It's time. The 2012 IIHF U20 World Junior Championship kicks off with four games today in the province of Alberta in western Canada. For the first time ever, two NHL rinks are being made available for the tournament, with Calgary's Scotiabank Saddledome being the host of Group A action as well as the medal rounds, and Edmonton's Rexall Place hosting Group B action. Here's a look at today's games, and click on the links on each nation for their team preview (Russia is coming later).
These two teams met in pre-tournament action, with Canada winning 3-1 in what was a fairly listless affair. Finland had just been in the country for one day, and Canada was down a couple of forwards due to injury. Finland beat Slovakia 3-0 in their only other action, while Canada beat the Swiss 7-1 and lost to Sweden 5-3. It's all academic now, but this should be a great opener between two gold medal contenders. Mikael Granlund is the top player at this tournament in terms of pedigree, coming off an incredible performance at the IIHF World Men's Championships in which he helped Finland to an improbable gold medal, and a share of the points lead in Finland's SM-Liiga when he left for the World Juniors, something that just doesn't happen for junior-aged players. The crowd should be loud and proud, and the action will be great.
Broadcast: TSN/RDS (Canada), MTV3 (Finland), Viasat (Sweden), Eurosport2 (Europe), NTV Plus (Russia)
Latvia returns, but they're in for a rude awakening. It's always the case for the teams promoted from Division 1 that their first game in the elite tournament will be a blowout loss, and I expect nothing less from this game vs. Sweden. Sweden is ready for a great tournament, led by top end talent throughout in all positions. Latvia is led by the best junior players in a nation that is about as large in population as Edmonton and Calgary combined. Expect a blowout.
Broadcast: SVT (Sweden), TSN2 (Canada)
The Americans might be my pick for gold, but they won't be facing gold medal calibre competition to open this tournament. Denmark, like Latvia, will do well if they hold their opponents to less than ten goals. Expect the USA to use all their players, and perhaps their depth players, a bit more in this game. And expect some of them to look for big stat totals as well. For Denmark, look for little victories, like not getting outshot by a 2:1 ratio in a period.
Broadcast: NHL Network (USA), TSN2 (Canada)
Group A, Game 2: Switzerland vs. Russia - 8:00 PM MST (10:00 PM EST), Scotiabank Saddledome, Calgary
The defending gold medallists will kick off their tournament with a modest test in Switzerland. The high-octane offensive attack of Russia should be able to dominate this game for long stretches, although Switzerland has proven a frustrating foe for many teams, including Russia, in the past. Switzerland will need to take advantage of any special teams opportunity, as they do have some very skilled, albeit small forwards that could make this game interesting.
Broadcast: NTV Plus (Russia), TSN2 (Canada), Viasat (Sweden)
Also, feel free to talk about Spengler Cup action that is going on as well in Davos, Switzerland. Viktovice from the Czech Republic (featuring Australian teenager and 2012 Draft eligible forward Nathan Walker) takes on Marty Turco and Team Canada on TSN2.
SPIRIT OF GIVING
Finally, stop by The Sleeping Giant, a pro-USA WJC blog by Ryan Lambert of Puck Daddy and Chemmy from Pension Plan Puppets and make a donation to Right to Play or Justin Bourne's family charity, Bourne Family & Friends, in support of research for spina bifida.