Teenage Riots: U20 Season Hits

Ah, the smiles of youth. St. Louis Blues first rounder Vladamir Tarasenko of Russia should be competing this December at the 2011 IIHF U20 World Junior Championships in Buffalo. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

The selection camp roster for the Canadian U20 team will be amongst the big news on Monday, as word is leaking throughout the junior hockey world about players getting invites, meaning they will be missing action for their major junior teams for a week or more.  December is almost here, and it can only mean one thing for a hockey fan:  teenage hockey.

The big show is coming up in Buffalo, starting on Boxing Day and running to Jan. 5, as per tradition.  The host Americans are the defending champions, and they'll compete with fellow contenders Canada, Russia, and Sweden for the title, while nations like Finland and Switzerland will try and pull of an upset or two to get into a medal game.  Hockey fans will get used to seeing games where teams post double digits in goals, and then potentially see a playoff game decided via shootout.  It's quite a different display of hockey from most, including other IIHF competition, as there can be a vast disparity in the talent level when dealing almost exclusively with 18 and 19 year olds. 

I'll be spending a lot of time on the elite nations over the next 40 days or so, but that's not the only thing happening on the international scene in that time, and not the only U20 tournament, either.  Four different championship tournaments (encompassing two Division 1 and two Division 2 level tournaments) will be held from Dec. 12-19, as the IIHF tries to determine the standing for each nation's players born in 1991 or later.  The whole tournament series will wrap up in mid-January in the booming hockey market of Mexico City, where the Division 3 championships will be held (featuring as far flung programs as New Zealand, North Korea, and Turkey). 

Join me after the jump for the schedule and a brief (p)review.

Back in June, I did a piece leading up to the NHL Entry Draft on the top junior hockey nations in the world.  I'll use that as a bit of a basis for the analysis here, but I'll also post each team's U20 standing separately, as not every nation values the U18 and U20 tournaments equally (Canada is a definite example of this, as many of their top major junior players are not available to play at the U18s, but are always available for the U20s).  The "Seed" Category is where they finished overall in the 2010 U20 Championships, while the 'NHL' refers to players drafted in 2009 & 2010 that are eligible to play for their country for these championships.  I won't list them for the Division 2 & 3 levels, as none of those countries have had a player drafted in that time frame.

Division 1 - Group B (December 12-18 in Slovenia), Group A (December 13-19 in Belarus)

IIHF U20 Div. 1B - Bled, Slovenia
Seed Country U20 Rank U20 + U18 NHL
10 Austria At_medium 11 15 0
13 Denmark Dk_medium
12 12 0
16 Slovenia Si_medium
16 19 0
17 Kazakhstan Kz_medium
13 14 0
20 Croatia Hr_medium
23 25 0
23 Lithuania Lt_medium
24 23 0

 

The championship season will kick off in the tiny Alps resort city of Bled in northwestern Slovenia, on Dec. 12th.  All of the tournaments below the top level are strict round robin tournaments, and while this one doesn't feature a single current NHL prospect, there will likely be a couple of potential 2011 draft eligible players at this tournament.  We'll have to wait for the rosters to come out, and I'll look at some of these programs in a little bit more detail in coming weeks, but Denmark, Austria, Slovenia and Kazakhstan have produced NHL talent in the past, and Denmark has had two draft picks the past two years, they just no longer hold U20 eligibility. 

IIHF U20 Div. 1A - Bobrusik, Belarus
Seed Country U20 Rank U20 + U18 NHL
9 Latvia Lv_medium
9 10 1
14 Belarus By_medium
14 11 1
15 Italy It_medium
17 18 0
18 Ukraine Ua_medium
18 22 0
19 Japan Jp_medium
22 21 0
24 Great Britain Gb_medium
25 24 0

 

The Group A tournament will be in the city of Babruysk, Belarus, which appears to be a city with a rather depressing history.  This tournament is a bit more top heavy than the B group, as Latvia is becoming a bit of a constant at the championship level, being there three of the previous four years.  However, they'll be in tough with their main competition, neighbouring Belarus, hosting the event.  Two NHL prospects, both seventh round draft picks, will likely play in this tournament.  Kirill Gotovets, a freshman defenseman at Cornell University, is eligible to play for Belarus, while WHL winger Kristians Pelss (currently playing for the Edmonton Oil Kings) will line up for Latvia.  In the meantime, the preliminary Japanese roster has already been announced, featuring almost exclusively University players and a half-German coaching staff led by former professional player Mark Mahon.

Like in Group B, the winner of this tournament will participate in the top level of the 2012 U20 World Junior Championships in Edmonton and Calgary, Canada.  And, like Group B, the team in last place in each tournament will end up spending next year at the Group II level.  

