it’s time for his two successors to earn their calling this year, and that’s Jake Oettinger and Joseph Woll. Both goalies had less than ideal starts in the NCAA, but neither have had exceptional goal support, either. By Thanksgiving, Oettinger was 21 in NCAA save percentage while Woll was even farther down in 50th.

At this point, there’s no clear favourite as to who will earn the most starts, so expect both options to split starts during the preliminary round. Woll was good in his two starts for USA last year, including a strong performance against Canada in the New Year’s Eve classic.

Oettinger, on the other hand, didn’t see any starts for the squad, but as the youngest kid in the crease, that was to be expected. As a first-round draft pick in 2017, however, Oettinger has something to prove and getting the top spot over Woll would be a significant boost in the right direction.

If the team does decide to go with Woll, they’ll be getting a 19-year-old Toronto Maple Leafs prospect who stole the show in net at the 2016 Under-18’s. If Oettinger gets the call, they’ll be one of the best USNTDP goalie products in recent years fresh off of being named to the NCAA’s second all-star team in 2017. So while there’s no real favourite just yet, can you really go wrong with either option?

Defensemen: With limited returning options this time around, the Americans will be bringing a hungry group with more than enough experience donning the American jersey. Of the tournament sophomores, Adam Fox will be an effective playmaker with a thirst for more ice time after getting used sparingly throughout the 2017 tournament. The all-time NTDP leading scorer for defensemen and the World Junior Summer Showcase points leader is tremendous with the puck and should rack up a fair amount of assists alongside the fast scoring presence the team will be relying on.

Fox’s defense partner for much of the summer showcase tournament was Dylan Samberg, a Winnipeg Jets second rounder in 2017. Currently a member of the University of Minnesota-Duluth in the NCAA, Samberg’s shutdown nature will be more effective when paired with a more offensive dynamo like Fox.  Samberg isn’t a guy you’d expect to see in the NHL anytime soon (playing college hockey doesn’t totally help disproving that) but his raw talent and his fluent skating for his size makes him a prototypical defenseman you want patrolling your blueline.

Michigan’s Quinn Hughes has had a good enough NCAA campaign to earn himself considerable ice time. An expected top ten pick in the NHL this year, Hughes was nearing a point per game in the NCAA for the first few months, something he teetered around with in the USHL last year with the USNTDP. For USHL defensemen two seasons ahead of their draft eligibility, Hughes is the all-time leader in points under that circumstance. His 26 points in 26 games last season beats out big names such as Charlie McAvoy, Brady Skjei, Noah Hanifin, Seth Jones, Zach Werenski and Jacob Trouba. Hughes comes from an incredible hockey background, with 16-year-old brother Jack expected to go in the first few picks in 2019, while his youngest brother, Luke, could get drafted in 2021.

Nashville Predators third-rounder David Farrance is an interesting case for the Americans. An injury replacement in the summer, Farrance can move the puck better than most others at the tournament. He had nothing to lose when he was added to the team in August but had fantastic results to show for it, earning praise from coaches and scouts a like. He hasn’t put up big numbers with Boston University in his rookie season, but Farrance looked good enough over the past few years to know by the end of his time with the team, he’ll be a force at the college level before eventually turning pro.

And let’s not forget Charlie Lindgren’s brother, Ryan Lindgren. The University of Minnesota sophomore should be able to double his point totals in college this year and while he’s not an offensive threat, he’s going to keep the puck away from the net. Just one of two returning players on the blue line, Lindgren will hopefully be a leader for a team with so much young potential, but with a lot of inexperience at this level. There aren’t a whole lot of bad options for the Americans on defense, and with the team on home ice, they’ll need to be stellar.

Forwards: Like Canada, there’s always more than enough discussion about the players that aren’t taking part in the two-week bonanza. But with Brown and Yamamoto coming back into the fray after starting the year in the NHL, there’s an added belief that the Americans could have one of the most dangerous lines in the entire tournament. It starts with Brown, a 19-year-old centerman that skated in four games with the Ottawa Senators this year. Easily the top player on the Windsor Spitfires, Brown should finish with a career-high in points despite not starting the season in the league. In fact, he’s on pace to outdo his 40-point season from a year ago in five less games. The fact that he put up 12 points for the Americans at the 2016 Under-18’s and still wasn’t the team’s top player shows how good the Americans have been developing prospects in recent years.

