When Canada takes to the ice December 26 against Finland at Vancouver’s Pacific Coliseum, it will be a young and relatively inexperienced group striving to earn this nation a second straight gold medal. With only one returning player from the 2005 championship team in Grand Forks, North Dakota (defenceman Cam Barker), there are no automatic household names. Last year’s team featured the likes of Sidney Crosby, Patrice Bergeron, Jeff Carter and Dion Phaneuf, and dominated the championship from beginning to end. But the IIHF World Junior Championship is an opportunity for new stars to shine, and this year the stage is wide open. With only six players on the 22-man roster under six feet tall, Canada will have a powerful team, and it’ll need to punish opponents physically to be successful.
Coaching: Brent Sutter is back for his second year as head coach of Team Canada. Sutter comes from one of the most famous hockey families in Canada, as he and his five brothers all enjoyed successful NHL careers. Sutter was a gritty, hard-working player and it’s expected that his team will play the same way. He’ll certainly emphasize taking advantage of the smaller North American ice surface to reduce opposition scoring chances. The 43-year-old, who owns and coaches the WHL’s Red Deer Rebels, will have loads of pressure on him as he strives to lead Canada to its first back-to-back gold performance since 1997.
Goaltending: With less firepower than last year’s team, Canada may have to rely on goaltending to steal games at times, much like Jimmy Waite did in 1988 and Manny Legace in 1993. Justin Pogge will be the starting goaltender for Canada, while Devan Dubnyk will be the back-up. Pogge, who plays for the Calgary Hitmen, was Toronto’s first selection (90th overall) in the 2004 NHL Draft. So far this season with the Hitmen, Pogge has compiled a 21-5 record with 5 shutouts. For Devan Dubnyk, this is his second run at Team Canada, as he was cut from the 2005 roster. Dubnyk, who plays for the Kamloops Blazers and is property of the Edmonton Oilers, has a record of 14-12 with one shutout so far this season.
Defence: Canada’s back end may be the strongest part of the 2006 team. Coach Brent Sutter has selected seven defencemen who are good skaters, can move the puck well, and are responsible in their own zone. Medicine Hat’s Cam Barker and Val-d’Or’s Luc Bourdon will anchor the blueline corps. Barker played on last year’s gold medal squad but missed most of the tournament with mononucleosis. As for Bourdon, look for him to have a breakout tournament in Vancouver. Bourdon was the Canucks’ first-round draft pick in 2005 and had a strong training camp before being sent back down to his junior club. Bourdon is considered the defenceman of the future for the Canucks, and he will want to strut his stuff for his NHL club.
Forward: Up front, the players selected by Brent Sutter bring a good mix of size, speed and strength. It’s expected that the offense will come from a “scoring by committee” approach, although Drummondville’s Guillaume Latendresse, Michigan's Andrew Cogliano and Sudbury's Benoit Pouliot are more than capable of putting the puck in the net. As for the grinders, team captain Kyle Chipchura of the Prince Albert Raiders, Moose Jaw's Dustin Boyd and Steve Downie of the Barrie Colts will be counted on for big hits and digging pucks out of the corners. With Team Canada, too, there’s always the chances that less heralded names will emerge as heroes by tournament’s end.
Projected Results: Although this red and white unit may not be as dominant as last year’s squad, it still has an excellent chance of scoring a golden triumph in front of ecstatic Canadian fans. If Canada can play its type of game for a full 60 minutes and punish opponents with tenacious forechecking, expect to see the Canadians compete against the highly favoured U.S. and Russian squads for top honours. This group will need to set the tone from Day One, which is just what Coach Sutter has been preaching throughout the Selection Camp and exhibition phases.