Allow me to act a little giddy right now because one of my favourite moments of the year is sitting down on Boxing Day and watching Canada kick off the World Juniors. It’s a fantastic feeling and even though the first matchup of the tournament is usually against a weak opponent, it’s still exciting to get a look at the team now that the games actually matter.
Canada had a fairly inconsistent run during their pre-tournament games. They beat Switzerland but there were definitely some points in the game where they looked shaky. They came out against Slovakia and looked fairly dominant en route to a 4-0 win. A player from each forward line picked up a goal and Prince Albert Raiders goalie Ian Scott pitched a shutout.
Then in the pre-tournament finale, they laid a bit of an egg against Team Finland, who will be one of the other powerhouse teams standing in the way of Canada and a second straight gold medal.
Even though it was just a pre-tournament game, the loss didn’t sit well with Team Canada, especially Maxime Comtois who expressed his feelings to TSN’s Mark Masters after the game.
🇨🇦 Maxime Comtois took last night's loss personally:
"I take the blame. I played probably my worst game in the season. It's part of my job, being a returning player, to play the right way & show the way & I didn't do that."https://t.co/zzvMrzTXmR
— Mark Masters (@markhmasters) December 24, 2018
Now, things start to matter as Canada will begin their round robin play with a matchup against Team Denmark.
While Denmark managed to avoid relegation last year, there weren’t a lot of positives for them to pull from the event. In four round robin games, they were outscored 26-2 and there was a 6-0 loss to Canada mixed in there as well
From Canada’s perspective, this is kind of just a “soft-opening”. Denmark will try their best, but Canada will probably roll over them.
CANADIANS TO WATCH
I won’t be reading too much into the play of Canada’s top-six. They should be able to go out and dominate. Instead, I’ll be watching some of Canada’s support players to see how they step up in the first game of the tournament
Someone like Joe Veleno has the ability to provide this team with some really strong secondary scoring, I’ll be watching to see how he clicks with his linemates. He and Shane Bowers hooked up on one of Canada two goals in their loss to Finland. They have some chemistry there.
Also, keep an eye on Jack Studnicka. He only has 33 points in 29 games with the Oshawa Generals which is solid but doesn’t really compare to the elite numbers we see from some other offensive players in this forward group, but he did score a powerplay goal in each of Canada’s two pre-tournament games.
He loves hanging out in the slot and acting as a bumper/net front presence with the top powerplay unit and given how much skill Canada has on their PP1, including Oilers prospect Evan Bouchard, there’s a chance Studnicka scores a lot of goals in this tournament.
Denmark has three players that currently play in North America, so there might be a little bit of an adjustment to the small ice for the majority of their roster.
They do have a pair of players who are currently playing in the SHL. Jonas Rondbjerg was taken in the third round of the 2017 NHL Draft by the Vegas Golden Knights. He’s currently playing with Vaxjo and has just two points in two games. His best attributes are his compete level and ability to read plays. I expect that to translate well at the WJC, where he should play heavy minutes.
There’s also Malte Setkov, a 6’7 defenseman who was taken 100th overall by Detroit in the 2017 Draft. His size will be the first thing that catches your eye, but he’s a very competent defenseman. He’ll eat a lot of minutes against Canada’s top six. In last years tournament, he was heavily relied on defensively and even added two points.
No official word on who Denmark will go with between the pipes, but I would expect it will be either William Rorth, who actually played a game at last year’s tournament or Mads Sogaard, who has a 2.39 GAA and a 0.931 SV% with the Medicine Hat Tigers this year. Their goaltending is actually pretty strong considering the rest of their team, so if they want any hope of winning this game, they’ll probably need 60 saves from whichever goalie is thrown into the net.
WHERE TO WATCH: You can catch this game on TSN 1 starting at 6 pm.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Canada will win by six goals. That just seems to be the way they usually handle these teams. They never full on embarrass them, but they make sure they announce their presence in the tournament.
NOT SO OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: 17-year-old super prospect Alexis Lafreniere will step up and score the first goal of the tournament. He won’t be relied on to be one of Canada’s big offensive producers, but I think he will be by the time the tournament ends.