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Team Canada Preview: Canada kicks off tournament against Czechia

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Photo credit:Hockey Canada
baggedmilk
1 month ago
The World Junior Championship is back, and this time with its normal Boxing Day launch date instead of the strange and somewhat forgotten summer spectacular. Are you excited? I’m excited.
After winning gold in the incredibly odd and somewhat forgotten-about summer tournament in Edmonton, Canada hosts the WJC yet again, this time in Halifax and Moncton. Expectations are always high for Canada at the World Junior Championship and that is absolutely the case once again as they kick off the tournament against Team Czechia. With plenty of drafted talent littering the roster and two of the top draft-eligible prospects in Bedard and Fantilli in the mix as well, Canada is always the team to beat, and with expectations as high as Canada’s, anything less feels like a failure. Whether that’s fair or not is up for debate, but there’s little doubt that Canada will be the target for every other club in the tournament as they look to repeat the summer tournament win from back in August.
First up on the schedule for Canada is Team Czechia, the fourth-place finisher from the August tournament after they fell to Sweden 3-1 in the bronze medal game. The Czechs are bringing 16 players back from the squad that reached the bronze medal game, but with the major addition of 17-year-old Eduard Sale who is expected to be a top-10 pick at the upcoming NHL draft in June. Depending on where you look, Sale has been ranked as high as #2 in the prospect rankings and will certainly be a player of focus for Canada here in game one. Will the experience and influx of additional talent be enough for Czechia to build upon a strong summer tournament? We’re only a few short hours from finding out how they’ll handle their first big challenge. The last time these two teams met at the WJC was back in August during the semi-finals, a game Canada won by a 5-2 score.

LOOKING AT THE TEAM CZECHIA

Over at Daily Faceoff, prospect analyst, Steven Ellis, wrote a detailed breakdown of what to expect from this year’s Czechia squad, and as you’ll see, this is a team with plenty of weapons that can easily burn Canada of they’re not careful.
On August 14, 2022, Czechia suffered one of the most disappointing losses in recent history. They lost 5-2 to a Latvian team that, under normal circumstances, wouldn’t have even been participating. Fast forward to August 17, and they managed to eliminate the previously undefeated American squad 4-2 off the heels of an incredible performance by Tomas Suchanek in the crease. The Czechs enter the 2023 tournament with a team that all of the major powers should be worried about. A gold seems unlikely, but after finishing fourth in the summer, there’s a real belief they can contend for a medal again this year.

NHL Draft watch

A projected top-10 pick, all eyes will be on Eduard Sale. The 2005-born forward has spent the whole year in the top men’s league and has looked good, despite his age. He has one of the best minds in the draft, especially when it comes to decision-making. Add in a quick release and good work ethic and there’s a lot to like. Being an underaged prospect shouldn’t hurt him – Sale will play quite a bit.

Projection

This team’s identity is clear: they will be a pain in the behind to play against. They might not have the best depth at any specific position, but they’ve got size, scoring acumen and solid goaltending. While I don’t think they’d be a favorite to beat Finland or USA in the quarterfinal, those are definitely solid matchups for them, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they won that. They need their goaltending to be strong, but that quarterfinal game, regardless of opponent, is their gold medal game.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

Team Canada:

Othmann – Wright – Bedard
Fantilli – Stankoven – Guenther
Dean – Gaucher – Roy
Dach – Bankier – Schaeffer
Del Mastro – Zellweger
Hinds – Clarke
Allan – Korchinski
Milic

Team Czechia:

Kulich – Sapovaliv – Sale
Szturc – Brabenec – Chmelar
Kos – Mensik – Rysavy
Mechura – Marcel – Hauser
Tichacek – Chabada
Svozil – Spacek
Hamara – Moravec
Suchanek

TONIGHT…

GAME DAY PREDICTION: Canada starts the tournament with a decisive 4-2 win.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Connor Bedard snipes a shot from the right circle and there’s nothing that Czechia can do about it.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Reid Schaeffer chips in with a big goal in the second period to cement Canada’s lead and eventual victory.

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