World Juniors Gold Medal Preview: USA vs CAN

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Tonight, the United States has a chance to win the first Gold Medal of 2021. Team USA will once again assume the role of the scrappy underdogs in an international hockey contest. This time, it’s for the World Junior hockey title. Canada isn’t as mysterious or threatening as “Mother Russia” and it’s not exactly Lake Placid in 1980, but there is a similar feeling for hockey fans within the United States.

As usual, Canada was the outright favorite to win the gold from the start of the tournament. If you were to ask me, they’ve been the favorite to win this thing since year one. Imagine how the French love pastries combined with how Alabama loves college football; now add a case of Molson with nothing to do in the winter and you’ve got Canada’s love for the World Junior Hockey Tournament.

World Juniors History

Historically, Canada has won more than anyone else, and it’s not particularly close. Russia may be the only country in the world with less to do per square mile kilometer, so I guess it makes sense that they come in at second. Past that, it’s a crapshoot at who’s going to be a contender from year-to-year. As the country with the best hockey teams and league in the world, most people would expect the US to have more success at the development level. Unfortunately, they haven’t had that until recently as all four gold medals have come after 2004. To me, that just shows how bright the future of USA hockey is, and how much the college game has progressed.

This Year’s Tourney

This year has had fewer upsets and been more chalk than any in recent memory. The final four came down to Canada, Russia, Finland, and the USA. Yesterday, Canada THROTTLED the Russians in a 5-0 shutout on their way to the championship game. If only Putin was young enough to carry the franchise to a victory with his legendary on-ice talent. This would be Canada’s third shutout of the tourney, and they have only allowed 4 goals TOTAL. Everyone who follows hockey knew that the scoring power of Canada would be hard to match. Hell, their entire offensive unit already has ties to the NHL, so that shouldn’t be surprising. What has been surprising is that nobody’s been able to score on Canada while at full strength yet!

While Canada is certainly a juggernaut in all aspects of the game, team USA has not trailed far behind in any category either. They’re second in goals for as well as scoring efficiency and actually atop the charts in power play efficiency. In the late game last night, the US narrowly skated by a strong Finland team. After a few unnecessary penalties, they let a 3-1 lead slip away to a tie late in the 3rd period. Insert your favorite “3-1 is the most dangerous lead in hockey” quip here. Thankfully Kaliyev was able to sneak one past the tendy with a little over a minute left.

The key to tonight’s Gold Medal game is going to come down to one thing in my mind…discipline. Both teams have to find a way to stay out of the sin bin to have a shot. If the US can get Canada to lash out and commit some penalties while continuing its efficiency on the power play, that’s their best chance at netting a few goals. I don’t necessarily know how to do that, but maybe start by telling them poutine is overrated and maple syrup isn’t a condiment.

Players to watch

Marat Khusnutdinov – Team Russia – Bronze Medal Game – 4:30pm

The Piss Missile as he’s lovingly referred to will have the opportunity to bring home some hardware in the early game. The newly drafted Wild prospect had a promising tournament to remember. His presence in front of the net is best described as “natural” and if he’s only going to get better, I’ll be excited to see him and Kaprizov at “The X” in the near future.

Matt Boldy – Team USA – Gold Medal Game – 8:30pm

This kid has been an absolute stud for the US. Not only is he producing on the front-end, but his body-sacrifice at the end of last night’s game to block shots would make any GM proud. Another Wild prospect shining at World Juniors.

Team USA Defense – Gold Medal Game – 8:30pm

The bulk of the defense from team USA is coming out of the midwest. More specifically, it’s made up of kids from Minnesota and North Dakota. I don’t know what you think, but those schools know a thing or two about winning and how to produce top-level talent.

Regardless of the outcome of tonight’s game, one thing is clear to me. Hockey is in a great place, especially in Minnesota. The college game is 100% back with the Gophers being undefeated through ten games. As if that weren’t enough, the state’s got 4 of the top teams in the country. With all of the young Wild talent being shown off at the World Junior tournament this year, I’m optimistic that success on that team shouldn’t be too far behind either. In the meantime, put the syrup and Labatt away and pull out the bacon and PBR; it’s time to root for America baby!