2013 IIHF World Junior Championship: USA vs. Canada Preview

USAvsCANAfter a hard-fought, but disappointing loss to Russia, the U.S. National Junior Team has to turn the page in a hurry as rival Canada awaits Sunday. The U.S. will meet its North American rival at 4:30 a.m. ET in the third preliminary-round game of the 2013 World Junior Championship. NHL Network will air live, while NHL.com will live stream the game in the United States. TSN has the broadcast in Canada. No matter how much you value you your sleep, this is one worth waking/staying up for.

It’s nice for this game to matter this year. When the U.S. met Canada in 2012, it was inconsequential. Team USA was already en route to the relegation round, while Canada was just killing time before the semis. There wasn’t much to watch last year, though the U.S. played hard. This year, the game almost couldn’t be more important for either team.

Canada is second in Group B after Russia claimed its second regulation win and third overall against Germany Saturday. A regulation win puts Canada past Russia heading into their head-to-head match-up on New Year’s Eve. Meanwhile, the U.S. is looking to gain some ground after losing to the tournament hosts Friday. A win of any kind against Canada all but assures Team USA’s spot in the medal round with Slovakia left to play (still not an easy game there). So there’s motivation on both sides.

Coming up after the jump, an in-depth look at the latest on Team USA coming into the game, some notes on Canada, keys to the game and links. 

Team USA Update

If you were hitting the panic button after the 2-1 loss to Russia, now would be a good time to stop. The standout item from the game that I didn’t point out enough in my recap was that the effort was there. It wasn’t a lackadaisical showing from Team USA like we saw too often in 2012. The execution was a bit off, especially late, but that was a hard-fought game with the wrong result. The U.S. was in that game until the bitter end.

A lot of the comments from coaches in players in the post game were upbeat, and rightfully so. There’s no sense in stewing about a game that was a few bounces away from the result being reversed. It was a disappointing loss, but not devastating and certainly not fatal.

There were definitely a lot of positives to take away and a lot of the mistakes made were correctable.

It’s important to note that the U.S. defense really held its ground well save for the breakdown on the second goal and a few minor miscues that John Gibson made us all forget. The goaltending is where it needs to be as well. It’s all about getting the forwards firing again.

The two games of familiarizing with each other and building some chemistry should help in Game 3 for the forward groups. The U.S. needs more out of its guys up front against Canada to have any level of success. Alex Galchenyuk has been the most consistent offensive threat for Team USA, while there have been flashes from guys like Rocco Grimaldi, Johnny Gaudreau, J.T. Miller and Riley Barber. Putting together a consistent effort and not trying to do too much will be a huge key going forward.

With Canada’s depth at forward, the U.S. defense will be put to the test unlike it has yet in this tournament. Limiting mistakes and risky plays will be important against a team that just kills opponents on miscues.

This is also a game that can get emotional. Keeping those emotions in check will be a big key. While a lot of the responsibility lies with each player, this is an area where Phil Housley will have to take command. Getting too hopped up about who they are playing as opposed to what the goal should be — getting an important three points in the standings — will be a killer, like it has for USA teams of years past.

About Canada

This team came into the tournament the favorite and nothing has changed that yet, but the first two games for Canada has shown some slight cracks in the armor. Make no mistake, the cracks are small, but they’re enough to leave an opening for a team like the U.S. to take advantage.

Up front, Canada is elite with guys like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Ryan Strome, Mark Scheifele, Jonathan Huberdeau and the like. RNH already has seven points through two games and leads the tournament in scoring. Strome has three goals and five points, while Scheifele and Huberdeau each have four points. That’s without mentioning 17-year-old standouts Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin.

Canada has scored 15 goals through two games with nine against Germany and six, including five unanswered in a comeback win over Slovakia. Offense is not an issue for this Canadian squad and they can score in a hurry. As the Slovakia game showed, once they get rolling, it’s tough to stop them.

There’s also some really good physical forwards in Anthony Camara, who escaped supplementary discipline for a devastating hit against Slovakia. Mark McNeill is another guy who can grind it out and win battles along the boards.

Canada’s depth at forward is going to be a bit depleted, however. Boone Jenner has one game left on his three-game ban from the IIHF for a late hit in the pre-tournament, while J.C. Lipon received a one-game suspension earlier Saturday for a high hit against Slovakia. Canada will be forced to go with 11 forwards against the U.S., meaning it can ill-afford penalty trouble or injury.

