Canadian Dylan Strome’s Quest to Make amends, U.S. Fire Wagon Hockey: 10 World Junior Story Llines
It has become as much a part of Boxing Day lore in this country as frantic “One Time Only!” early morning sales, lingering eggnog hangovers and the first of seemingly-endless leftover turkey lunches.
Indeed, the opening of the annual World Junior Championship every Dec. 26 has become a holiday tradition in Canada. As such, the 2017 edition kicks off with four games including the always-riveting Canada-Russia clash.
As host cities Montreal and Toronto prepare for the opening of the event, here are 10 storylines to follow over the next two-plus weeks weeks.
1. WHO NEEDS A PAIR?
Two years ago, due in large part to inflated ticket prices and a misguided promotional campaign, there were chunks of red empty seats sprinkled through the Bell Centre during the preliminary round of the 2015 tournament. Hockey Canada, having suffered through a costly lesson, has been proactive in righting that wrong, with ticket prices reportedly 30% lower than in ‘15. It’s a commendable step. Now let’s see how effective it will be.
2. RIVALRY RENEWED
Russia vs. Canada, Dec. 26, Air Canada Centre
Two years ago, on this very same ice surface, these two countries cranked out a classic for the ages, with Canada barely hanging on for a 5-4 victory in the gold medal game of the 2015 tournament. Now, they return to the scene of the crime in an opening day matchup that serves as the perfect curtain raiser to this event. In the 24 months that have elapsed since then, the names on both teams have changed; yet the rivalry between them hasn’t. And therein lies the intrigue in this one.
3. STAR-SPANGLED SNIPERS
The Americans come north of the border flexing their goal scoring muscles. Maple Leafs prospect Jeremy Bracco comes into the tourney having collected 51 points in 27 games for the OHL’s Kitchener Rangers — including a 26-game points-scoring streak — and leads a cache of skilled Team USA forwards that also includes Clayton Keller, a magician with the puck. This much is certain: No one wants to play firewagon hockey with the Americans.
4. FRIEND OR FOE?
Defenceman Mikhail Sergachev, Russia
While the Russians play their preliminary round games in Toronto, a berth in the medal round means moving to Montreal, where Habs fans will be able to see this prized Canadiens blueline prospect firsthand. With the Canadiens having picked the Windsor Spitfire defenceman ninth overall this past June, will there be more cheers than jeers for the hard-hitting Russian at the Bell Centre if his Russians advance? We’re betting yes.
5. WHISTLE BLOWERS
Scrums are as commonplace as 50-50 draws in the Canadian Hockey League. But these kids will be quick to discover that the officials in an international tournament such as this have a penchant for tooting their whistles for the most minor of infractions. There will be no grey areas here and, in most cases, no benefit of a doubt given. As a result, expect plenty of frustration among players for what they perceive to be chintzy calls. No matter. In the end, the teams that most quickly adapt to the stricter enforcement of the rules should be the more successful ones.
6. STROME SYNDROME
Picked third overall in the 2015 draft by the Arizona Coyotes, Team Canada captain Dylan Strome has racked up 296 career points with the OHL’s Erie Otters. Returned to the Otters last month by the parent Coyotes, one of the few remaining goals Strome has yet to accomplish at the junior level is a world junior medal. It should be fun to watch this uber-talented, highly motivated kid try to make amends for Team Canada’s early exit at last year’s tournament, a crushing turn of events that continues to haunt him.
7. MISSING IN ACTION
Connor McDavid. Mitch Marner. Auston Matthews. Matthew Tkachuk. Patrik Laine. All eligible players who won’t be in this tournament because they have entrenched themselves in the NHL. And no Nolan Patrick either, due to an upper body ailment. Keeping that in mind, we have to ask: Who will emerge as the star players in this tournament?
8. SWISS BLISS
Forward Nico Hischier, Switzerland
The tournament took a stinging hit when it was learned that Canadian forward Patrick and Swedish defenceman Timothy Liljegren — projected by a number of scouts to be the top two picks in the 2017 entry draft — would not be taking part. Still, there will be the presence of a potential Top Five pick in Hischier, who is attempting to become Switzerland’s sixth first rounder in the past seven drafts. Hischier is averaging more than 1.5 points per game with the Halifax Mooseheads of the QMJHL.
9. BUZZ KILLER?
As both the NHL and the Maple Leafs kicking off their respective 100th anniversary celebrations with the Jan. 1 Centennial Classic between Toronto and the Detroit Red Wings outdoors at the CNE, how much will the lead-in this highly-anticipated event siphon some of the buzz surrounding the world junior preliminary-round games at the Air Canada Centre? Canada plays four games in six days at the ACC, finishing off with a classic clash against the Americans on Dec. 31 — the same day as the Centennial Classic Alumni Game.
10. FINNISH-ED PRODUCT
Defenceman Olli Juolevi, Finland
He helped Finland win gold at the 2015 event. He was a tournament all-star with nine assists in seven games. He went on to hoist the Memorial Cup as a member of the London Knights. He was selected fifth overall by the Vancouver Canucks in June. And now, he’s back at the world juniors, this time wearing the captain’s “C.” For a kid accustomed to winning hardware, expect him to make a strong push to double his gold medal haul.