Preview: World Junior Championships


For many Canadians, today marks the first day of one of their favorite times of the year.  Boxing Day is synonymous with the World Junior Championships and Canada’s first game.  Canadians don’t care if any other country thinks this tournament matters, all they care about is winning it.  Ten countries open the tournament with hopes of being in the gold medal game on January 5th.  While there are probably 5 of those teams with actual legitimate chances of being medallists, all teams enter the tournament with hopes and dreams.

I will give a brief overview of each team and then give my predictions.


Last Year:  Canada finished 3-0-1 in the round robin for 2nd in Group B.  Defeated Switzerland in the Quarters and the USA in the Semifinals.  They had a 3-0 lead on Russia after two periods, but Russia came out in the third and scored 5 unanswered goals to send the devastated Canadians home with a Silver Medal.

Players to Watch

G – Mark Visentin – He was the victim of the 5 goal third period against the Russians last year and hasn’t been the same goalie since.  He has struggled in Niagara this season and hasn’t looked stellar in his pre-tournament games so far.

D – Dougie Hamilton – The 8th overall pick of the Boston Bruins is among the OHL’s leading scorers, and its top scoring defenseman.  His play, especially on the power play, will dictate the success of the Canadians tournament.

F – Jaden Schwartz – The returning forward had his tournament cut short last year after just 2 games due to a fractured foot.  He was named captain this year and he will be counted on in all aspects of the game to provide leadership and scoring.

Of Ottawa Interest – F Mark Stone was a late round pick in 2010 of the Senators.  The Brandon Wheat King has goals in each of Canada’s pretournament games and will be an offensive factor as the tournament goes on for a team that will be offensively challenged.

2012 Draft Lookout – D Ryan Murray was a couple of weeks too young for the 2011 draft, where he would have been a first round pick.  Ranked as a top 5 prospect in the 2012 draft. 


Last Year:  The Czechs were a disappointing 1-3 in the round robin and were forced to play in the relegation round.  They had no problems in the relegation round and ensured their participation in the 2012 championships with a 9th place finish.

Players to Watch

G – Petr Mrazek – The Ottawa 67’s netminder was left off the roster last season in a contract dispute with a club team in the Czech Republic.  That issue was resolved in the week prior to selection camp and he should be the #1 goalie.  Has signed his entry level contract with the Detroit Red Wings, who selected him in 2010.

D – David Musil – A shutdown defenseman with the Vancouver Giants is a 2nd round pick of the Edmonton Oilers.  Will provide the odd bit of offense, but the son of former NHLer Frank Musil’s strength is being tough to play against.

F – Radek Faksa – The youngest player on the Czech squad, the Kitchener Rangers forward has put up over a point per game in the OHL in his first season.  He might not be a prime player at the start of the tournament, but as he goes along the 17 year old will make his mark if the Czech’s will be successful.

Of Ottawa Interest – Culek was the Senators’ 3rd round pick in 2010.  The Rimouski Oceanic winger has already surpassed last season’s scoring total and has 23 points in 32 games in the “Q”.

2012 Draft Lookout – D Petr Zamorsky could be a top 20 pick in the upcoming draft, one of a number of draft eligible players. 


Last Year:  Denmark won the Division 1 Group B tournament to be advanced to participate in the top division this year.  This is alwasy tough for these countries as many players who helped them get promoted are not returning to help them in the next level.  Denmark will be in tough and faces a likely relegation in this  tournament.

Players to Watch

Nicklas Jensen – The Oshawa Generals winger is the lone CHL player on the Danes roster.  He is the  only drafted player on the roster (Vancouver Canucks).

Nicolai Meyer –  Led Denmark last year with 8 goals and 12 points in 5 games to help Denmark get promoted to the top level.

Mads Eller – The 16 year old is the younger brother of Montreal Canadiens forward Lars.  He is not eligible until the 2013 NHL draft.