Then there’s Yamamoto, perhaps one of the most surprising names to make the NHL this season. A speedy forward that produces magic with the puck, Yamamoto had three points in nine games with the Oilers out of training camp before getting sent back to the Spokane Chiefs. Yamamoto finished with seven goals (the most of any player) and 13 points at the Under-18’s two seasons ago, an impressive result for a bronze medal squad. Yamamoto may not be a big player, but he has a history of getting himself in trouble in international tournaments in the past and that’s likely a big reason he didn’t get a shot with the World Junior team last year after a so-so summer showcase.

Of course, we can’t forget Buffalo Sabres prospect Casey Mittlestadt, the third member of the dynamite trio from the World Junior Summer Showcase this year. Mittelstadt could stickhandle is way out of a traffic jam and is one of the best players at his age at playing a two-way system. Mittelstadt is off to a great start with the University of Minnesota and unlike his two potential linemates, he hasn’t had to adjust to different systems a few weeks into the season.

After USA’s top trio, which produced 20 points in the five-game tournament, the team still manages to keep the lines looking spiffy. Last year’s team had some star forwards in the top six, but some of the bottom six, which included guys freshly drafted into the NHL, had 18 year olds who couldn’t finish the job. An extra year of development has proven huge for Patrick Harper. Harper only has a single point a year ago, but the Nashville Predators prospect finished third in WJCSS scoring with seven points and has lead Boston University all year long. Same goes for Joey Anderson, who, despite being a solid defensive forward last year, didn’t add much offensively to the squad. An injury early in the season took him out of action to start the season, but his game has quickly picked up and his stock has improved.

The Montreal Canadiens may be a team destined for failure this year, but Ryan Poehling is a kid with incredible potential for the future. The St. Cloud State University center has developed into an important player for his school, beating out his previous season total before December began. While he isn’t a fast skater, Poehling is tough to knock off the puck and he’s got the ability to be put in pretty much any situation thanks to his tremendous work ethic.

Two other names worth watching are Kieffer Bellows and Max Jones. Bellows made the transition to the WHL after a so-so rookie campaign with Boston University and is on pace for around 75 points as a 19-year-old. A first-round pick by the New York Islanders, Bellows looked good last year but the team was expecting a bit more out of him. For Jones, the Anaheim prospect hasn’t represented USA since the 2014 Under-17’s, a tournament where he finished with seven goals to lead the tournament. The London Knights forward doesn’t put up incredible offensive numbers, but, as evidence by his 13 goals and one assist in his first 19 games, it’s clear he’s good at one thing: goals. What wins games? Goals.

Projection: The United States have to win, period. Hockey is on the rise in the country and could surpass Canada sooner than later in participation numbers. With a championship on Canadian soil last year, the last they’d want (outside of a relegation round appearance) is to lose to their border buddies on home ice. The battlefield is set for a December 29th outdoor game, a contest that could set the stage to see who wins Group A. Will we see a second battle when the medal round heats up? There’s a very good chance, and if you had to bet, USA has enough strong depth at every position to be a true number one contender in Buffalo.

No country cares about the World Juniors like Canada. It’s a year long event, really. It begins with message boards lighting up after the gold medal game the previous year with predictions of who’ll grace the team the following December. TV specials make a splash in the weeks leading up. There are people dedicated to following what happens to the young kids all year, just to see how they perform for their country for two weeks.

It’s crazy, really.

Canada hosts the World Juniors every two years, with Toronto and Montreal sharing it in 2015 and 2017. 2015 broke a streak of bad luck for Canada at the World Juniors, with their last gold medal coming in 2010 before that. It looked like the 2017 medal was theirs, too, with the hosts taking the 4-2 lead early in the third.

And then they lost. In the shootout. To the United States. It doesn’t get much worse for the boys in red.

This year, the team returns with another strong group to work with. To start, they have one of the best goalies in Carter Hart. The talent on the blue line is hard to match, and if they were able to get some help from the NHL, they’d be unstoppable. On forward? Sure, no Dylan Strome or Jordan Eberle, but they’ve got one heck of a group to work with.

