Did you know that the NHL's next superstars are about to play a two-week international tournament? It's true. Starting Friday, December 26, top U20 hockey nations like Finland, Sweden, Russia, and the United States send their best players under 20 (assuming NHL teams aren't hanging on to them) to Toronto and Montreal to battle for gold.
It's weird, if you think about it, that Canada is hosting this tournament, given that they aren't a Top U20 Hockey Nation (defined as having won gold in the last 5 years). I guess it's sort of like Gary Bettman plopping teams in Sunrise and Glendale to try to grow the sport.
If you're asking me why you should care about this event, let me offer you one single highlight, ironically the last miracle Canada was able to pull off. It should do the trick.
(No, in the interest of historical accuracy, that's not the original audio. Fucking Pierre. That's such an amazing call without his body language icing nonsense.)
World Junior is fast, wide-open, and emotional hockey set on the backdrop of Canadian hockey entitlement, even more so than the Olympics are. It's a hell of a lot more fun than mid-season NHL action if you ask me. But maybe that's not enough. Maybe you also need emotional investment.
Why you should root for the US (even you, Avs fans in Canada)
There's only one Avalanche prospect in the tournament, and he's been named alternate captain for the US side. It's defenseman Will Butcher of the University of Denver. Canada, in their hubris, did not feel the need to include recent OHL player of the week Chris Bigras, defenseman for Owen Sound. Canadian Hockey Entitlement is so entrenched they don't feel the need to bring a guy like Bigras when they're up against the offensive likes of Jack Eichel or early 2016 top pick candidate Auston Matthews and the States represent the best shot at ensuring Canada remains without gold for a sixth straight year of panic and hilarity.
This is a two-phase tournament that starts with group play. Starting Friday, the five teams in each group will all play each other once, culminating in the US-Canada group stage match on December 31 at the Bell Centre. Yes, they're in the same group as usual. The groups are
- Finland, USA, Canada, Slovakia, Germany
- Denmark, Russia, Sweden, Switzerland, Czech Republic
The second stage runs from January 2-5 and ends with the medal round at Air Canada Centre on the 5th. It's a standard best-of-one tournament.
When, and where, to watch it
Obviously it's easiest to watch these games on TSN. The network has roughly a hundred channels with such imaginative names as "TSN 2," "TSN 3," and "TSN 5". You can catch all of them between those networks (sometimes on three of them at once). In the US, you'll want to turn to the NHL Network, but some of the games will be presented on a delay. Dan Bylsma is doing some color work during the tournament which should be interesting.
You can catch the full schedule here. Some of the preliminary games you won't want to miss are listed below. All times are Eastern.
- US v. Finland: 12/26 3pm
- US v. Slovakia: 12/29 4pm
- Russia v. Sweden: 12/29 5pm
- Canada v. Finland: 12/29 8pm
- US v. Canada: 12/31 4pm........that time. why :(