Saturday, December 26, 2009
The 2010 IIHF World Under 20 Championship kicks off today in Regina and Saskatoon, Saskatchewan in Canada with four games, as the Czech Republic takes on Sweden at 1 PM Central Standard Time in Regina. Games later today include hosts Canada vs. Latvia at 3 PM, Russia vs. Austria at 5 PM and Slovakia against the USA at 7 PM, a game which can be viewed in the US on the NHL Network, whose complete schedule can be seen here. Fans in Canada can view the TSN schedule of games here.
The NHL Network will air 16 games, including all the USA games in the preliminary round, plus six additional games. They will then feature all six medal round games, with the quarterfinals on January 2nd, the semifinals on 3rd and both the Bronze and Gold Medal Games on January 5th.
The countries competing this year are; Group A - Canada, Slovakia, USA, Latvia and Switzerland. Group B, the "Group of Death", comprises Sweden, Russia, Czech Republic, Finland and Austria, with only the top three from each group advancing to the Medal Round elimination playoffs.
Meanwhile, the bottom two teams in each group are sent to the four team Relegation Round. When completed, the two bottom teams will be relegated down to the Division 1 level and replaced in the 2011 tournament by Germany and Norway, who earned promotion to the Top Level with victories in the Division 1 Groups A and B earlier this year.
Anyone who is anyone in the NHL has participated in the World Juniors, including the likes of Viacheslav Fetisov, Wayne Gretzky, Jari Kurri, Igor Larionov, Mario Lemieux, Steve Yzerman, Esa Tikkanen, Brian Leetch, Alexander Mogilny, Sergei Fedorov, Jeremy Roenick, Mike Modano, Pavel Bure, Jaromir Jagr, Eric Lindros, Ziggy Palffy, Scott Neidermayer, Alexi Kovalev, Peter Forsberg, Markus Naslund, Paul Kariya, Jarome Iginla, Miikka Kiprusoff, Marian Hossa, Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin, Simon Gagne, Henrik Lundqvist, Zach Parise, Marc-Andre Fleury, Ryan Getzlaf, Jeff Carter, Alexander Ovechkin, Dion Phaneuf, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, Nicklas Backstrom, Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Carey Price and most recently, John Tavares. You may not know the top players in this year's tournament now, but rest assured, you will soon enough.
The "World Juniors" were first held in 1977 after three years of unofficial events, all won by the Soviet Union, and are particularly popular in Canada, where they are treated as practically a 11 day national holiday.
The original tournament was hosted by Czechoslovakia, which saw the Soviet Union capture the first of four consecutive championships. Sweden broke the Soviet stonghold on the title by winning in 1981 in West Germany, while Canada captured their first gold the following year in the United States before the Soviets put together a pair of back to back championships in 1983, becoming the first host to win, and 1984.
After wins by Canada and the Soviet Union, Finland broke through to take their first title in 1987 when the infamous "Punch-up in Piestany" occurred, as a 20-minute bench clearing brawl between the Canadians and Soviets broke out, which led to the arena lights being turned off in an attempt to restore order and both Canada and the Soviet Union expelled from the tournament as a result.
The event spawned our all-time favorite hockey quote ever:
"You don't like to see 20 kids punching 20 other kids.
It's not a disgrace. It's hockey." - Michael Farber.
The events of that day have been chronicled in the book, When the Lights Went Out.
Canadian fans might also enjoy reading Red, White, and Gold: Canada at the World Junior Championships 1974-1999 by noted hockey author Andrew Podnieks.
Canada returned to the top in 1988 in Moscow, followed by the Soviets in 1989. Canada went on a tear and captured seven of the next eight tournaments from 1990 to 1997, with only the Soviet Championship in Germany in 1992 breaking the Canadian domination. Oddly, the Canadians did not even medal that year.
Then, a most unusual thing happened. Finland took it's second and most recent title in 1998, followed by the first for Russia in 1999 before the Czech Republic captured not one, but it's first two titles in a row in 2000 and 2001.
Russia won back to back in 2002 and 2003 followed by the United States winning it's first World Juniors in 2004 in Finland, making for seven straight years without gold for Canada.
The Canadians rebounded, starting with the Dream Team in 2005, a roster loaded with future NHL talent, aided in part by the availability of some players due to the 2004-05 NHL Lockout. Their domination of the tournament in Grand Forks, North Dakota kicked off a run of titles that now stands a five consecutive, a streak they will be looking to extend on home ice in this year's tournament.
The championship titles currently stand at 15 gold medals for Canada, 12 for the Soviet Union/Russia, two each for Finland and the Czech Republic and one for Sweden and the United States. The Soviet Union/Russia leads all medals with 28 to Canada's 25 with silver and bronze included in the totals. The only other countries to medal outside the six who have already won gold are Switzerland and Slovakia with one bronze each in 1998 and 1999 respectively.
The host country has won in 1983 (Soviet Union), 1991, 1995, 2006 and 2009 (Canada) and 1998 (Finland) - just six out of 33 tournaments.
With sparse attendance frequent at nearly all venues not in or near Canada, the Canadians have become more and more frequent hosts, as they hosted 1 out of the first 9 tournaments, but will now host three out of four between 2009 and 2012, with the other taking place on the Canadian border in Buffalo, New York in 2011, no doubt repeating the sea of waving maple leaf flags seen in Grand Forks, North Dakota in 2005 when we at Third String Goalie were in attendance.
In honor of this year's host, today's featured jersey is a 1978 Team Canada Wayne Gretzky World Juniors jersey worn by Gretzky as a 16-year-old when he led Team Canada in scoring and was named Best Forward in the tournament while Canada took home the bronze medal.
For some reason unknown to us, Canada opted for a white home jersey with a blue Maple Leaf design and blue numbers on the back, adorned with a red maple leaf on each arm, and even more oddly, a blue road jersey with a white logo and numbers, also adorned with the same red maple leaves on each arm. The red maple leaf on the blue background is especially low contrast and would have clearly benefitted from being outlined in white, or more obviously been improved by being a white leaf on a proper red jersey!
First up in today's video section is a 16 year old Wayne Gretzky being interviewed at the 1978 World Juniors while wearing today's featured jersey.
Let's take a look back at the Top 10 Moments from the Canadians recent five year winning streak.
Now that you've seen the Top 1o moments from the last five years, let's focus on last year's tournament, which included an escape by the Canadians with mere seconds remaining against Russia in the semi-finals.
Here is the infamous 1987 brawl in Piestany which got both the Canadians and Soviets expelled from the tournament, costing the Canadians a medal.