There’s good production from the blue line as well. Morgan Rielly and Ryan Murphy each have immense skill on the back end, which helps make Canada’s power play all the more deadly. Xavier Oullet has also brought the offense, as he is tied with Rielly for the point lead among Canadian D with three points. There’s also big Dougie Hamilton who can bring the physical game and is sound in his own end. Scott Harrington has WJC experience, while Griffin Reinhart has good two-way capabilities and Tyler Wotherspoon rounds out the immense depth among the D corps.

Where Canada has some weakness is in net. Malcolm Subban is immensely talented and a first-round draft pick, but if you have to pinpoint a weaker link for Canada, it’s him. With six goals against through two games against the two weaker teams in the bracket, there’s maybe a little cause for concern. Subban has a sub-standard .893 save percentage on 56 shots against. He’s left a few second-chance opportunities and gets in a little trouble when there’s traffic in front.

Canada overall is still pound-for-pound the best team in the tournament, but the U.S. might be the best equipped to match up with that vaunted offense from a defensive standpoint. Team USA will also match up fairly well with Canada’s physical game.

You can watch extended highlights of Canada’s 6-3 win over Slovakia here.

About the Match Up

Team USA gives Canada its toughest opponent to date, while the U.S. had to face a little adversity against Russia in the 2-1 loss. The day of rest for both teams ensures that both will be mostly well-rested for the game.

Canada’s lacking two forwards to suspension shortens their bench and means Steve Spott will have to play some forwards more than he had planned. That’s an advantage for the U.S. The U.S. lacks Canada’s scoring depth, but having those two extra bodies at forward will allow Team USA to pressure relentlessly and should give them fresher legs in the third period.

Team USA’s defense is going to be put to the test in ways it has yet to really face. Canada’s forechecking is one of its biggest strengths, though it will have a harder time intimidating the American D corps. What that forecheck does, whether the D are intimidated or not, is it forces quicker decisions. The D will have to be on its toes to absorb the forecheck and not give the puck back to Canada too much. Canada’s forwards won’t care much about the puck when in pursuit. It will be body on body first to try and force turnovers.

The U.S. has the advantage in net. John Gibson has been sensational through five periods, while Malcolm Subban as noted has struggled. Gibson can’t do it all himself though, so the U.S. D will have to make sure to clear the net front and not give up too many odd-man breaks. Canada can get after it in transition, just like the U.S., so limiting mistakes will make it tougher for Canada to get it going.

As already mentioned, the U.S. needs more from its forwards. They put plenty of shots on goal against Russia, but there was a lack of ability to convert on those second chances. There will be rebounds and second-chance opportunities in tight with Subban in net, so the U.S. has to establish some sort of net-front presence to have success. Playing on the perimeter against Canada simply will not cut it. The U.S. has to use its big bodies up front to get to the cage and make things tough on Canada’s D and goaltender.

Canada’s power play is the best in the tournament so far, so the U.S. cannot take penalties. Canada is 4-for-10 on the PP. With good scoring throughout the lineup, they can really burn you on special teams. One of the two goals allowed by Team USA was on the power play, so the PK has done fine, but staying out of the box will be key. On the other side, Team USA’s power play has been OK, but not great. With two goals in 10 opportunities, the U.S. ranks sixth in the tournament with the man advantage.

This is one of those games where intangibles seem to matter more. The emotion of the rivalry can sometimes spill over into making mistakes and trying to do too much. The U.S. has to focus on keeping things simple against a team with the skill level of Canada. Some of the mistakes that ended up not getting capitalized on by Russia probably will be by Canada. That emotion can also bubble up and lead to penalties, which as mentioned would be costly against the tournament’s best power play.

It’s tough to read too much into momentum, but how many times have we seen those swings in USA-Canada games at the World Juniors? Remember 2009 in Ottawa? The U.S. had a lead and all the momentum it seemed before Jimmy Hayes’s taunt to the Canada bench seemed to spark a John Tavares-led comeback. If the U.S. grabs any sort of momentum in this game, it has to hold onto it by being smart and sticking to its game plan.

Lastly, this is a big test for Phil Housley as a coach. Steve Spott has some solid international head coaching experience and usually has his teams ready to go. This should be a really interesting match-up. As mentioned before, Housley is going to have to set the emotional tone for the team and lean heavily on the team’s leadership to keep things calm. The game plans have been fine in the games. The U.S. is sticking to its speed game and Housley talked about the players trying to be too cute with the puck against Russia. The mistakes of the 2-1 loss should be cleaned up based on some of the comments in the post-game.

When it comes down to it, this USA-Canada game has the potential to be the best game of the whole tournament. Both teams have reasons to push for the win and the rivalry factor should make it really exciting. It all comes down to who makes fewer mistakes and which team is able to assert itself.

It may be on at 4:30 a.m., but the game should be one that’s worth sacrificing sleep for.

