December 26, 2008

2009 World Junior Championships

Before Christmas day I reminisced about my favorite Christmas memories, the music, the television specials, and holiday seasons past. But like many Canadians my favorite holiday tradition has to be the World Junior Hockey Championships. Be sure to check out TSN, The Hockey News, Hockey Canada and SportsNet's Gare Joyce for the best online coverage.

The 2009 World Juniors is being held in Ottawa, opening tonight. The host Canadian team is gunning for their record tying 5th consecutive gold medal. They open the tournament against the Czechs tonight.

It will certainly be no easy task. Canada is never not a favorite to win. But this time around Sweden, Russia and the Americans all sport older rosters and are strong contenders.

That being said, Canada looked real good in exhibition, mind you that was against travel-weary Sweden, pesky Finland and overmatched Slovakia. They are younger and smaller than Canadian teams of the past, especially considering the small ice home advantage. And several of their top players are unavailable because they are already in the National Hockey League. Regardless, this Team Canada is highly skilled, extremely well coached, and excellent on breakouts and transitions. They also sport a lethal power play.

Who's The Favorite To Win?

I am hardly qualified to judge the tournament favorites based on a couple of exhibition games. Judging any of these players based on such a small sample size is a very dangerous way of assessing a player. And I do not get enough of a look at hockey at this level to really pass much judgment on the players. That being said, John Tavares, Cody Hodgson, Ryan Ellis and Zach Boychuk have impressed me so far.

Kamloops Blazer writer Gregg Drinnan, who moonlights at his blog Taking Note, sees a lot of junior hockey. So I asked him who he thinks is the tournament favorite:

"Canada has to be favored primarily because the tournament is being played in the country where it matters the most. Yes, Canada always will have a competitive team at this level. But when Canada plays at home in front of fans who care about this tournament as much as Canadians do, well, part of me wants to feel sorry for the other teams.

"But, at the same time, you know that Canada is in tough because each team it plays is playing in Game 7 of its Stanley Cup final. Still, Canada should prevail. I do feel that Canada will miss left-winger Dana Tyrell, who suffered a knee injury Friday in an exhibition game against Sweden. He is an energy guy who can score and I don't know that Canada has anyone on its roster capable of filling that role."

Tyrell is definitely a loss for Canada. He plays in Prince George, and I've had the chance to study him in person. He's a hard hitting, impact player, described by Drinnan as a modern day Pat Verbeek. Tyrell was identified as a key player for Canada because of his pugnacity, and was even placed on the top line with John Tavares in his only exhibition game.

Canada replaced Tyrell with the high scoring 17 year old Evander Kane, but they will definitely be looking for some sandpaper elsewhere in the ranks.

Tomorrow Mr. Drinnan will introduce to us some of the key players for Canada and other teams.

Team Canada Czech Republic Finland Germany Russia Slovakia Sweden USA

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