Monday, December 26, 2011
Boxing Day sees the start of the 2012 World Junior Championships, with four games today, with two in Calgary between first Latvia vs. Sweden at 3:30 PM and then Switzerland taking on Russia at 8:00 PM, both games in Group A. Meanwhile in Edmonton, Group B action sees Denmark going up against the United States at 6:00 PM, but first it all kicks off with Finland drawing hosts Canada at 1:30 PM.
Canada has chosen a retro third jersey for this year's tournament, inspired by the logo worn by National Junior Teams from 1982 to 1994, which included seven gold medal winning teams.
The gold medal winning 1982 Canadian Junior National Team
The red jersey features the old version of the Hockey Canada logo, featuring three maple leaves, now said to represent the three steps of the Program of Excellence, the under-17, under-18 and under-20 programs.
The announcement of the 30th anniversary Canada third jersey
The new jersey has been updated with s sublimated design around the white waist stripe featuring imagery representing each of the past 15 Canadian gold medal winning championship teams in the now 30 year history of the Canadian junior program.
The white waist stripe now has a sublimated design honoring the 15 previous gold medal teams
In addition to the choice of the retro jersey, Hockey Canada is inviting 30 years worth of junior team alumni to this year's tournament as part of the anniversary celebrations for the hosts.
Canada junior hockey veterans Jeff Shantz, Martin Gélinas and Gord Sherven model the new 2012 third jersey
Group A in this year's tournament sees defending champions Russia grouped with Sweden's resurgent junior program, Switzerland, Slovakia and Latvia. Meanwhile, a difficult looking Group B comprises hosts Canada, the United States, Finland, the Czech Republic and Denmark.
The tournament format calls for a each team in a group to play the remaining four teams once each, with the top three advancing to the Playoff Round, while the bottom pair is placed in the Relegation Round. The Relegation Round will determine which single club is demoted down to the 2013 Division 1 Group A tournament, where in the past two teams were relegated.
The top seeded team from each group will bypass the quarterfinals, while the second place teams in each group will cross over to play the third seeded teams from the other group. The quarterfinal winners will advance to face the group winners in the semifinals on January 3rd, with the losers playing for bronze followed by the gold medal game, both on January 5th.
Group A will see the Russians as favorites, along with Sweden. While the Russians only return one player from last year's championship team, Washington Capitals prospect Evgeny Kuznetsov, but have other NHL draft choices, Ivan Telegin (Winnipeg) and Nikita Kucherov (Tampa Bay) on their roster along with top 2012 prospects Nail Yakupov and Mikhail Grigorenko, who could be selected 1-2 in this spring's 2012 NHL Entry Draft.
Sweden looks more than ready for the tournament following their 5-3 defeat of Canada in their final tune-up game on Friday. Sweden's roster boasts 11 players from last year, including NHL draft choices Jonas Brodin (Minnesota), Oscar Lefbom (Edmonton), Rickard Rakell (Anaheim) and Mika Zibanejad (Ottawa) are the first round selections among the 15 players on their roster already property of NHL clubs. While Sweden has not won gold in 13 years, their experience and quality, with four first round NHL draft choices, should make them favorites to win the group.
As of late, Switzerland has made it's presence known at the World Juniors, earning a fifth place last year. They lack the depth and quality of talent of the gold medal contenders, but stand a good chance to advance to the playoffs as they contend with Slovakia for the third place spot in the group. They return four players from last year, led by Sven Bartschi, a 2011 first round draft choice of the Calgary Flames.
Slovakia returns eight players from last year, including Tomas Jurco and Marek Tvrdon (Detroit) at forward and Martin Marincin (Edmonton), Adam Janosik (Tampa Bay), Martin Gemat (Edmonton) and Peter Ceresnak (New York Rangers) on defense. The Slovaks will be looking to keep games close based on their experienced defense and hoping to gain points whenever possible as they contend with Switzerland for the final playoff position in the group.
The final team in Group A is Lativa. Kristians Pelss (Edmonton) leads the squad who must hope to find the magic to pull off an upset, particularly against either Switzerland or Slovakia, whichever club will join them in the Relegation Round, in order to carry over some points in their struggle to avoid relegation. If all goes according to form, their expected game against Denmark, who they defeated 5-1 in exhibition play, will be key to their survival.
Group B is led by Canada, who will be expecting to compete in their 11th straight gold medal final. Canada is loaded with a roster comprised entirely of NHL draft choices, save two players, including some with NHL experience already. Their embarrassment of riches include five of seven first round draft choices on defense, six on forward among the 12 and one of their two goaltenders. Only three of the roster was drafted later than the third round. Jonathan Huberdeau (#3 Florida), Ryan Strome (#5 New York Islanders), Brett Connolly (#6 Tampa Bay) and Mark Scheifele (#7 Winnipeg) are all first round selections at forward, while Dougie Hamilton (#9 Boston) closes out the Canadian first round draft choices on defense.
Right there with Canada is the United States, led by Jack Campbell (Dallas) in goal, returning for this third World Juniors. Charlie Coyle (Minnesota), Nick Bjugstad (Florida), Emerson Etem (Anaheim) and Jason Zucker (Minnesota) all return at forward, while Derek Forbort (Los Angeles) and Jon Merrill (New Jersey) return on defense. The Americans will be looking to take first place in the group and hope to spoil the party on Canadian ice by taking home the gold.