Projected Lineup for Team USA vs. Canada

There shouldn’t be a lot of changes to the forward lines for Team USA. There isn’t much cause for wholesale changes. It’s just a matter of getting better execution from the groups they have. Expect a lot more out of the Grind Line with Cole Bardreau, Blake Pietila and Ryan Hartman. They should see some serious time against Canada’s scoring lines.

On D, it should be interesting to see what Team USA does particularly with Patrick Sieloff. This is going to be a physical game so having a guy like Sieloff helps a lot in that department and likely why he was chosen over Matt Grzelcyk. I’ll have an updated lineup in the morning when it becomes available.

15 Galchenyuk – 7 Kuraly – 16 Barber
13 Gaudreau – 10 Miller – 23 Grimaldi
26 Vesey – 25 Trocheck – 22 Biggs
20 Pietila – 18 Bardreau – 21 Hartman
12 Lucia

6 Reilly – 3 Jones
14 Gostisbehere – 8 Trouba
19 McCabe – 5 Murphy
27 Sieloff

35 Gibson
30 Gillies
Scratched: Sparks

Three Keys for Team USA

Establish Net-Front Presence — The U.S. needs to get bodies to the net at both ends of the ice. Being the stronger team in front of either net is tough to do against Canada, but it will help lead to goals in the offensive zone. Capitalizing on second chances via rebounds or deflections will be huge against the sometimes-shaky Malcolm Subban. Canada has scored a lot of pretty goals from the outside, but they have the bodies that can get to the net. Team USA’s D has to ensure that John Gibson has a clear look at the shots and that they can get rid of the puck if it ever pops free.

Keep it Simple — The U.S. tried to be a little too fancy with some of its drop passing and cross-ice attempts against Russia. Those types of plays aren’t always going to work against Canada and they can go the other direction with giveaways quickly. The U.S. needs to be creative to get past the defense, but forcing passes isn’t creative. The U.S. plays at such a fast pace, simplifying the other elements of the game will lead to more conversions on chances.

Don’t Get Swallowed by the Rivalry — In a game with emotions as high as USA-Canada tilts tend to run, the U.S. has to keep those emotions in check. Committing dumb penalties could be the downfall of the U.S. There’s no need for retaliation or going too far with the physical game. The emotional highs and lows can also lead players to forcing too much or trying to do too much, which goes back to the second key. At the end of the day, this is nothing more than a preliminary-round game with a crucial three points on the line.

LINKS

– Here’s a look at the team statistics through four days at the WJC. (IIHF)

– Team USA’s statistical leaders through 2 GP (IIHF). Canada’s Statistical leaders (IIHF)

– Full schedule and results (IIHF)

– The venerable Kevin Allen of USA Today caught up with Phil Housley and a few players to preview the USA-Canada game. (USA Today)

– TSN has some extensive video interviews with players on both sides, which offers a good glimpse of how both teams are approaching the game. (TSN)

– Team USA took advantage of its day of rest after playing two games back-to-back this week. (USAHockey.com)

– U.S. defenseman Seth Jones tells Mark Masters that he has another gear left to get to yet. (TSN)

– A look at the subplots that always get brought up in USA vs. Canada (TSN)

– It’s not up yet, but I’d imagine The Sleeping Giant’s USA-Canada preview will be the best thing you’ll read ever. (The Sleeping Giant)

World U17 Update

The U.S. National Under-17 Team opened the World Under-17 Challenge in thrilling fashion on Saturday against Canada-Ontario. Down 4-1 at one point in the second period, Team USA scored three-unanswered to make it 4-4 in the third. Seconds later, Ontario scored to regain the lead, but a late goal from Sonny Milano tied it up again 5-5.

Chris Birdsall was in net for Team USA and made a huge save on all-everything prospect Connor McDavid on a half-breakaway to preserve the game in OT. Birdsall, who normally plays for the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders, stopped all three Canadian shooters including McDavid and Josh Ho-Sang, another highly-touted prospect. Milano scored the only goal to give the U.S. an incredible 6-5 win.

Jack Eichel was named Team USA’s player of the game after his incredible performance. The BU recruit had a pair of goals and created numerous scoring chances. He’s the real deal.

Team USA meets Canada-Atlantic Sunday at 1:30 p.m. in Victoriaville, Que.

I’ll have a full recap of USA-Canada from the WJC after the game is complete, but you can follow along on Twitter for live in-game updates.

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About Chris Peters

Editor of The United States of Hockey. Contributor to CBSSports.com, USA Hockey Magazine and more. Former USA Hockey PR guy. Current Iowan.
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