With just one gold in the last eight years and only five medals over that span, it’s safe to say that the days of Canada being a World Junior powerhouse are over. However, with the tournament being in Buffalo, history says that we should expect Canada to go home with some sort of medal, just like they have the previous 12 times that the World Juniors were played on North American soil.
Things kick off later today, so let’s get a little familiar with the group that will be vying for Canada’s first gold since 2015.
Tanner Kaspick, Owen Tippett, and Nick Suzuki are all over a point per game for their respective junior teams, and none of them were selected by Canada for this year’s team. The criticism of Canada’s choice to cut some notable offensive producers has been noted over the past weeks and has most wondering how this team will score goals.
They silenced those critics to some extent over the course of their two pre-tournament games where they combined to score 17 goals.
In the first game, it was the Boris Katchouk – Robert Thomas – Taylor Raddysh line that took over, combining for nine points.
In their second match, Dillon Dube – Sam Steel – Jordan Kyrou took over, putting up eight points as a unit. They also got two goals from Tyler Steenbergen, who was listed as the 13th forward coming into the game, but proved that he can contribute when given the chance. The 19-year-old Steenbergen has a knack for scoring goals as well with 86 goals in his last 99 WHL games with Swift Current. He could be a really nice surprise for Canada.
Their top six appears to be developing some chemistry and Head Coach Dominic Ducharme has made it clear that he plans on keeping the same lines together so they can continue to get more comfortable with one another.
They’ll also be relying on experience with three returning players up front. The aforementioned Dillon Dube and Taylor Raddysh both played on the team last year, as did Michael McLeod. The fact that Ducharme has split up these three on to separate lines, shows how much he values that previous experience. You can find the complete list of forwards and the rest of Team Canada’s roster HERE.
The group of defensemen that Canada has selected will also play a huge role in providing offense. While they’re a relatively small group, with the exception of Cal Foote who’s 6’4, they are incredibly mobile.
They aren’t afraid to jump up into the rush and they showed that against the Czechs and Swiss. Similar to the forward group, they also have some returning talent. Jake Bean, the Carolina Hurricanes first-rounder, is a complete d-man. His strong offensive instincts don’t take away from his play in his own end. He played last year, but I’m excited to see him get an elevated role this time around.
LA Kings prospect Kale Clague put up six points in last years tournament and I expect him to be one of the best players at this year’s tournament. I watched him this year with the Brandon Wheat Kings and his ability to seamlessly join the rush is almost breathtaking.
Victor Mete has been loaned to Team Canada from the Montreal Canadiens and is the only player on the team to be sent back from an NHL club. Mete was selected 100th overall in 2016 and managed to crack the Habs roster out of training camp this year. He’s appeared in 27 games, only posting four points, but the experience of playing against men should help him thrive in this year’s World Juniors.
Dante Fabbro could be another returning player, but he’s currently out with a lower-body injury. He skated for the first time in over a week on Saturday, but he’ll be a last minute decision. If Fabbro can’t go, then it’s likely that Josh Mahura will join the group of d-man that also includes Cale Makar, Conor Timmins and Cal Foote. They’re loaded on the back end and it’s clear that it’s the strength of the team.
UPDATE: Team Canada has cut Josh Mahura for a second time, meaning Dante Fabbro is healthy and ready to go. Heartbreaking for Mahura. The St. Albert product has now been through the pain of being cut twice in the last ten days. Af for Fabbro, it’s a big addition if one of their returning d-men can contribute and be 100%.
BETWEEN THE PIPES
For the first time in what seems like forever, there’s no goaltending controversy when it comes to Team Canada. Flyers prospect Carter Hart will be the starter, while NCAA standout Colton Point will handle the backup duties.
Hart has been out of this world so far this year with the Everett Silvertips, posting a 1.32 GAA and a 0.961 save percentage. Those aren’t typos. He’s actually THAT good
The 19-year-old Hart also backstopped Canada to a silver medal at last years tournament, taking over in the semi-final after Connor Ingram was yanked against Sweden. In that game, Hart stopped all 26 shots he faced, helping Canada reach the final where they lost against the USA.
I think Hart’s presence will also relax the group in front of him. The d-corp is a very mobile group and there’s no doubt that with a goalie like Hart as the last line of defense, the D won’t be afraid to take some risks in the name of scoring goals.
Should Hart sputter at any point, Colton Point is no slouch. His numbers over the past two seasons with Colgate University are incredible (1.90 GAA & a 0.938 SV% this year) and although I haven’t watched him play, the scouting reports I’ve read on North Bay, Ontario product are all very positive.
Canada will open things up on Boxing Day against Finland, who some are saying could be a surprise contender this year after almost being relegated in 2017 and firing their coach mid-tournament.
On the 27th, Canada will face Slovakia, who they held to just six shots in a game last year. They will follow that with an outdoor game against the Americans on the 29th. The rematch of last year’s final probably won’t be the best display of skill, given that they’re playing outdoors in Buffalo, which is a shame. Regardless, it will be quite the spectacle.
They finish round robin play on the 30th against Denmark. The semifinals are set for January 4th and if Canada were to make the gold medal game, it would be played on January 5th. You can find the complete tournament schedule HERE.
I’ll have game-day previews before every Canadian game right here on the nation as well, so stay posted as Canada looks to return to dominant form at the 2017 World Junior Championships.