The key for Finland is forward Mikael Granlund (Minnesota), who currently leads Finland's top professional league in scoring, will be looking to propel the Finns to their first gold medal game since 2001. Finland boasts seven NHL draft choices at forward alone, two of which are first rounders. Their defense is younger, with only one current selection and three who are draft eligible for the first time this season. Still, there goaltenders, Sami Aittokallio and Christopher Gibson are both already property of NHL clubs and will be looking to hold steady behind their young defense and continue the line of successful Finnish goaltenders. Finland should advance to the Playoff Round, but must do their best to take points out of their games with Canada and the US. Their key game will be against the Czech Republic and will want to be certain to secure maximum points against Denmark.
The Czech Republic will be looking to return to the top half of the World Junior contenders following back-to-back seventh place finishes. To do so, they must rely on their six drafted forwards, none of which are first round choices. The remainder of the Czech roster sees only two drafted players, one on defense and the other in goal, with the remainder having gone undrafted. The Czechs face an uphill battle on paper to overcome Finland for the final playoff position, but it would take an utter collapse for them to be worried about relegation.
Denmark, on the other hand, stands no chance to make the playoffs and their ultimate goal will be to survive relegation. Their roster contains but one NHL draft pick, Nicklas Jensen (Vancouver) at right wing. Denmark's hopes must rely on keeping games close, accomplished only by keeping them low scoring. Once down by two or three goals, they do not have the players to try to play risky, catch-up hockey. Their tournament will really begin with the relegation round, and their hope is to have either won, or at least taken a point out of their game with whichever Group B team joins them in relegation play. With only one team facing the drop this time out, it's likely that the success of their tournament will be based on their expected Relegation Round game against Latvia.
Key games of the tournament will be the opening game of Canada vs. Finland later today, as Canada looks to get off to a fast start and set the tone as immediate contenders for the championship. December 27th sees Latvia and Slovakia looking to collect vital points in their efforts to make the playoffs, and if not, carry an advantage into the relegation round.
Devante Smith-Pelly wearing the new 2012 Canada third jersey during exhibition play
The key game on the 28th is the United States vs. Finland, but the real highlights of the Preliminary Round come on December 31st, when Canada faces off against the United States followed by Russia taking on Sweden for what, on paper, should be two games which will determine the winners of both groups as long as no team stumbles in their previous games, which always does happen and is part of the appeal of the short international tournament format where every game counts.
TSN will be broadcasting the games in Canada, while the NHL Network will have the United States Preliminary Round games, as well as five others, as part of their schedule in the US before showing all the playoff games.
Today's featured jersey is a 1983 Team Canada Mario Lemieux jersey that the 2012 Canadian junior team's third jersey is reprising. While the three leaf logo may have been worn from 1982 until 1994, the style of jersey used by the 2012 team was only worn from 1982 until 1984, as the team switched to full length pants in 1985 and adopted jerseys with striping that ran down the sides of the sweaters.
The 1983 World Junior Tournament was held in Leningrad (since renamed St. Petersburg) in the Soviet Union. The defending champion Canadians had a roster which boasted future NHLers Dave Andreychuk, Mario Lemieux, Sylvain Turgeon, Mike Eagles, Paul Boutilier, Steve Yzerman, Pat Flatley, Pat Verbeek, Paul Cyr, Toni Tanti, Gary Leeman, Brad Shaw, James Patrick, Joe Cirella and goaltender Mike Vernon.
They opened with a 4-0 win over Germany followed by a 4-2 triumph over the United States. Finland fell next 6-3 before they ran into the host Soviets, who prevailed 7-3. An important 7-7 tie with Czechoslovakia followed, as the team then was defeated by Sweden 5-2.
Canada had the upper hand in the contention for a medal however, as their record now stood at 3-2-1 to Sweden's 4-2, only with a highly more favorable schedule for their final games. Canada demolished Norway 13-0 to improve to 4-2-1 for 9 points, while Sweden was easily defeated by the dominant Soviets 5-1 to drop their record to 4-3 and only 8 points, giving Canada the bronze medal behind the Czechs at 11 points and the Soviets with 14 following their undefeated run through the tournament at home.
Andreychuk led the Canadians in scoring with 6 goals and 11 points, while Lemeiux was right behind at 5 goals and 10 points in an uncommon appearance for Canada, as his international resume would only consist of five appearances, the 1983 World Juniors, the 1985 World Championships and the 1987 Canada Cup before a combination of success at the NHL level and injury problems would keep him out of international action for 15 years until the 2002 Olympics followed by the 2004 World Cup of Hockey, the final two ending with gold medals.
Unusually, Lemeiux did not wear his customary #66 for one of the rare, and perhaps only times in his career, as no player on the Canada roster was assigned a number higher than 30, that being goaltender Vernon. Lemeiux wore #24 for the tournament, along with the noteworthy #14 worn by future legend Yzerman rather than his famous #19.
The three leaf logo would first be used in 1982 and survive a number of sweater manufacturer changes, from Cooper to Adidas, Tackla finally Reebok for it's final appearance in 1994.
Today's video section begins with the unveiling of the 2012 Team Canada alternate jersey.
Next up is Paul Brandt's official anthem for the 2012 World Junior Championships.
Finally, highlights from last year's unforgettable final game between Canada and Russia, which saw a furious comeback by the Russians, stunning the Canadian fans who filled the arena in Buffalo, New York. Canada led 3-0 after two periods, chasing the starting Russian goaltender from the net halfway through the game and looking to be well on their way to the title. Suddenly, with two lightning quick goals 11 seconds apart turned the tide in favor of the Russians, who kept their foot on the gas, going on to score five times to shock Canada 5-3.