Somewhat inexplicably, Canada has been held off the podium in three of the past six World Junior Hockey Championships.
This is of course hard to fathom because Canada is hockey; hockey is Canada. Intertwined with our national identity like poorly plowed winter roads, Tim Horton’s coffee (even if it’s actually bad) and ketchup chips.
Maybe as much as other nations have caught up, and be sure they have caught up (Finland has won three of the last six) the tournament has become a product of our own demise.
Perhaps there is too much pressure, too many expectations on the teenagers that carry the weight of an entire hockey-mad nation on its shoulders.
I hate to say it because I’m as guilty as anyone enjoying the heck out of this tournament and I have since I was old enough to start watching hockey.
More than anything else, watching Canada compete overseas at all hours, was my first love of the game. More than any team or any player. It was watching Canada try and win gold that I cared about.
With all that in mind, let’s look at what Canada brings in 2020 to the Czech Republic. Notably, Canada hasn’t medaled in Europe since 2008. Yikes.
Canada’s goaltending is a serious question mark this year. Gone are the days of Marc Andre Fleury, Carey Price and Carter Hart.
At least this year anyway. There’s no bell cow for Canada, it will likely come down to who plays best in exhibition games to decide the starting netminder.
Guelph Storm’s Nico Daws could be the guy. He’s had a stellar start to the season in the OHL, but has no history with Hockey Canada. Portland Winterhawks goalie Joel Hofer has a 1.81 goals against average and a .937 save percentage. Oliver Rodrique has the longest history with the Canadian Development program, so that might give him the upper hand.
Red Deer hockey fans will be familiar with forward Dylan Cozens and defenceman Calen Addison of the Lethbridge Hurricanes.
Both have been torturing the Rebels for the past three seasons, with Cozens getting selected in the top 10 of the 2019 NHL Draft and Addison going to Pittsburgh the season before.
Alex Lafreniere should be Canada’s best player, but defenceman Bowen Byram of the Vancouver Giants could very well challenge him for that spot. Lafreniere is the projected top pick for the 2020 NHL draft, while Byram was selected fourth overall by the Colorado Avalanche last June.
Red Deer hockey fans should also take note of Quinton Byfield. He’s eligible for the 2020 NHL Draft and will most likely be in Red Deer next year representing Canada, barring something unexpected.
Edmonton Oilers prospect Philip Broberg of Sweden, drafted eighth overall, has a shot at being the best defenceman in the tournament.
Ville Heinola, a Winnipeg Jets prospect should also be fun to watch for the Finns, along with Aatu Raty, the top projected pick in the 2021 NHL Draft.
Overall, I think the defending champion Finns, Russia, U.S.A. and Canada have the best shot at winning, with the Swedes as a darkhorse.
Of course, in a year’s time, it will be Red Deer’s time to host the international tournament, so fans might want to keep a close eye on any 2021 Draft eligible players in the 2020 tournament, which there are likely to be a few.
Canada will begin the 2020 WJC against the United States in a Group B preliminary-round game at Ostraver Arena in Ostrava Dec. 26., with puck drop at 11 a.m.