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Canada’s quest to win their second gold medal in three years at the World Junior Championship begins this morning as they faceoff against their North American rivals, Team USA.

Now, usually, Canada gets a nice, soft opening game at the tournament and over the last ten tournaments, they have absolutely dominated their opposition in the Boxing Day game. They are 9-1-0 in the last ten tournaments and have outscored their opposition 79-18 in that span. Some of their most dominant wins cames in 2010 when they beat Latvia 16-0 and last year when the took down Denmark by a score of 14-0.

Their only opening game loss in the last decade came against the Americans in the 2016 tournament.

Canada has been put in a very tough group. After this morning’s game against the USA, they’ll need to play Russia, Germany, and the host Czech Republic over the next five days of round-robin play.

There really won’t be any ‘easy’ games at this year’s tournament for the Canadians and one hiccup in the round-robin could really throw off their path to the gold medal game. The good part about being in a tough group during the round-robin is that if you can find a way to do well, you can set yourself up for a rather easy quarterfinals matchup.

That might be looking too far ahead though. This morning, the focus is on beating the Americans and nothing else.

THE OPPONENT

Team USA is coming off a silver medal performance last year in Vancouver and has actually medalled in four straight tournaments. They’re becoming a force at these tournaments, but, this year’s team isn’t considered one of the top two at the tournament.

They have a dangerous forward group that is headlined by Montreal Canadiens first-rounder Cole Caufield. The 5’7 winger scored at a historic rate with the USNDP last season and has started his college career with 12 goals in 18 games. He also notched four goals in their final pre-tournament game.

They have just two returning forwards: Jack Drury and Oliver Wahlstrom. Those are two other players you should keep an eye on at this year’s event. They’ll also be expecting a lot of production from LA Kings prospect Alex Turcotte, who plays with Caufield at the University of Wisconsin.

On the blueline, they have two returning players: K’Andre Miller and Mattias Samuelson. Those two will be relied on heavily throughout the tournament. Their depth both on the blue line and up front are probably the biggest concerns with this team but they certainly have the high-end skill to compete with anyone else in this tournament.

They also have a goaltender capable of stealing any given game. Spencer Knight left Boston College with a 1.73 GAA and a 0.940 SV%. He is very good and there’s a reason why the Florida Panthers used a first-round pick on him. This is the one area where the USA has a decisive advantage over Team Canada.

He should really worry Dale Hunter and the Canadians and any team that has to go up against the USA in a big game. I expect him to be a difference-maker tonight.

THREE KEYS FOR CANADA

  1. GET ONE EARLY: They need to find a way to get one past Spencer Knight early in this game. Getting the first goal of the game and not letting the Americans goaltender get in a groove will be crucial. He’s capable of shutting down any team in this tournament.
  2. GET THE POWERPLAY GOING: Goaltending and special teams are two things that need to be firing on all cylinders for a team to win gold in a short tournament. For Canada, they need to establish some confidence with the man advantage right from the start. They have the weapons as well. I’ll be keeping a close eye on Vancouver Giants defenseman Bowen Byram, who will likely quarterback the top powerplay unit. He’s incredibly fun to watch and is dynamite with the puck on his stick.
  3. SHUTDOWN CAUFIELD: I don’t like the depth on Team USA. I don’t think they’re as deep as Canada or Russia. With that being said, their top six is very dangerous and them getting a couple of goals combined with the fact they have one of the best goaltenders in the tournament, will be enough for them to win games. Canada needs to key in on Cole Caufield, and probably Oliver Wahlstrom as well, and limit the number of chances they can get. I wouldn’t mind seeing how Coyotes prospect Barrett Hayton can handle shutting down two of the most dangerous players in the tournament.

Canada begins their tournament this morning at 11 am on TSN 1.