2012 Draft Lookout – F Thomas Spelling is the highest ranked among a boatload of eligible prospects.  How many will actually get drafted is an unknown but a this tournament will be a good chance for some hopefuls to show their stuff to scouts that wouldn’t otherwise see them.


Last Year:  Like Canada, the Finns were devastated by a Russian comeback as they held a 2 goal lead early in the third period only to lose in overtime of the quarterfinals.  They lost to Switzerland to end up in 6th place.

Players to Watch

F – Joel Armia – A first round pick of the Buffalo Sabres last summer, Armia brings a north-american blend of power and skill to his game.

D – Marcus Granlund – The Flames draft pick  last summer has excelled this year playing with his brother. 

F – Michael Granlund – Thought of as one of the best players (junior or otherwise) playing outside of the NHL.  Missed this tournament last season due to concussion and will be a star in this one.

2012 Draft Lookout – D Olli Maatta.  The London Knight prospect is a surefire first rounder, and most likely a top 10 pick.


Last Year: Latvia continued to ping-pong between the top division and division 1.  They won Group A of the Division 1 tournament to earn promotion to this tournament.  They went 5-0, only allowing 3 goals against relatively inferior opponents last year.

Players to Watch

F – Zemgus Girgensons – Playing in the USHL, Grigensons is a top prospect for the upcoming draft.  He led Latvia with 4 goals in last year’s division 1 tournament to help them get promoted to the Top Division.

F – Teodors Bluegers – Currently playing at reknown US prep school Shattuck St Mary’s, he is also slated to be a high pick in this summer’s draft.

F – Kristians Pelss – The only NHL drafted player (Edmonton Oilers) on the Latvian roster, Pelss is one of 5 returnees. He led Latvia with 31 penalty minutes in 5 games.  He brings an element of toughness and grit to the club.  He is the only CHL player on the roster, currently playing with the Edmonton Oil Kings in the WHL.

2012 Draft Lookout – F Girgensons could be picked in the top 10 in the upcoming draft.


Last Year:  Russia became the cardiac kids, as they had come-from-behind wins in all three playoff games.  Their 5 goal third period crushed the Canadian hopes, and secured the gold medal.

Players to Watch

F – Nail Yakupov – Could be the top pick in the upcoming draft.  Yakupov has excelled for the Sarnia Spirit in the OHL and will be an offensive spark for the Russians as they attempt to defend their gold medal.

F – Mikhail Grigerenko – Another contender to be the top pick in the draft, Grigorenko is playing for Patrick Roy and the Quebec Remparts in the QMJHL. 

F – Yevgeni Kuznetsov  – The lone returnee from the Gold Medalists from last year.  He will be counted on to provide leadership and try to bring the emotion from the win forward to this tournament.

2012 Draft Lookout – Yakupov and Grigorenko could easily go 1-2 this year in the draft.  They are the class forwards available and depending on need of the teams selecting in those spots, could be the first time ever that Russians go first and second overall. 


Last Year:  A disappointing tournament for the Slovaks, they had to play in the relegation round, where they ended up being the last club to retain their status in the Top Division, finishing 8th overall.

Players to Watch

G – Tomas Jurco – Won a Memorial Cup with the Saint John Sea Dogs in the “Q”.  He struggled at last year’s tournament, only netting one goal.  He will be counted on to provide more offense if the Slovaks are going to improve on the finish from last year.  The Red Wings prospect is having another stellar year in the Q, but his determination and fortitude has been questioned in the past.

D – Martin Marnincin– Playing for the Prince George Cougars, Marinicn is a top prospect of the Edmonton Oilers.  This will be his thord WJC, but last year his tournament was cut short due to a 4 game suspension that hurt the chances of his club. 

F – Marek Tvrdon – Along with Jurco, holds the keys to the Slovakia offense. 

Of Ottawa Interest – D Michal Cajkovsky is in his first season with the Ottawa 67’s in the OHL, while D Adam Janosik patrols the blue line for the Gatineau Olympiques. 

