Monday, December 26, 2016

The 2017 IIHF World Junior Tournament

Today is Boxing Day in Canada, which signals the beginning of the 11 day national holiday known as the IIHF World Junior Championships.

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This year's tournament is the 41st edition and will take place in Toronto, Ontario at the 19,746 seat Air Canada Centre and the 21,287 capacity Bell Centre in Montreal, Quebec with Montreal hosting two of the four Quarterfinals and both the Semifinals and Bronze and Gold Medal games. Ten nations will participate in this years competition, divided into the customary two groups. Group A consists of the Czech Republic, Denmark, the defending champions Finland, Sweden and Switzerland. All games in Group A will take place at the Bell Centre.

Meanwhile in Toronto, Group B features the hosts Canada, Latvia, Russia, Slovakia and the United States.

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Montreal's Bell Centre will host the Gold Medal Final

The tournament kicks off at 1 PM local time with the Sweden facing Denmark in Group A play. Two and a half hours later, the United States and Latvia begin play in Group B. The Czech Republic will attempt to defeat the defending champion Finland at 5 PM Eastern and the day ends with a heavyweight bout between Canada and Russia at 8 PM Eastern.

Other highlights on the schedule arrive on Thursday the 29th with Russia vs. the USA and Nordic rivals Finland battling Sweden. So, what did the organizers save for the final day of the Preliminary Round on New Year's Eve? The Swedes will face the Czechs and the seemingly annual New Year's Eve game between the United States and Canada happens at 3:30 PM. The final games to set the playoff seedings are between Finland and Switzerland at 5:30 PM and Russia and Slovakia at 8 PM.

The tournament takes it's traditional break on New Year's Day before the Quarterfinals on Monday,  January 2nd followed by the Semifinals on Wednesday, January 4th with the bronze and gold medal games on Thursday, January 5th.

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Finland celebrating last year's championship

The Relegation battle will almost certainly come down to Denmark vs. Latvia to be decided in a best-of-three series on January 2nd, 3rd and 5th. Key games will be Denmark vs. Switzerland in Group A and Latvia vs. Slovakia in Group B with both games taking place on December 30th.

Sweden is favored in Group A, while the experts are divided between the United States and Canada in Group B. Canada brings great depth as always and has an experienced roster of returning players including ten first round NHL draft picks on its roster, highlighted by captain Dylan Strome (Arizona Coyotes) and alternates Mathew Barzal (New York Islanders) and  Thomas Chabot (Ottawa Senators). Their goaltending also looks strong with CHL Goaltender of the Year Carter Hart and Connor Ingram, which should improve on the issues they had in goal last year when they were a very un-Canadian 9th out of 10 in save percentage and 5th in goals against.

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Dylan Strome

The United States, coached by St. Cloud State head coach Bob Motzko, lacks the highlight player they had last year in Auston Matthews, but has great depth and plenty of speed. First round draft pick by the Minnesota Wild Luke Kunin is the team captain of a squad that features plenty of talent from Boston, as the Boston University Terriers have no less than six players on the roster plus two more from Boston College. Other first round NHL picks on the American roster include Clayton Keller and Charlie McAvoy, both of BU, and Colin White of BC.

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Luke Kunin

Russia is not to be overlooked and has a recent history of big games when it matters most. Ilya Samsonov returns in goal and is among four first round draft picks on the roster along with defenseman Mikhail Sergachev and forwards German Rubtsov and Denis Gurianov.

In Group A, Sweden is led by first round NHL draft picks Joel Eriksson Ek and OHL and CHL Rookie of the Year Alexander Nylander at forward. Defensemen Gabriel Carlsson and Jacob Larsson are among 18 Swedish NHL draft picks that include 8 second and third rounders among a very strong squad that has gold medal aspirations.

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Joel Eriksson Ek

Finland's hopes to repeat rest on forward Eeli Tolvanen to lead a young group that includes NHL draft picks Kristian Vesalainen and Henrik Borgstrom.

Viewers in the United States can watch 16 Preliminary Round games on the NHL Network, including all the Group B games which includes all the United States, Canada and Russia preliminary round games, as well as all 8 Playoff Round contests.

In Canada, coverage has already begun on TSN with the airing of all three of Canada's exhibition games and will continue with all of the Preliminary Round games as well as all 8 of the Playoff Round games.

Today's featured jersey is a 2015 Canada National Team Connor McDavid jersey as worn the last time this year's host Canada would go on to win the gold medal.

Canada introduced new jerseys with a throwback feel for 2015 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of their governing body, Hockey Canada. The jerseys are loosely based on those worn by Team Canada at the lesser known 1974 Summit Series of 42 years ago, where the stars of the WHA took on the Soviet Union following the success of the 1972 Summit Series.

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Legends Gordie Howe and Bobby Hull during the 1974 Summit Series

Perhaps the nicest part of the package was the attractive 100th Anniversary logo patch, which featured a large maple leaf similar to the one worn back in 1924 as well as the enduring red and black Hockey Canada logo surrounded by the dates 1914 and 2014.

The Canadian appetite for hockey sees the Canadians introducing new jerseys more frequently than most countries and special one off jerseys on occasion, many of which are auctioned off, as is the case with this jersey from anticipated NHL star Connor McDavid, which sold for $19,600 Canadian dollars.

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Canada 2015 WJC McDavid jersey photo Canada 2015 WJC McDavid B jersey.jpg

Bonus jersey: Today's bonus jersey is a 2005 Canada National Team Sidney Crosby jersey as worn during the 2005 World Junior Championships. His actual game worn jersey was stolen following the tournament by an Air Canada baggage handler in Montreal. It was later recovered in a mailbox in Quebec.

Canada's win in 2005 was their first since a run of five consecutive gold medals from 1993 to 1997 and began another five year run of dominance that saw them take gold from 2005 to 2009.

Since that run of Canadian domination, the United States (twice 2010 and 2013), Russia (2011), Sweden (2012), Finland (2014 and 2016) and Canada (2015) have all won championships, five different nations in seven years. The Czech Republic faces long odds to to become the sixth, but hold the best chance of the remaining five nations.

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Canada 2005 WJC jersey photo Canada 2005 WJC B.jpg

Today's video segment begins with highlights of the 2015 gold medal game between Canada and Russia.

Next are highlights of last years gold medal game between Finland and Russia.

Finally, here are highlights of last year's entire tournament.

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