2014 IIHF World Junior Championship: USA vs. Canada Preview

USAvsCANThis is the match-up you hope to see in every World Junior Championship. The history between the two rivals, particularly in the last decade has made this must-see TV for any hockey fan. You never know how it’s going to turn out, but when the U.S. plays Canada, you know it is going to be as exciting and intense as any game you can see. NHL Network will air the game live, with a simultaneous free live stream on NHL.com in the U.S. at 11:30 a.m. ET.

The game also takes on a rather significant tone as the winner of the USA-Canada game will take the top seed in Group A heading into the medal round, with a few different scenarios altering the outcome. A win of any kind gives the U.S. the group. If Canada beats the U.S. in regulation, they win the group outright. However, if the game does not conclude in regulation, the U.S. will win the group regardless of result. An overtime or shootout win is only two points, while the loser gets the remaining point. In an overtime/shootout loss situation, the U.S. would beat Canada by one point to win the group, finishing with 10 points over Canada’s nine. So… there’s your education in the three-point system.

The loser would likely have to play Russia in the quarterfinal, which is a pretty tough draw that early in the playoffs. That of course is if Sweden beats Russia, which they are favored to do, but anything can happen. Another scenario would have the loser play Finland in the quarterfinals and a highly unlikely chance of meeting Sweden. So, craziness on the last day at the WJC could change plenty.

This game almost didn’t have the significance it now carries as Canada trailed Slovakia almost the whole way until a third-period outburst turned the tide. A loss of any kind for Canada would have sealed the group for the U.S. If you ask me, I much prefer a USA-Canada game when there’s something to play for. This should be a fun one.

As with any USA-Canada game, expect the unexpected. It always seems something crazy happens with how emotional this game becomes and how much of a New Year’s Eve tradition it has become. Canada has plodded through the tournament so far, while the U.S. has cruised. It could be an interesting 60 minutes (or more) of hockey.

About the Game

There’s a lot to play for in this game against Canada. With a goal of winning the group, the U.S. always knew that road would go through their North American rivals. Coming off of a day off and a fairly easy game against Germany, the U.S. will have to keep a high level of intensity from the drop of the puck on. They shouldn’t have a problem getting up to play Canada on New Year’s Eve.

We’ve seen some classics over the years, but the U.S., generally has struggled in preliminary-round play against Canada. In fact, the last time the U.S. beat Canada in a preliminary-round game was 1998. The last three wins over the Canadians have come in elimination games, including the gold-medal games in 2004 and 2010 and last year’s semifinals. Team USA did come close against Canada in the prelims in 2010, when they lost in a shootout in what was one of the finest games the series has ever seen.

So history counts, but only a little bit. The U.S. comes in having played very well in the tournament, perhaps even exceeding expectations, while Canada has fallen well below where everyone thought they would be. When these two teams meet, it’s just an absolute crap shoot as to what the result will look like.

At times, the U.S. has gotten swallowed by the rivalry, doing uncharacteristic things and making bad decisions, like Jimmy Hayes’ bench taunt in 2009 for instance. Canada went on a tear immediately after that.

It’s moments like those and the shootout in 2010 that have turned this rivalry into something pretty special to watch. There’s a ton of pressure in this game just because of the competitiveness between the two countries. Throw in the already youthful exuberance of the players and you’ve got yourself a ball of crazy packaged as a hockey game. So, needless to say, make sure to be near a TV or computer screen around 11:30 a.m. ET tomorrow.

Team USA Update

After Danny O’Regan sat out the last game and Zach Stepan missed the previous one, it is expected Team USA will have all hands on deck for the big tilt against Canada. Both are listed in the team’s official lineup. Having all 13 forwards in the mix gives head coach Don Lucia a lot of flexibility with his lineup and solidifies special teams unites, with which almost everyone gets involved.

While every player will be important against Canada, it seems as though Team USA’s most crucial line will be its grind line or energy line or whatever you want to call it. Stefan Matteau, Andrew Copp and Hudson Fasching have consistently been Team USA’s best line in all zones. They have tremendous speed, physicality and overall strength. They’re very difficult to play against and are responsible for setting the pace Team USA wants to play at and being the team’s most physical line. They’ve also produced. Whatever you call this line, they need to be Team USA’s best, more than likely, as they match up well with any line they go up against.

The goaltending will be big as well. Jon Gillies gets the start in what will be the biggest game of his international career to date. Even though Anthony Stolarz got the shutout against Germany, he didn’t see much work. Gillies is on two days rest and has come up with some big saves already in this tournament. Canada has a lot of skill up front, so they will create chances. He’ll have to be ready to go.

The U.S. defense is also bound to be its most challenged in the tournament as well. Canada has a lot of good speed and grit up front, so they will put the pressure on Team USA’s blueliners in the defensive zone. Team USA’s D corps has been mostly phenomenal throughout. They are so important in triggering the transition and engaging offensively. On top of all that, they’ve been quite good in their own zone. Physical guys like Steven Santini and Brady Skjei will be especially active, you’d expect, in this game.

Team USA has been dominant on the power play in this tournament and Canada has been penalized often. Team USA has scored a staggering 11 times on the advantage. They have 19 goals all tournament, so they’ve been murdering teams on the power play. With a 57 percent success rate on the PP, they have to make Canada pay when they get chances… and they will get chances.

