Toronto and Montreal already knew which countries they’d be hosting, but now the schedule for the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship has been released. Twenty preliminary round games will be played between the two cities, and a few are guaranteed to deliver right from the first puck drop.
Group A (Montreal)
UNITED STATES VS. FINLAND
Friday, Dec. 26, 2014
It’s a match-up between the last two IIHF World Junior Championship gold medallists. The U.S. rolled through the medal round (outscoring opponents 15-2) in 2013, while Finland surprised everyone with its gritty play last year. Three years have passed since the countries last met; despite being outshot 39-27, Finland won the 2012 preliminary round contest, scoring three times in the last 10 minutes to pull away for a 4-1 victory.
CANADA VS. FINLAND
Monday, Dec. 29, 2014
In a game captain Scott Laughton said his team didn’t deserve to win, Canada fell 5-1 to Finland in last year’s semifinals. The loss extended Canada’s gold medal-less drought to five years and guaranteed Finland would win its first medal in seven tries. Having been frustrated by a tenacious Finnish defence a year ago, the Canadians – who could return as many as 11 players – will look to fill the net during the rematch. No medals will be at stake, only positioning – and perhaps the chance to send a message should the teams meet again in the medal round in Toronto.
UNITED STATES VS. CANADA
Wednesday, Dec. 31, 2014
Need we say more?
The head-to-head record suggests this is a lopsided rivalry (Canada leads 33-7-3), but numbers can be deceiving and recent history suggests this match-up – without even knowing who’s playing for either side – may be the best there is at the IIHF World Junior Championship. It’s a rivalry that brought unwanted notoriety to Brayden Coburn’s back and gave legend to Jonathan Toews’ shootout skills.
This year’s preliminary game marks the sixth time in the past decade the teams have rung in the New Year together. Canada has won all five of those previous games, but not without some fireworks. In 2009, the U.S. went up 3-0 after 12:35, only to see John Tavares and Canada come back to win 7-4. The following year – in a game that saw three shorthanded markers – Canada again staked the U.S. to a three-goal lead, only to win in a shootout. And, last year, Zach Fucale backstopped the team to an emotionally-charged 3-2 win that gave Canada first place in its group.
Group B (Toronto)
CZECH REPUBLIC VS. SWEDEN
Friday, Dec. 26, 2014
The Czech Republic captured silver at last month’s IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship, while Sweden finished fourth. And both teams could come to Toronto with highly touted prospects that played in Finland.
The Czech team included four of the top 10 European skaters for the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, as deemed by NHL Central Scouting – Jakub Vrana (4th), David Pasternak (5th), Ondrej Kase (8th) and Dominik Masin (10th) – while the Swedes have four of their own – William Nylander (2nd), Adrian Kempe (6th), Marcus Pettersson (7th) and Sebastian Aho (9th) – as well as Jonas Johansson, the second-ranked European goaltender.
RUSSIA VS. SWITZERLAND
Sunday, Dec. 28, 2014
Thanks to an epic upset five years ago, this match-up has become must-see. In the 2010 quarter-finals, Switzerland – a country with only one podium finish, a bronze, in its history – defeated three-time champion Russia, 3-2 in overtime. Nino Niederreiter scored with 33 seconds left in the third to tie the game and again 9:46 into extra time. When the teams met in the quarter-finals three years later, it took a five-round shootout for Russia to prevail 4-3. The Swiss have set themselves up as a team no one wants to see in the medal round.
RUSSIA VS. SWEDEN
Monday, Dec. 29, 2014
The Ontario capital hosts the rematch of the other 2014 semifinal, a contentious 2-1 win for the Swedes, and a rematch of the gold medal game the last time Canada hosted the World Juniors; in 2012, Mika Zibanejad scored at 10:09 of overtime to give Sweden a 1-0 win and just its second gold medal ever. Neither team is a stranger to World Juniors success – the Russians have medalled at 18 of the last 21 tournaments, while the Swedes have been on the podium in six of the last seven years.
As an interesting historical side note, the two countries met in the gold medal game in 1978, the last time Montreal played host to the IIHF World Junior Championship. The then-Soviet Union won 5-2.
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