By BTTN hockey correspondent Michael Ghofrani, reporting from Buffalo, NY.
The world junior hockey championships are almost half way done and it’s time to look back at the good and the bad from the round robin.
Things have already gone downhill for the Americans (who are trying to win back-to-back championships for the first time). Just 2 games in, and the Americans have already lost top forwards Jeremy Morin and Islanders first round pick Brock Nelson to injury.
While Nelson’s injury timetable has yet to be determined, sources close to Team USA have said that Morin could be done for the remainder of the tournament but this shouldn’t be a problem for the reigning champion’s right? Unfortunately it’s difficult to look optimistic when your injury riddled team gives up a point to the likes of Finland. That’s not to take anything away from the Fins, but when you’re trying to maintain your title as world junior champions, you can’t afford to give up points like these.
Luckily for the U.S they have the easier of the two groups with their toughest opponents being Finland and Switzerland so winning the group should not be too difficult however with the injuries they have sustained their chances of repeating gold are very slim.
As for the dark horse of this group I would have to go with Finland. They may be in the weaker group however their performance against the U.S showed great resilience as they came back twice in that game. If they continue to play great defensively and continue to get great goaltending from Joni Ortio, the Fins could have a real shot at grabbing a medal in this year’s tournament.
(also referred to as the group of death) It too has become a two horse race. Unless the Canadians lose by nine to Sweden they have essentially claimed first place in their group, however much like the U.S, their victories did not come without a price. On the morning of December 30th it was announced that Forward Jaden Schwartz would miss the rest of the tournament with an ankle injury, a severe blow for the Canadian quest for gold. However unlike the U.S, team Canada has other players on the roster that could step up their game and fill the void left by Jaden Schwartz.
Players to watch include Buffalo Sabres draft pick Marcus Foligno, consensus first overall pick Sean Courturier and look for L.A Kings first round pick Brayden Schenn to step up his game as we enter the elimination round.
While 1st place has been all but locked up, the race for second in Group B should be an interesting one. Even though Sweden currently sits in second it is highly unlikely that they will maintain this spot, considering the fact that the Swede’s will close out the tournament against Canada minus their star Gabriel Landeskog.
In my opinion the best bet for second place would be the Russians. Even though they still don’t have a point in the tournament, the Russians will face off against the Czech Republic and Norway in their remaining games and with many teams missing key players to injury, don’t be surprised if we see the Russians in this year’s final, after all they did take it to the Junior squads of Canada during the subway super series.
Before the tournament started I had originally picked another U.S vs. Canada final and a Russia vs. Sweden bronze medal game.
However in light of all the injuries I have considerably altered my predictions. Even though they lost Jaden Schwartz for the tournament, team Canada is still my pick for gold. There is just far too much skill and depth, not to mention some added toughness with Zach Kassian and Marcus Foligno, for them not to reclaim their title on their rivals ice the same way the U.S did.
As for their opponent I’m going to go bold here and say that the Russians will knock out the U.S for the spot at the gold medal game. After watching the way they played against Finland I’m not quite convinced that they will do any better against Russia.
Thus, I have picked the U.S to finish third to claim bronze by edging their group rival Finland, who will finish fourth.