Team Canada: Golden Homecoming?

Winning the World Junior Hockey Championships may be a dream for some, but for Team Canada on home soil, it’s expected. Nothing quite rallies our country together like international hockey tournaments, be it the Ivan Hlinka Tournament, Spengler Cup, or the Winter Olympics; but the World Juniors seem to add just a bit more. Sidney Crosby’s golden goal in Vancouver now 5 years ago was a priceless memory, and the women coming back from a 2-goal deficit in Sochi to rally in overtime and beat Team USA to capture gold was absolutely amazing; Canada has been on top for the past two Olympics, but for our Juniors, we haven’t even medaled in 3 years. I think there’s a huge difference between the Olympics and the World Juniors. The Olympics are in the winter during the cold months of February when we are all still working, whereas the Juniors are during the Christmas Holidays where everyone is hanging out with family and friends with Elf re-runs and Yule log’s as the only programs on television. For many families, regardless of what holiday(s) they celebrate, the World Juniors has become a festive tradition for many countries including Canada. Now I suppose the attendance (or lack there of) for the games haven’t exactly been sell-outs perhaps due to ticket prices, interest in European countries, or spending time at home with family, whatever the reason I am not here to debate them, but I can assure you the games are being viewed outside of the arena.

Bjorkstrand and Ehlers celebrate Photo: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

Bjorkstrand and Ehlers celebrate

Who is going to win gold? That is the resounding question isn’t it? Sweden won their group with 4 impressive regulation wins (just as Canada did), and now face the Finns in the quarters; I’d plan on seeing the Swedes move on. Team USA are definitely a solid group with their only loss coming to Canada, but now face Russia which could go either way if Russia decides to play a solid game. After the big 3 if you will (CAN, SWE, USA), the rest or the field has been up for grabs. Russia has been very disappointing this year ever since leaving 1st round pick and WHL stand-out Nikita Scherbak off their roster; no offensive threat and no sense of competitiveness is how the Russians have played. Defending champions Finland struggled to even make the medal rounds, scoring a mere 5 goals in 4 games is not good enough. However, they have looked better than what their position in the standings suggest. The cinderella story of this year’s tournament has been Team Denmark on the backs of Nikolaj Ehlers, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Mads Eller and Georg Sørensen. Denmark had never won a game in the World Juniors prior to this year, and they have played very well thus far, but now face the daunting task of going up against Team Canada; can they be this tournament’s Latvia? Now the Czechs and Slovakia have both been mediocre at best, still a step above the lesser but a step behind the greater. Lack of scoring depth and skill in the lineups have held these two countries back, but one of them is going to the semi-finals, and if I was a betting man I would put money on Slovakia moving on because of a stellar performance from Denis Godla and captain Martin Reway.

Based on the IIHF bracket system, I would predict the semi-finals to look something like this:

  • Canada VS Slovakia
  • Sweden VS United States

Canada basically gets the easiest road to the gold medal game which of course there will be some outside of Canada that will shout “fixed!”, but we will not be able to hear them with 32 million people cheering!

Eric Comrie and Zach Fucale, Photo: The Canadian Press

Eric Comrie and Zach Fucale,
Photo: The Canadian Press

Goaltending has been a hot topic in the past for Team Canada but Zach Fucale and Eric Comrie seem like a capable duo able to lead Team Canada to the promised land. Now the only question is, who will start against Denmark? Surely the goalie Benoit Groulx goes with is the one he will ride for the rest of the tournament yes? It was a bit of a shocker to see Comrie get the start against Team USA after Fucale was absolutely lights out against the Finns. The mistake for Groulx and Team Canada would be to take the Danes lightly and so one would think that the better goalie would get the nod and stay the starter from here on out. Comrie didn’t exactly struggle against the States but the Dylan Larkin goal in the final minute of the Canada-USA game is cause for some concern; a shot down the wing the beats Comrie clean on the glove side is not a goal you can give up. With only one goal allowed by Fucale, we are forced to over analyze it and draw comparisons to his counterpart. Habs prospect and Finnish captain Artturi Lehkonen beat Fucale on a rebound after a brutal giveaway by Sam Morin. Is it vitally important to make the starting goalie against Denmark a huge debate? I actually firmly believe it is. Like I mentioned earlier, Denmark could very well give Canada a scare just like Latvia did to Canada in the Olympics. Without a doubt, Zach Fucale should start for Canada and remain the starter for the remainder of this tournament. The experience of last year and a Memorial Cup under his belt, Fucale is the right decision.

With that being said, Groulx has announced that Fucale will be the goalie to face Denmark in the quarter-finals.

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