But skill doesn’t always trump teamwork, and they’ll need to be fluent as a unit if they are to beat out the likes of Sweden and USA. Canada has the skill, but can they hold themselves together in one of the most northern cities in the eastern United States, Buffalo?

Goaltending: Unlike in recent years, Canada decided to bring four goalies to training camp to find out who really was the hottest hand heading into the tournament. With nobody finding a way to stop Carter Hart this season, the WHL’s top goalie is well on his way to be a finalist for the league MVP and, hopefully, a long future with the Philadelphia Flyers. Prior to getting named to the team, Hart had back-to-back Goaltender of the Week honors, giving him 12 since 2014.

Hart started as Canada’s top goalie a year ago, only to have Tampa Bay Lightning prospect Connor Ingram steal the top spot midway through. Hart, however, would reclaim his spot when it mattered the most, putting up great performances all the way to the gold medal game. He didn’t have a good summer showcase and fought an illness at the start of the season, but Hart has rebounded in ways that make it tough to believe he won’t be their guy going forward.

They do have a good backup option if things go south, however. Colton Point has the rare situation where Point’s lone tournament experience with Canada was at the 2015 World Junior A Challenge, where he struggled with Canada East, who performed below standards. Still, Point had some bright moments during the pre-tournament camp and has been fantastic with Colgate University in the NCAA, pushing future starter Michael DiPietro off the team. He just needs to be good if he’s called upon for a game during the round robin.

Defensemen: With the tournament within weeks of beginning, there was still uncertainty as to whether Canada would get access to Victor Mete, arguably one of the best defenseman under the age of 20. If he didn’t come, the team had enough skill defensively to make up for the missing talent, and that’s something very few teams have the ability to say.

And then just before the World Junior camp opened up in St. Catharines, Canada got their wish: Mete was coming. After spending the first few months of the season with the Montreal Canadiens, including some time with Shea Weber, Mete comes in with top end experience and incredible composure that playing at a tournament like the World Juniors will only continue to boost his profile. Mete’s a great skater that doesn’t force offensive plays and always lands back in his proper position defensively, a strength of his from his minor midget days. He’s improved mightily in the past calendar year and has proven that his size doesn’t matter when it comes to his defensive play.

Brandon Wheat Kings defender and LA Kings prospect Kale Clague may simply be the best defenseman in the entire CHL. A tremendous two-way defenceman on pace for around 80 points this season, Clague has the skill the deke your pants off and knock down bigger opponents, giving him all the tools needed to be a future NHL star defenceman. The second top scoring d-man on the Canadians a year ago (trailing tournament MVP Thomas Chabot), Clague will likely be Chabot’s replacement ice-time wise, with expectations that he’ll hit around 30 minutes a night some games.

It’s unfair to think that Nashville has Dante Fabbro in their prospect stable, but here we are. One of the best players to get drafted out of Junior A, Fabbro has been a treat to watch every time he’s played for Canada internationally. Currently in his second NCAA campaign with Boston University, Fabbro is a two-way defender capable of putting up high offensive output and his shot is one of the best on Canada’s blue line. His 2015-2016 season was a big one for him internationally, winning the Hlinka Memorial and World Junior A Challenge while also leading the Under-18’s with the most assists by a defenseman with eight. With a silver medal under his belt at the World Juniors, there’s only one more thing to achieve: a gold.

The World Junior A Challenge helped Fabbro make a name for himself, and it also played a role in the development of Cale Makar. Makar had a legendary tournament last year for Canada, getting named to the all-star team after recording five goals and nine points in eight games. In fact, he is tied with Deron Cousens for the most points by a defenceman at the tournament, which also beats out Fabbro, too. Makar has been a fantastic freshman play maker with UMass this season, recording nine points in his first 15 games after getting named the AJHL’s Most Valuable Player a year ago. Makar will get a big role for Canada and it should be expected to see him get some power play time.

