Hockey and tournaments go hand-in-hand, as any hockey parent can attest to. Maybe the ultimate hockey tournament outside of the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs is the World Juniors that is held every year at the end of December. The level of hockey that is on display is usually on par with the pros.
This time around the best of the Under 20-year old male players in the world congregated in Montreal and Toronto to decide if anybody could knock Finland off their perch as defending champions. Turns out it was Finland who defeated themselves, as they had to go into the tournament without their best young players, who were busy tearing up the NHL. The disappointing Finns suddenly were fighting for their lives to avoid relegation to the B pool (something they avoided when they beat Latvia twice in the relegation round).
Teams such as Switzerland and Denmark, not traditional hockey powers, played well at this tournament and made people sit up and notice that the game is growing throughout the world. The United States were once one of those teams that was not considered a serious contender, but those days are long gone.
The Americans went 4 and 0 in the preliminary round, including taking down the host Canadians 3-1 on New Year’s Eve. Sweden also won all four of their games, which is what they usually do. Their stumbling block recently has been in the playoff games.
In the one-game quarterfinals, Sweden handled Slovakia easily, dispatching them 8-3. The other three games were much closer. Canada edged the Czechs 5-3, while Switzerland pushed the Americans, before finally falling to the Yanks 3-2. Russia had an easier time moving on, beating the plucky Danes
That set up two delicious semi-final games. Who doesn’t like a Russian-American faceoff? And the undefeated Swedes face a host Canadian team that only dropped that one game to the States.
All the playoff games are played at the Bell Centre in Montreal, and there is still debate raging as to whether or not home ice advantage helps, or hurts, a team in this tournament. The truth is, in a one game winner moves on scenario, luck may matter as much as any factor.
Most of these young men will at least have a shot at a career in the National Hockey League, and a few of them will become household names. For the rest, a chance to play in this tournament will remain a hockey highlight for the rest of their lives, regardless of whether or not their national anthem plays after the final game.
Hear the World Juniors Gold Medal game this Thursday, January 4th at 8 pm ET on SiriusXM Canada Talks channel 167.