For fans of tournaments where no preliminary round game is a ‘gimme’, we welcome you to Group B play at the 2013 IIHF U18 World Junior Championship. In Sweden and Canada, the group hosts two of the four favorites for gold in this tournament.
Traditionally Canada is always able to bring along a solid group of good, young players who are well-known in the scouting community, but who have generally little experience or practice playing with one another. The team is tossed together on short notice on a yearly basis, despite camps at various junctures along the way. Another hurdle for Team Canada is always the fact that the CHL junior leagues are in the midst of their playoffs and thus, the team has to do without what would likely be some of its best top-flight talent.
Canada will surely be looking to top its OT bronze medal victory last year in the Czech Republic by making it to the final in Sochi.
Sweden is a bit of another story, coming off of two straight gold medal game appearances at both the U18 and U20 levels, three of which they’ve ultimately lost at the hands of the Team USA. This current Swedish team will look to keep that overall trend of tournament success going, but some will say that this roster doesn’t quite provide the proven depth or hotshot firepower up front that Swedish teams have rolled out in recent years.
Looking to douse some water on the favorites’ flames will be a couple of recent history’s biggest upstarts, namely archrivals Germany and Switzerland. Joining them in the spoiler role will be a Slovakian side that just earned its way back up into the top group.
Switzerland’s program has been improving in leaps and bounds, but hasn’t been able to avoid the relegation round in either of the last two U18 tournaments, despite great success at the U20 level. Germany has played its way into the qualifying round in each of the last two years and has officially become the team others cannot afford to take lightly, although some team always seems to do so. Slovakia found itself disappointingly relegated to Division 1A in 2011 at the hands of the Czech Republic, ultimately having gone on to lose to Norway 6-2 to finish last overall. The once proud program doesn’t plan on repeating that chain of events this time around, and a number of pundits feel this wave of Slovakian players has a bit more talent to offer than the previous group.