With Jake Bean and Cal Foote, it’s hard to go wrong if you’re Canada. Bean is expected to slot in to Carolina’s top four in a couple of seasons and a good year with the Calgary Hitmen is giving him more confidence playing big minutes. A smart blue liner who makes good decisions away from the puck, Bean has put up good numbers in the WHL, mostly due to his aggressive attacking style with his stick. Bean played at last year’s World Juniors so the coaching staff knows what he can bring, and that’s important in a short tournament with very few opportunities to prove yourself.

For Foote, Tampa Bay’s first-round pick this season, the son of former NHLer Adam Foote could finish with his best season with the Kelowna Rockets, the team currently wears the C for. Foote creates offensive plays from behind and he makes life miserable for his opponents. Foote is exactly the guy you want in spurts when you have a loaded D core and he’ll be counted upon big time when the tournament heads closer home out west in 2019.

Forwards: Three forwards return to Canada’s lineup with, with Tampa Bay prospect Taylor Raddysh leading the way. Raddysh was fantastic in a lesser role last year, scoring a hat-trick against Latvia and finishing with six points in seven games. The OHL’s leader in assists last year with 66, Raddysh was among the top ten OHL scorers by the time Canada announced their training camp roster and could still finish near the top, even with going to the World Juniors. Raddysh should be one of Canada’s top two wingers and could challenge for the tournament leading scorer honor.

For Michael McLeod, the former 13th forward and current New Jersey Devils prospect has been stellar since returning to the Mississauga Steelheads in November following an early injury. McLeod had two goals and an assist in a minor role last season, but don’t expect the play making center to get limited minutes again for Canada. He’s never been a big scorer for his country in international play, but this is really his best chance in the spotlight.

There’s also Dillon Dube, the WHL scoring whiz that’s on pace to blow any of his previous WHL seasons out of the water, statistically. A second-round pick of the Calgary Flames, Dube had three assists in last year’s tournament and his defensive play was noticeable from the start. He’s quick, tough to beat around the boards and sets up teammates with ease. Dube will bring leadership to a team with very few returning forwards and that should help earn him important ice time.

OHL-leading scorer Jordan Kyrou has been hot right out of the gate, and he’ll factor into Canada’s goal-scoring charge. With 54 points in 27 games played at the time of getting named to Canada, Kyrou was far and away the best offensive threat in the league and the St. Louis Blues prospect is bound to make the jump to the NHL next season. Kyrou was a shining force at the 2014 Under-17’s and 2016 Under 18’s for Canada and his two-way play makes him valuable in any situation at any end of the ice.  

A year ago he led the entire WHL with 131 points, yet he didn’t make the World Junior team. This time, Sam Steel will be one of Canada’s most important wingers thanks to his ability to make anyone look dumb with smart, accurate, dangerous plays both with the puck and without it.may not have the best point total this season, but there’s nothing stopping him from having his way with Group A.

A healthy scratch on many occasions in his OHL rookie season with London, Robert Thomas has since emerged into a first round draft pick of the St. Louis Blues playing his best hockey of his life. One of York-Simcoe Express’ top players at the OHL Cup back in 2015, Thomas hasn’t really been a major factor in important tournaments since then (only one point at both the 2015 U17’s and 2016 Memorial Cup, but he’s shown steady improvement over the past few years. This will be just his second tournament for Canada, but he has the tools to be a decent third line centerman for the boys in red.

One of Canada’s most underrated forwards is Tyler Steenbergen, Swift Currents superstar forward. In just 27 games with the Broncos this year, Steenbergen had a whopping 61 points which is well on his way to beat his 90-point total from a year ago. Steenbergen has an incredible shot and is a guy you’d want to act as Alex Ovechkin on the power play, ripping hard shots from the wing. A lower body injury took him out of action before camp, but the Arizona Coyotes forward is ready to show why every Canadian team at every level previously made a mistake not taking him.

The whole forward group is filled with immense talent, and Jonah Gadjovich is a guy that brings an edge to his game yet has speed to kill. Gadjovich doesn’t have the crazy offensive numbers some of his teammates possess, but his two-way, team-first style of play makes him tough to miss. He’s come a long way since his nine point season to kick off his OHL career and the Vancouver Canucks hope he becomes a potential Milan Lucic some day.

