2006 World Junior Championship preview
From today's (Thursday's) Globe and Mail:
In tomorrow’s Globe and Mail:Things have been hairy busy on my end as we approach Christmas, and I'll be off to British Columbia on Saturday for the Christmas break. As the above indicates, Friday's edition of The Globe has a special pullout section on the World Junior tournament, something that has kept the sports section mighty busy.
An eight-page special section previewing the world junior hockey tournament, which begins on Boxing Day. Included in the section:
- Capsule biographies of Team Canada’s players
- Previews of all 10 teams
- TV broadcast schedule
- Feature on Canada’s coach, Brent Sutter
- Stories by James Mirtle, junior hockey specialist Tim Wharnsby, hockey columnist Eric Duhatschek and broadcast columnist William Houston
As some readers may have gleaned from this post, I was in charge of offering up preview of all 10 teams in the tournament, a task that wasn't exactly a cinch given how obscure some of the team's junior prospects are.
For each team, I offer their last three WJC finishes, the top NHL draft picks, a mini-profile of the head coach and some words on three players to watch. It's a big grab bag of WJC goodies that I'll recommend for all.
Here is my prediction for the tournament:
- Canada. People are making a lot of the fact that the Canadians are 'underdogs' at this tournament, but Canada's collective talent is just as good as anyone else in the tournament.
- Russia. Malkin is going to be the 'man' of the tournament, and he alone could be enough to bring gold for the Russians. It says here their defence and goaltending hold them back from top spot.
- USA. There's dissension in the American ranks, and the in-fighting could show in the team's play. There's an amazing array of talent here — four members of Team USA were taken in the top nine picks at the 2005 draft — but it may get away from them if they struggle early.
- Finland. The fourth spot will be a tossup between the Fins and the Czechs, but not enough people are giving this club enough due. With Tuukka Rask in net, anything's possible.
- Czech Republic. The big keys here will be the play of soon-to-be 2nd overall pick in 2006, Michael Frolik, and goaltender Marek Schwarz, who is making his third straight appearance in net for the Czechs at the WJC. They'll be tough to play as the team with the most returning players, but the Czechs haven't had success since two golds in 2000 and 2001.
- Sweden. With not a single medal since 1996 in Boston, Sweden shouldn't really be considered a medal factor here.
- Slovakia. They're better in goal and on the blue line, but not better enough. Keep your eye out for the next Slovak giant on the back end, Boris Valabik.
- Switzerland. Perennially avoiding relegation as one of the bottom two teams, the Swiss are stuck between being medal contenders and members of the also-rans (see below).
- Latvia. With a couple of decent players skating in the junior leagues, Latvia will have a strong contingent in Kamloops for their games and could surprise a few of the weaker 'Big 7' teams. I still see relegation in their future, however.
- Norway. I won't lie to you — it could get ugly for the Norwegians against Canada and the U.S.
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