Friday, December 26, 2014

The 2015 World Junior Championships

Today is Boxing Day, which signals the beginning of the annual festival of hockey known as the World Junior Championship held for players under the age of 20. The tournament is followed with varying degrees of interest in the participating countries, but in Canada, it's practically a 12 day holiday. The success the Canadians have had hosting the tournament has resulted in Canada hosting the tournament nearly 50% of the time since 2003. Such is the passion for the World Juniors, in 2010 Switzerland was chosen as the original host, but when they withdrew, three separate Canadian bids were submitted to have the honor of hosting the event.

2015 World Juniors logo photo 2015WorldJuniorslogo.jpg

Even when the United States has been chosen to  host the World Juniors, proximity to the Canadian border has been a major factor in choosing a host site, as evidenced by Grand Forks, North Dakota (2 1/2 hours from Winnipeg) and Buffalo, New York, on the border with Canada, were chosen.

This year's tournament will be held in Montreal at the Bell Centre, home of the Montreal Canadiens and in Toronto at the Air Canada Centre, home of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Montreal will host Group A (Canada, Finland, Germany, Slovakia and the United States) and two Quarterfinal playoff games, while Toronto will host Group B (Denmark, the Czech Republic, Russia, Switzerland and Sweden), the Relegation Round, the other two Quarterfinals, both Semifinals and the Bronze and Gold Medal Games. Toronto has not hosted any games since two were held there in 1986 when Hamilton was the host city and Montreal has not seen the World Juniors since way back in 1978.

The 2016 edition will be held in Helsinki, Finland before the 2017 World Juniors return to Montreal and Toronto, with Montreal taking center stage with the Gold Medal Game and the majority of the playoffs.

The World Juniors returns to the United States in 2018, with the host sites to be determined, but one can wager it will be no farther from the Canadian border than Boston, Massachusetts or St. Paul, Minnesota, if not closer. The tournament again returns to Canada in 2019 before a return to Europe for the first time in four years in 2020 to the Czech Republic before heading right back to Canada in 2021, which will be the seventh time the Canadians will have hosted the event in the 13 events from 2009 and 2021.

Canadian Fans photo CanadianFans.jpg
The response of the Canadian fans to the World Juniors
has altered the tournament forever

After dominating the tournament with five consecutive gold medals from 2005 to 2009, Canada has not won gold since. They were defeated at home in the 2010 Gold Medal Final by the United States, took home a second consecutive sliver in 2011 and finished third for bronze at home in 2012. The last two years have seen Canada fall to Russia in the bronze medal game, the first time they have not won a medal since 1998 and the first time they have gone two consecutive years without a medal since 1980 and 1981!

Today's schedule kicks off with Denmark facing Russia in Toronto at 1 PM followed by Finland taking on the United States at 3 PM in Montreal. At 5 PM Sweden faces off against the Czech Republic in Toronto before Canada gets the Bell Centre rocking against Slovakia at 8 PM (all times Eastern).

The Preliminary Round continues with four games on Saturday the 27th, two on the 28th, four on the 29th featuring Sweden vs. Russia and Finland against Canada, two on the 30th and four games to wrap up the Preliminary Round Wednesday, December 31st, highlighted by Canada vs. the United States at 4 PM and Russia vs. the Czech Republic at 5 PM.

The tournament traditionally takes New Year's Day off before the Quarterfinals kick things into a high gear with four knockout elimination games on Friday, January 2nd. The Semifinals are on Sunday, January 4th followed by the Bronze Medal and Gold Medal Games on Monday, January 5th.

The best-of-three Relegation Round also starts on the 2nd and 3rd, with the third and deciding game if necessary on Monday the 5th, should anyone outside of Germany or Denmark care.

Two players to keep an eye on during this year's tournament are draft eligible players Connor McDavid of the Erie Otters and Canada and Jack Eichel of Boston University and the United States, who are expected to be the top two picks in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft.

McDavid Canada photo ConnorMcDavidCanada.jpg
Connor McDavid, who is expected to go #1
in the upcoming NHL Entry Draft

McDavid played in last year's World Juniors, scoring a goal and 4 points in 7 games, while Eichel had a busy year, playing in both the World U18 and World Juniors last year.

Eichel USA photo EichelUSA.jpg
Jack Eichel of the USA will also go high in the 2015 draft

Other players to pay attention to are Noah Hanifin of the USA and Boston College, Pavel Zacha of the Czech Republic and the Sarnia Sting, Lawson Crouse of Canada and the Kingston Frontenacs and Zach Werenski of the USA and the University of Michigan, all projected to be Top Ten picks in the up coming draft.

Teams favored this year include the host Canadians, the United States, Sweden, who have made three straight Gold Medal Games, the always tough Russia and the defending champions from Finland. The Czech Republic will be looking to improve upon their recent performances, while Switzerland and Slovakia hope to rise up and win an unexpected medal. Meanwhile, newly promoted Germany and Denmark will simply be hoping to avoid the Relegation Round for a successful tournament.

In the United States, the NHL Network will have their most extensive coverage ever, with live and delayed broadcasts of 28 games - 15 Preliminary Round and all eight playoff games - not just games involving the United States as it once was, as 11 of the 28 do not involve the US and 8 of those do not even feature Canada.

In Canada, TSN will broadcast 28 games on TSN, TSN2 or on one of its regional TSN3, TSN4 or TSN5 channels, as can be found here.

For jersey fans, here is the full lineup of jersey for the 2015 World Juniors, which has four brand new designs for this tournament. Canada is debuting two new home and road jerseys with a throwback feel in honor of the 100th anniversary of Hockey Canada. The Czechs have a new red road jersey, replacing the full bleed Czech flag style worn at the 2014 Olympics and World Championships.

Switzerland's white jersey carries over from 2014, but the red jerseys have undergone a change, with white bands on the arms to mirror the red ones on the home jersey. Additionally, the white cross changes from being a small logo on the upper left chest, as on the white jerseys, to a large central cross on the red road jerseys.

 photo IIHFWJC2015jerseys.jpg

Today's featured jersey is a 2014 United States National Team Jack Eichel jersey as worn during the 2014 World Junior Championship. One unusual aspect of this jersey is the sponsorship on the shoulders, as sponsor patches in recent history have been exclusive to the senior level, with only rare and sporadic appearances at the junior level.

This jersey is an alternate jersey for the Americans, done in the style of those worn when the US won gold at the 1960 Olympics in Squaw Valley, California. This jersey made it's first appearance as a throwback jersey for the 2008 World Championships when each country wore a retro jersey in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the IIHF. The jersey proved to be so popular that it was brought back for the 2010 Olympics and has been a part of the American lineup since.

USA 2014 WJC  jersey photo USA2014WJCFjersey.jpg
USA 2014 WJC  jersey photo USA2014WJCBjersey.jpg

In today's video section, first up are highlights of last year's Gold Medal Game, when Finland won their first World Juniors since 1998.

Next, a promo video of the 2015 World Juniors to get you excited for today's games.

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