Canada’s toughest question will be trying to figure out which players, who typically score for their junior teams, are best playing more defensive roles instead. big two-way forward Brett Howden can score, hit and play in any situation. A fan-favorite in Moose Jaw, Howden’s upper body injury in December wouldn’t keep slow him down and he should be good at winning faceoffs in tough situations.

Anaheim Ducks prospect Maxime Comtois is a was a bit of a surprise to make the team, but given his previous succes with the national team, the team knows him well. He’s shined at the Hlinka Memorial and the Under-17’s in recent years, and his aggressive style makes him a feared opponent. Just ask Denmark; Comtois was a bowling ball during many of his shifts. 

In short, Canada has more offensive weapons than almost all of their competitors. This is typically the case, and even without a clear number one star to focus on, the depth of the forward group can’t be ignored.

Projection: Projecting Canada as a medal favorite is too easy. They’re always strong and have depth that’s tough to top. Any time the tournament heads to the United States, there’s a bit more pressure to pull off a title. The Americans may be strong right now, but it would be surprising to not see Canada back in the finals once again.

World Junior Preview: Slovakia & Sweden

By Steven Ellis – Eurohockey.com

Slovakia is always a fascinating team at the World Juniors. They work hard, they always have a few players who surprise and nobody really expects anything more. Look at their 2015 tournament when they somehow pulled off the bronze medal against Sweden, for example.

Once again, this year’s iteration has more questions than answers, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Seeing how the guys from HK Orange, Slovakia’s version of the US National Development team Program, translate against top competition is always a spectacle on its own. Can the players playing in North America fit in well with the team? Will the goaltending crumble or will they be the talk of the show?

We never truly know until the tournament is well underway, but Slovakia has some things to look forward to this year.

Goaltending: Let’s start with the bad news. For starters, the goaltending isn’t that good. The good news, that’s exactly what people said before Denis Godla had his superstar performance back in 2015 in Canada. St. Cloud State University goaltender David Hrenak could be the guy who gets the most playing time for Slovakia, given he’s playing in the NCAA, which features stronger competition than the Slovak league can offer. Hrenak doesn’t have much exposure to donning the Slovakian sweater, having only played four games at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge in 2015 before getting part of a game at the 2016 Under-18’s. Hrenak was the third goalie for Slovakia at the 2016 games, but wasn’t brought back in 2017 thanks to a more crowded crease. This is finally his year to get the job done.

Defencemen: Slovakia has surprisingly had some good defencemen grace their blue line the past few years, which has helped with their goal support. One of the players that will keep scouts interested is Michal Ivan, currently in his first season in North America with the Acadie-Bathurst Titan. He’s played against men the past two years and even started the season in Slovakia, but he’s made a name for himself early with the Titan and thus given him a chance to get drafted this year.

Returning to the team are Martin Fehervary and Martin Bodak. Fehervary has the potential to hear his name called in the first three rounds of the NHL Draft and a good showing in Sweden so far furthers that notion. He played in both the U18 and U20 World Juniors last season, skating as a top four guy both times. Meanwhile, Bodak ripped up the Finnish junior league last year before coming over to the Kootenay Ice this season, potting nine points in the first quarter of the season. His breakthrough moment came at the 2015 Hlinka Memorial tournament when the puckmoving defender grabbed five points in four games.

The rest of the defensive group will see players with chemistry coming from HK Orange. Included in that is Vojtech Zelenak, who has represented the Slovaks at various U17 and U18 tournaments in the past. Outside of that, the team will be needing to resort to a trap style game if they hope to keep shots away from their goalies because the experience at a high level simply isn’t there.

Forwards: Slovakia’s depth up front may be the best part about Slovakia’s roster, and it’s all led by Calgary Flames prospect Adam Ruzicka. The 18-year-old is ripping up the Sarnia Sting this year, a team that’s surpassing all expectations heading into the halfway point. Ruzicka is a big power-forward with with a good international stat line at various levels, and this will be his second time playing at the World Juniors. He’ll be given lots of opportunities to produce for Slovakia, but he’ll need some help.

