It’s the game that will be the one everyone will remember from this year’s World Junior Championships. That’s not just North American bias here, it’s the truth. Team USA and Team Canada will clash for the first and only time at this year’s tournament tomorrow night at 7:30 p.m. after Team Canada downed Team Switzerland 4-1 in the quarterfinals. The winner of the game goes on to play for the gold medal.
It’s an odd juxtaposition for these two teams as they’ve virtually swapped roles from last year’s tournament. This year, Canada had to deal with a loss to Sweden in the preliminary round that forced them into the quarterfinals rather than getting a bye into the semifinals the way the United States did.
Canada failing to get the bye ensured that the only way the USA and Canada would face each other would be before the medal round of the tournament and sure enough, that’s where we’re at now. While the two teams have equal amounts of talent at forward and defense, the difference between their goaltending is stark and very much in favor of the United States.
The Americans will run with Dallas’ 2010 first round pick Jack Campbell. Campbell was the goalie for last year’s gold medal winning team and he’s looked much stronger this year. Being another year older and a bit more savvy in goal has turned him into a stud in this tournament. In four games, Campbell has won all four games and has put up stunning numbers with a 1.03 goals against average and a .957 save percentage.
Canada’s tandem of Coyotes prospect Mark Visentin and Oilers prospect Olivier Roy have had their problems but Visentin has, so far, proven himself to be the better of the two but not in a way that has given Canadian fans a lot of confidence. Visentin will get the start against the United States tomorrow at 7:30 p.m. The game might not be head-to-head for the gold medal, but this game features the tournament’s two best teams and with the crowds being decidedly more pro-Canada the audience dynamic should be fascinating.
While the United States and Canada kick off the 2011 World Junior Championships in different groups, they both were able to kick off the tournament today with wins, albeit in much different situations.
Team USA needed overtime to take out Finland 3-2 in their opening game of the WJC. Florida Panthers prospect Nick Bjugstad (pictured) scored the game-winner in overtime to give the Americans the win over a pesky and tough Finland team. Justin Faulk and Jason Zucker had the U.S.A.’s first two goals while Stars prospect goalie Jack Campbell played tough in stopping 32 shots. Finnish goalie Joni Ortio almost stole the show for the Finns stopping 27 shots including some spectacular saves throughout.
With the overtime win, the United States gets two points while Finland gets one point for reaching overtime. Unlike how the NHL awards points, you can earn three points for a regulation win but a win in overtime or the shootout only gets you two. Teams want to get the most amount of points in their group so they can earn a bye straight to the semifinals in the elimination round. The top team in each group earns a bye while the second and third place teams play in the quarterfinals.
For the tournament favorite U.S. team they’ll have to play a bit cleaner defensively and gain some killer instinct if they’re going to repeat as gold medal winners. Jack Campbell had to do his fair share to bail out his teammates in this game, a reminder of what he had to do throughout last year’s tournament to take the U.S.A. to the title.
Canada kicked off this year’s tourney with a 6-3 win over rival Russia. The two teams were matched up evenly through two periods of play, but in the third it would be all Canada scoring three goals in the final period to ice the game. Team Canada captain Ryan Ellis was their player of the game scoring a goal.
Six different scorers got on the board for Canada in the win while Olivier Roy led the way in goal. Jaden Schwartz had two assists to lead the way in points for Team Canada. 2010 top draft picks Erik Gudbranson and Ryan Johansen added goals for Canada as well. Igor Bobkov made 36 saves for Russia in the loss. Dmitri Orlov and Yuri Urychev each had two assists for Russia.
In the day’s other two games, Nino Niederreiter led Switzerland to a 4-3 victory over Germany while Sweden stomped on Norway 7-1 to win their opening round games. Both Canada and the United States resume action on Tuesday with the U.S. taking on Slovakia (8:00 pm) while Canada takes on the Czech Republic (4:00 pm).