For the first time in World Junior Ice Hockey Championships history, a country will host the tournament in back-to-back winters due to Switzerland, who had originally won the bid, pulling out. Canada has hosted the tournament eight times since it became a sanctioned IIHF event in 1977, and will be welcoming nine other teams from the top division to compete in Saskatoon and Regina. Ottawa hosted last winter.
But this is not the only "first" Canada is intending to leave on the history of the event. No team since the IIHF took control over the tournament has won gold more than five times in a row. The Soviet Union won four times in a row from 1977 to 1980 and Canada won five times in a row from 1993 to 1997 before re-emerging as champions from 2005 to 2009. If Canada can win this year, it will mark the first time a single country has held gold for six straight years.
Already with more gold medals than any other country, Canada is certainly among the favorites this year despite high roster turnover. Tyler Myers (BUF), Jamie Benn (DAL), Evander Kane (ATL), and John Tavares (NYI), standouts from the 2009 team, are all currently competing for the Calder Trophy in the NHL.
Noticeably absent from Team Canada this year due to injury is 19-year-old Cody Hodgson, the Canucks’ current top prospect and former 10th overall selection. During the 2009 World Junior Championships, he was the top point producer in the entire tournament, scoring five goals and adding 11 assists. Even Tavares, who was selected first overall in 2009, finished with only 15 points.
Jordan Eberle, an Oilers first-round selection, rounded out the Canadian trio that finished one, two, and three in scoring during the games and will be returning. There are still a number of other players returning as well. Patrice Cormier, who was drafted by the New Jersey Devils in the second round of the 2008 Entry Draft, will be the captain as five other returning skaters create a core of veterans hoping to bring the team to a sixth straight gold medal.
Alex Pietrangelo, drafted fourth overall by the St. Louis Blues in 2008, Colten Teubert, selected nine spots after Pietrangelo, and Ryan Ellis, selected 11th overall by Nashville in 2009, will be returning to anchor the blueline. Meanwhile, 19-year-old Stefan Della Rovere, the Capitals’ steal of a seventh-round selection, will bring a tough, gritty edge back to the bottom lines of Team Canada.
With the exception of the 18-year-old Taylor Hall, who is widely expected to be the top selection in the 2010 draft, all of the other forwards have been drafted. Out of the 12 forwards already affiliated with NHL teams, five of the forwards were taken in the first round, but players from the fifth, sixth, and seventh rounds have impressed enough to make Team Canada’s deep offensive unit in various roles.
The 5’7 19-year-old, Brandon Kozun, was skipped over by many in the 2009 Entry Draft due to his size despite a 108-point performance with the Calgary Hitmen during the 2008-09 season. With speed, elusiveness, and heaps of offensive abilities, Kozun only adds another depth winger to a roster with plenty of scorers. Another 19-year-old smaller forward, Eberle, the highest tournament scorer returning, will also bring plenty of offense to the outside.
The pair of Luke Adam, a Buffalo second round selection, and Gabriel Bourque, selected by the Predators in the sixth round, offer even more scoring depth on the outside from the high-scoring QMJHL despite being complete opposites in both size and playing style. Down the middle there are even more high-scoring forwards in the 18-year-old Brayden Schenn (LA) and then 19-year-old Nazem Kadri (TOR), who were taken fifth and seventh overall in the 2009 draft respectively.
Also not lost among many smaller forwards is Canada’s aggressive fore-check. While there are many players who play a solid two-way game up front for Team Canada, 19-year-olds Stefan Della Rovere, Brandon McMillan (ANA), Jordan Caron (BOS), and captain Cormier know something about crashing the net, fore-checking hard along the boards, and playing with an edge to make other offenses feel uncomfortable in their zone. Though focusing on other roles, they certainly do not lack much offensive talent and will be rounding out Canada’s group of forwards, giving it the depth it needs to contend.
On the blueline, Team Canada decided to bring in the big bodies to get the job done. Ellis, who participated in the tournament last winter as a 17-year-old, is the only blueliner under 6’0. Despite standing only 5’9, his ability to move the puck and his experience working the power play from the point as a returning veteran will be invaluable for Team Canada.
One of the other returning blueliners, Pietrangelo, has already played 17 NHL games at the age of 19. He brings plenty of experience packed into a 6’2, 204-pound frame with all the tools of an elite two-way defenseman. The other returner is mean, gritty 19-year-old Teubert, a first round selection by the Los Angeles Kings. He has all the size and skill set to shut down some of the more flashy forwards that Team Canada will see throughout the tournament.
The surprisingly mobile 18-year-old Jared Cowen (OTT) will also bring an imposing presence on the blueline standing at 6’5. He has gotten much more comfortable with throwing his weight around since being drafted in the first round of 2009 and only adds to the depth of the defense.
The New York Islanders are also well represented at the bottom of the blueline unit as the 18-year-old Travis Hamonic and 19-year-old Calvin de Haan make the team. De Haan, more of a slick offensive defenseman, can make mistakes defensively, but has plenty to say when he has the puck on his stick. Hamonic, on the other hand, is a little more well-rounded and has more of a skill-set needed to be physical with opposing forwards.
Marco Scandella, a 19-year-old from the QMJHL drafted in the second round of 2008 by Minnesota, rounds out the defense for Team Canada. More Cowen-esque in nature, Scandella gives the team another shut-down option on the blueline.
To give the Los Angeles Kings their fourth prospect on Team Canada’s roster, Martin Jones beat out Matt Hackett for backup role. Though many thought Hackett would get the nod, Jones’ play during the December camp earned him a spot. Undrafted, the 19-year-old was signed to an entry-level contract by the Kings as a free agent and is having another great season for the Calgary Hitmen.
The starter for Canada at the moment, 19-year-old Jake Allen, was drafted in the second round of the 2008 NHL Draft by St. Louis. Since then he has been a starter for the Montreal Juniors in the high-scoring QMJHL. This year he has improved his goals-against-average and was widely expected to be Canada’s starter even going into the December camp.