The help could come in the form of Hamilton Bulldogs forward Marian Studenic. New Jersey’s fifth-round pick in 2017, Studenic has had to carry the Bulldogs at points this year in what can be seen as a rebuilding campaign for them. Studenic looked good at last year’s World Juniors, but failed to record a single point. Then there is Milos Roman, a potential top 40 pick in the upcoming NHL Draft. Roman put up two points as a 17-year-old in last year’s tournament and has hovered around a point-per-game with the WHL’s Vancouver Giants. Roman was exceptional at the 2015 and 2016 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournaments and will likely be a key player at the Under-18’s this Spring, too.

Slovakia’s depth with players playing in North America is deeper than usual, and Samuel Bucek and Jakub Lacka help contribute to that. Bucek is one of the USHL’s top forwards this year after playing in the QMJHL a season ago. While Bucek hasn’t represented his nation since the end of 2016, that was a great year for him internationally and he’ll be given lots of chances to up his resume.  Lacka, a star for the Central Illinois Flying Aces, should be able to pot a few goals and will act mainly as a secondary scoring option for the Slovaks. Rouyn-Noranda Huskies forward Patrik Hrehorčák could make an impact, too. His experience of playing on North American ice could give him an advantage over his European counterparts and his U18 performance in April was impressive, too.

On the HK Orange side of things, Erik Smolka has been far and away Slovakia’s best player in many games. A solid play maker, he and Alex Tamasi have contributed on many of the team’s goals this season and could do the same in Buffalo.

Projection: Slovak fans seem quite split about the team this year. For some, this is one of the strongest teams they’ve had in a long time. For others, it’s a moot point because they won’t make it out of the quarterfinals. The reality is, it’s likely going to be a busy night for the back end each and every game and their best chance at a win comes against Denmark on New Year’s Eve. But don’t discount the team that sees many of its core players stick together for years.

Each year, they’re so good, yet so bad when it matters.

Sweden is always a major threat to win gold at the World Juniors. In In fact, since 2007, the team has never finished worse than fourth.

But yet, they only have one gold medal to their name.

The Swedes have finished in fourth an astounding five times, so at least they’re consistent. But consistent doesn’t matter when your biggest stars can’t seal the deal year after year. Once again, the team looks destined for a good result, but there’s even more excitement in the air.

For starters, Alex Nylander is back. Nylander was one of the top players in the entire tournament a year ago, repeating his strong performance from 2016. Then there’s Rasmus Dahlin, the most-likely choice to go number one overall in this year’s NHL Entry Draft. The skaters are good, the goaltending is solid and the team has a lot of experience together.

The United States may seem like the tournament favorites, but the Swedes may have something to say about it.

Goaltending: Sweden is covered in net with Filip Gustavsson leading the way. Gustavsson, a Pittsburgh Penguins draft pick, played a game last year for the Swedes as an 18-year-old and went on to have a strong World Junior Summer Showcase tournament back in August. The top goaltender at the 2016 World Under-18’s, Gustavsson has looked good at pretty much every tournament he’s represented the Swedes in and has played against men for a few years now. Gustavsson will be one of the top goalies in the tournament, and he’ll need to be against Russia and the Czech Republic’s strong offense. Olle Eriksson Ek should also earn a start or two in the Swedish net, with the Anaheim Ducks prospect having also represented the Swedes at every level since the U16′ back in 2014-2015. He’s a big goalie that will fight for every minute of ice time before inevitably taking the starting role next year.

Defencemen: We’ll save you the long write-up about Dahlin, because it would be tough to believe you don’t know anything about him yet. Dahlin’s second attempt at the World Juniors will see the Frolunda blueliner earn more ice time and more opportunities to lead his nation out of the bronze medal game and into the fight where it really matters, for gold.

Joining him on the top pairing is Timothy Liljegren, who, at this point last year, was expected to be the top defenceman chosen in the draft. He would end up falling to 17th to the Toronto Maple Leafs, but has been good with the Toronto Marlies in his first season in North America and he has medals for Sweden at the U17 and U18 level. Liljegren didn’t represent his country at last year’s World Juniors, but the future defensive star played well for Sweden in the summer at the World Junior Summer Showcase.

Vegas Golden Knights first rounder Erik Brannstrom is currently in his second full season with HV71 and he’s more than suitable to be a top four defenseman for the Swedes. One of Sweden’s best players at the 2015 and 2016 Hlinka Memorial tournament’s, Brannstrom moves the puck well and skates fluently, but he has very little experience playing on smaller ice. He should help chip in on the offense and will get lots of power play opportunities, so they’re set in that department.