2012 Draft Lookout – It isn’t a strong year for Slovakian prospects, but look for 2013 eligible F Marko Dano to make a mark at some point in this tournament. 


Last Year:  After edging out Canada to win group B of the Preliminary round, Sweden earned a bye to the semi-finals, but lost a heartbreaker in a shootout to the eventual gold medal winning Russians.  They then went home empty-handed and disappointed as the US beat them in the Bronze Medal game.

Players to Watch

F – Mika Zibanejad – The Senators’ first round pick in 2011 will be a force in this tournament.  He scored a pair against Canada in a pre-tournament game and he looked like a man among boys with his powerful skating and his size. The natural centre has moved to the wing with this team, which could be a good thing for the future of the Ottawa Senators.

F – Victor Rask  – Calgary Hitmen centre who will be counted on to help Sweden overcome last year’s disappointment.  The Hurricane’s prospect is a talented player who had 5 points in 6 games last year.

D – Oscar Klefbom – Another highly touted prospect of the Edmonton Oilers was their second 1st round selection last summer.  He is not going to give you much offensively, but the 6’2″, 200 pounder will be a shutdown force.

Of Ottawa Interest – F Zibanejad and D Fredrik Claesson are both Sens prospects who will be fun to watch in this tournament.

2012 Draft Lookout – F Filip Forsberg rounds out the trifecta of top 3 forwards in the upcoming draft.  Some have him ranked as high as #2 overall. 


Last Year:  Perhaps the biggest surprise of the tournament, the Swiss finished higher than traditional powerhouses Slovakia and the Czech Republic to qualify for the medal round.  They ended up losing in the quarterfinals to Canada, but finished fifth with a win over Finland in their last game.

Players to Watch

F – Sven Bartschi – The Flames’ first round pick will be looking to improve on his 2 point effort from last year.  He scored 34 goals with Portland in the WHL last season en route to becoming the 13th overall pick.

F – Joel Vermin– The top draft-eligible player, will be counted on to bring a youthful enthusiasm to the club, but he has been hampered by a foot injury this season.

D – Phil Baltisberger – A month past his 16th birthday, the young blueliner will get his first taste of what could be 4 appearances in this tournament.  Already 6’1″ and 200 lbs, he could be a force for the Swiss for years to come. 

2012 Draft Lookout – Vermin is the top ranked Swiss skater, who has been good with Bern in the Swiss league and will be playing in his 2nd WJC.  


Last Year:  The US lost a heartbreaker on home ice to Canada in the semi-finals, but managed to come back and win the bronze medal to avoid going home empty-handed.

Players to Watch

F  – Brandon Saad – After playing 8 games in the NHL with the Blackhawks, Saad has dominated the OHL upon his return.  He has carried his stellar play over to the pre-tournament games, and will be an offensive force over the next 11 days.

D – Jarred Tinordi – The huge 6’7″ defenseman will be a force in his own end and can chip in with the odd point at the other end of the ice.

G – Jack Campbell –  The two-time goalie for the US, he will be looking to make it a hat-trick of medals, but wouldn’t like to add silver to his stash to complete the set.

2012 Draft Lookout – D Jacob Trouba is one of the top 5 defensemen available in the 2012 draft and is a likely top 10 pick. 


Round Robin

Group A

1- Russia

2- Sweden

3 – Switzerland

4 – Slovakia

5 – Latvia

Group B

1- USA

2 – Canada

3 – Czech Republic

4 – Finland

5 – Denmark


GOLD – Canada –  I think Scott Wedgewood will take over the Number one goaltending role in the round robin, and despite having to play in a quarterfinal, Canada will get better as the tournament rolls along and use the crowd to help them avenge last year’s loss.

SILVER – USA – In another North American battle on Canadian soil, the US will come close but Campbell will add silver to complete his set of WJC medals.

BRONZE – USA – A lack of returning players make it tough for the Russians to be elite, but the talent on board gives them a medal.