Division 2 - Group A (Dec 13-19 in Estonia), Group B (Dec 13-19 in Romania)

IIHF U20 Div. 2A - Tallinn, Estonia
Seed Country U20 Rank U20 + U18
21 France Fr_medium
19 17
26 The Netherlands Nl_medium
27 27
27 Spain Es_medium
29 30
30 Belgium Be_medium
31 31
31 Estonia Ee_medium
26 28
36 Iceland Is_medium
35 36

 

Tallinn is a city on my wish list, so hopefully these teenagers get a chance to see the place a bit outside their hotels and the rink.  France is in a bit of uncharted territory in the second division, and realistically this should be a quick and easy return to Division 1 for them.  We've been seeing a few Dutch players in some junior and collegiate leagues in North America in recent years, so they'll definitely be the toughest challenge here.  Estonian hockey hasn't been getting anywhere in recent years, so hopefully this tournament sparks some renewed interest at least amongst the hockey community there...  and in that vein, hopefully the hosts get a couple of wins out of this. 

IIHF U20 Div. 2B - Miercurea Ciuc, Romania
Seed Country U20 Rank U20 + U18
22 Poland Pl_medium
20 16
25 Hungary Hu_medium
21 20
28 Romania Ro_medium
30 29
29 South Korea Kr_medium
28 26
32 China Cn_medium
33 33
35 Australia Au_medium
36 35

 

Yep, they're heading to Transylvania for this tournament.  Miercurea-Ciuc is the hockey capital of Romania, and is home to a new arena.  Here's a recent IIHF article on the state of the city's hockey teams.  Poland is definitely the country to beat here as well, but they've performed better at the U18 level than the U20 level for some reason.  The locals will hope that home ice can help them medal at the tournament...  winning it is probably too much to ask.  Australia and China will probably just be looking forward to their game against each other to try and stay in the second division. 

IIHF U20 World Junior Championship Exhibtion Series

Prior to the actual series, which runs from Dec. 26-Jan. 5 in Buffalo and Niagara, New York, both Team Canada and Team USA will host a series of exhibition games with some of the other teams.  Here's a brief schedule, as each of the 10 countries will be playing at least one exhibition, be it in upstate New York or southern Ontario (all times EST):

U20 WJC Exhibition Series Schedule
Date Time Teams City Arena
Dec. 19 4:00 PM USA (1) vs. RPI (university) Troy, NY, USA Houston Field House
Dec. 20 7:00 PM Canada (2) vs. Switzerland (4)
Oshawa, ON, CAN General Motors Centre
Dec. 21 7:00 PM USA (1) vs. Czech Republic (7)
Rochester, NY, USA The Sports Centre at MCC
Dec. 21 7:30 PM Slovakia (8) vs. Norway (12)
Jamestown, NY, USA Savings Bank Arena
Dec. 21 7:30 PM Canada (2) vs. Sweden (3)
Toronto, ON, CAN Air Canada Centre
Dec. 22 7:00 PM Czech Republic (7) vs. Germany (11)
Rochester, NY, USA The Sports Centre at MCC
Dec. 23 4:00 PM Slovakia (8) vs. Russia (6)
Jamestown, NY, USA Savings Bank Arena
Dec. 23 7:00 PM Sweden (3) vs. Switzerland (4)
St. Catherines, ON, CAN Gatorade Garden City Complex
Dec. 23 7:30 PM USA (1) vs. Norway (12)
Jamestown, NY, USA Savings Bank Arena
Dec. 23 7:30 PM Canada (2) vs. Finland (5)
Kitchener, ON, CAN Kitchener Memorial Auditorium

 

Teams can make last minute changes to their roster, so these exhibition series will probably carry a couple of extra players either as part of an extended audition or a "just in case" scenario.  At least some of the Canadian games are going to be televised, likely the Canada-Sweden game from the ACC will be on TSN in prime time, so you'll be able catch a glimpse of the teams before the real action begins.  It's almost too bad that with this tournament being so close to the Canadian-USA border, that Canada and the USA are staying in their respective countries and one of them isn't crossing over for an exhibition against each other, as there is no guarantee this year of any Canada-USA matchup at all.

Last year, the exhibition series was held in some pretty small arenas across Saskatchewan, including SJHL markets like Humboldt and even the small town of Unity hosted a Latvia-Austria game, where the players were treated like celebrities and signed autographs at the local elementary school.  Hopefully these games can create a similar buzz in these markets, particularly in the Junior A market of Jamestown, NY.  They even have a full listing of the practice schedules for the teams when they're in town, and are offering tickets for the 3 games plus all the practices for $54 ($30-$45 for just the games). 

I'll have more on the actual championship, and all of the nations competing as we approach Christmas.  This month will be dedicated mostly to the junior tournaments here, but we'll also cover the Spengler Cup and look at a few other smaller tournaments happening as well.  The U18 Women's Worlds takes place in Stockholm starting Jan. 2, and Div. III U20 WJCs runs Jan. 9-18, while the Continental Cup Super Final is Jan 14-16.  There's a reason I'm trying to get a head start on all of this!

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