Another NHL Draft pick, Arizona’s Filip Westerlund, is hoping his first World Juniors is a successful World Juniors. A much more relaxed, stay-at-home option compared to Brannstrom, Westerlund isn’t the best skater but excels in keeping the puck away from his own net, also known as doing his job well. Some of Westerlund’s best action this season came with Frolunda at the Champions Hockey League, while also having a good SHL campaign this year.

Forwards: Goals, goals and… did you say goals? That’s what’s on tap for Sweden, something that doesn’t seem to change ever, except when it truly matters the most. It all starts with Nylander, the Rochester Americans forward heading into his third world junior tournament. Assuming he doesn’t get hurt or fail miserably at the tournament, Nylander should be able to make his way into the top ten of all-time World Juniors scoring. In fact, if he got 12 points for the second straight year, he’d be tied with Niklas Sundström for eighth, one position behind Swedish legend Markus Naslund.

Nylander’s centre will be Lias Andersson, a seventh overall pick by the New York Rangers in 2017. An extremely hard working forward with a great two-way game, Andersson has a knack for scoring and has already won a Swedish Hockey League championship. One of Frolunda’s best players, Andersson also has three goals and four points in five international games for Sweden in U20 exhibition games and should be one of the top forwards in Group B.

One of Sweden’s strongest forwards, Elias Pettersson, is looking for redemption for his nation as well. The fifth overall pick in the most recent draft by Vancouver, Pettersson has absolutely absolutely crushed the Swedish league with 31 points by the time December rolled around, putting him well ahead of some key veterans. While Pettersson only had one point at last year’s tournament, he did have 10 points in 14 games with the U20 team last year and he’s destined for many, many points this year, especially if he does get to play with Nylander. More of a playmaker than a goal scorer, Pettersson is at the top of his game and he’s ready to dazzle in North America.

Potential first-round pick Isac Lundeström will be a player worth keeping an eye on. Likely a second line forward for the Swedes, Lundeström has improved mightily in his second SHL campaign and had a strong Under-18 World Junior tournament back in April. A good tournament for Lundeström could be what keeps him projected in the first round.

With an injury earlier in the year, there were some questions as to whether Jesper Boqvist would be ready to go for the tournament this time around. The New Jersey Devils prospect didn’t make the squad a year ago, but with a strong four game stint with the U19 team last year followed by a good stat in the Swedish U20 league this season, Boqvist has the tools and the talent to make things happen.

Of the summer showcase stars, Fredrik Karlström and Oskar Steen deserve attention.,Karlström hasn’t scored much for Linkoping in the SHL this year but has been fantastic for Sweden in U20 action this year and had a good showing at last year’s World Juniors. A Dallas Stars prospect, Karlström likely slots in as Sweden’s second line centre, a player that should be dangerous from the first puck drop. And then there’s Steen, Boston’s sixth round pick last year. The short, shifty skater had four goals at the summer tournament, more points than he has with Farjestad of the SHL. Still, he’s looking good enough to score some goals at the Juniors and should be a quiet nuisance for the Tre Kronor.

Returning forward Tim Söderlund will be an important bottom six role play for the Swedes. A fast, hard-working forward with the ability to rotate among forward positions, Söderlund isn’t afraid to get into the dirty areas to work extra hard for his goals. He also has five points in six U20 games for his nation so far this year on top of a three point performance in last year’s tournament in Montreal and while he likely won’t pot many this year, he’ll likely chip in a goal or two along the way.

Projection: This seems like a team that would benefit more from playing on bigger European ice with their speed and skill, but they have enough talent and depth to really make a splash. In fact, they’re almost guaranteed to make the medal round and truly look like the second best team in the tournament. The Swedes have a lot of turnover this season with 15 goals missing from players in the their top five scorers from last year alone, but the offense from up front and the back end look too tasty to really be nostalgic. With two of the best scoring threats in Pettersson and Nylander, the Swedes are as dangerous as ever and really can’t afford another tough loss in the bronze medal game.

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