Around SB Nation's hockey sites, you might be used to the idea of game day threads being for specific games. For international sporting events, we actually break it down by days. So, this is what you'll get for all four of the games here on Puck Worlds, at least to start. Be sure to sign up and spend your day here talking about the action from the World Juniors.
Okay, so we know a little bit more about the teams now than when the previews were done up, but there's not a lot of time to go over the last minute cuts. Russia made the most significant cuts, finally trimming their team down to 22 after bring over 30 players with them to the pre-tournament games. For a quick look at the final rosters, check out Elite Prospects or get the official word from the IIHF.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is the big time. Many of these kids have never played in a NHL arena before. Many will never do so again. Sure, there are plenty of future international stars on these teams, but only as a cumulative group. This is the last age specific international tournament currently on the IIHF's agenda (though there have been preliminary talks about some kind of U22 version). After this, they'll be battling for spots on national teams with players upwards of twice their own age. At the start of this tournament, all of these players are still teenagers (a handful will turn 20 during the playoff round). This is as big of a hockey event as the majority will ever play in. Only a lucky few will find a bigger stage, be that the NHL, the World Championships, or for even fewer... the Olympics. Hence, my choice of a song to kick this off: "Prime Time of Your Life" by Daft Punk (although the mashed version on Alive 2007 was better). Plus, they're from France, so that's a good neutral team for this event, considering France's U20 team was way down in Division 2 this year.
If you haven't already (and judging by the huge jump in page views around here this past week, you have), check out the previews for a quick primer. Here is a summary of my predictions for the tournament (for whatever reason I decided to do such a dumb thing as publish this stupid, crazy, idea):
So I guess I believe that the first game most of you are likely to watch of this tournament will feature the same teams that will be in the last game: Canada vs. Russia. I find it amazing that my pick is probably not one that many at all will predict, since it is the oldest and most famous international hockey rivalry we have. Russia isn't getting a ton of respect heading into this tournament, and Canada is trying to fool themselves into believing that no one thinks they're a favourite. But the games that are televised aren't the only ones going on today, so feel free to comment on all of the games. Swedish television will be picking up some broadcasting, while there will be radio feeds at the very least for some of the lesser heralded teams (Germany vs. Switzerland). Here's the schedule for our favourite Boxing Day Special:
Germany vs. Switzerland, 12:30 PM EST, from HSBC Arena in Buffalo, NY
Huge games for both these teams, as you can tell by my predicted finish. This game could determine whether either of these two nations are going to return to the top level next year in Alberta. Sure, there will be other chances for wins, but none that will be more attainable for each team. Will Philipp Grubauer become this year's Benjamin Conz? Can (El) Nino Niederreiter come up big when everyone is now expecting it of him?
Russia vs. Canada, 4:00 PM EST, from HSBC Arena in Buffalo, NY
Russia vs. Canada. There's nothing more that ever needs to be said.
Norway vs. Sweden, 4:00 PM EST, from Dwyer Arena in Niagara, NY
Sweden is getting hosed with the scheduling, as the 2100 seat Dwyer Arena in Niagara is their home for their first three games, and their fourth game is against Canada, the day after playing the Czechs. Having a ticket for Sweden-Russia on Tuesday with such a small arena must be a bit of a dream ticket for just fans of the game in general, though. Sweden and Norway are geographic rivals, and historical ones in the non-hockey sense, but as a hockey game it's probably better served for the smaller stage.
Finland vs. USA, 8:00 PM EST, from HSBC Arena in Buffalo, NY
For Finland, this one is almost a pressure free game: they aren't expected to win, but they sure would like it if they did. For USA, this could be a huge wakeup call, but that'd probably be a good thing (provided they manage to still win, of course). If this was an easy win, it could cause some problems down the line. A win in this game sets both teams up for at least playing for a medal, given that both teams are expected to run the table in their group afterwards.