The U.S. also has to have good focus five-on-five. They’ve not been as dominant at even strength, which is going to be especially crucial against Canada. Both teams are good on special teams and a lot of those 5v5 battles could be decisive. The U.S. has been an excellent team in possession for the most part, they just need that to translate to more offense at even strength.

As a side note, the U.S. will be wearing the throwback jerseys from the 1960 Olympics. In my opinion, the best jersey the U.S. has ever worn in hockey.

 

About Canada

Canada has under-performed to a degree in this tournament. Having stunningly lost to the Czech Republic in a shootout in their second preliminary-round game and trailing for much of the contest against Slovakia, we have not yet seen Canada’s best game.

They do get Griffin Reinhart back on defense. His four-game suspension, which comes from last year’s tournament is now complete. He’ll give Canada a huge boost when he returns as he should play an awful lot of minutes against the U.S.

As mentioned, Canada has been penalized a lot in this tournament and it has cost them. Slovakia scored three power-play goals Monday and that nearly sunk the Canadians until they took over the game late. If they get into penalty trouble against the U.S., they’re going to be in trouble overall.

The forwards on this team are awfully good still. Anthony Mantha has been scoring at a high clip. He had five points against Slovakia and has nine in the tournament. The U.S. will have to be keenly aware of him as well as puck magician Jonathan Drouin. Expect Mantha, Drouin and Charles Hudon to see the Matteau-Copp-Fasching line a lot. Canada’s other deadly scoring line includes 16-year-old Connor McDavid with Sam Reinhart and Bo Horvat. That line has a load of skill and will be difficult to play against for anyone.

Defensively, Canada has a lot of gifted puck-movers like Matt Dumba, Derrick Pouliot and Josh Morrissey. They can get a little jumpy with pressure, but all three are extremely evasive and get the puck up ice in a hurry.

The goaltending was a concern coming into the tournament and perhaps is even more of a concern now. Neither Jake Paterson nor Zach Fucale have been amazing in their starts. Canada has given up the first goal of the game in all three of their contests at the 2014 WJC. The U.S. will look to test Fucale often as he will get the nod against Team USA.

The one thing you can say about Canada, and this is true of most Canadian teams in this tournament, is that they are resilient. They trailed the Czech republic on four occasions and came back each time, only to fall in the shootout. They were down 3-2 heading into the third period and rattled off three goals in the final frame late to close out Slovakia. They never quit and no lead is safe. That’s just the way it goes. They’ve erased deficits against U.S. and other teams enough times in this tournament to show why one can never take their foot off the gas against this team.

The U.S. did that well in the semis last year, where they got up early and just kept the pressure on the whole game. There can be no sitting back when playing Canada as leads are just too fragile with a team this skilled.

Having struggled early, Canada might be a little more battle tested than the U.S., but there’s a history with these teams that goes beyond the WJC. Most of these guys have played against each other in tournaments before at various levels. There is a real dislike and that makes for unpredictable hockey.

It’s hard to remember these guys are teenagers and the pressure on Canada to win at the WJC is immense. You always know they’ll bring their best against the USA.

Here’s a look at the highlights from Canada’s last game, a 5-3 win over Slovakia.

Official Team USA Lineup vs. Canada

USA Hockey released today’s lineup.

17 Kerdiles – 10 O’Regan – 11 Barber
19 Erne – 15 Eichel – 21 Hartman
23 Matteau – 9 Copp – 22 Fasching
14 DiPauli – 13 Hinostroza – 25 Shore
26 Stepan

3 McCoshen – 7 Grzelcyk
2 Skjei – 28 Carrick
4 Butcher – 16 Santini
6 Slavin

32 Gillies
29 Stolarz

Not Dressed: 35 Demko

Three Keys for Team USA vs. Canada

Test Goalie Early – Canada’s goaltending has been shaky over the last few years in this tournament and it’s no different this year. Zach Fucale did earn the win in his first WJC start, but the U.S. has to provide the pressure early and try go get a quick one. Letting the Fucale get locked into the game early is going to make it tougher to score late. Canada has allowed the first goal in all three games they’ve played so far. The U.S. will be the most talented team they face, so an early lead for USA makes things tougher on Canada.

Stay Disciplined – Canada has struggled on the penalty kill in this tournament and have taken a lot of penalties. The U.S. can’t fall into the trap of taking emotional penalties and allowing the very skilled Canadian forwards much time on the power play themselves. If the U.S. is the more disciplined team, they’re going to have more success. It’s going to be an emotional game and we’ve seen in the past in this rivalry how important keeping emotions in check can be. It doesn’t take much to flip this game on its head by taking dumb penalties.

Be The Better Team 5v5 – The better team at even strength is going to win more than not, so this is an obvious key in any game, but we haven’t seen the U.S. all out dominate at 5v5. We know the U.S. can score on the power play and that their penalty kill has been quite good, but at even strength, they’ve been somewhat average. That can’t persist against a team as deep as Canada. The U.S. needs its entire lineup engaged, but should lean heavily on the trio of Stefan Matteau, Andrew Copp and Hudson Fasching, as mentioned earlier. They are big, fast and strong and should challenge any line they’re out against when playing Canada. Team USA needs that line to be as great as it has been almost all tournament.

LINKS

- USA Hockey’s official game notes for USA-Canada (USAHockey.com)

- Matt Grzelcyk leads Team USA with six points through three games. Three others have five points. Full statistical chart here (PDF).

- Germany pulled off the upset over the Czech Republic with a 3-0 win. It creates some havoc in the Group A standings. The Czechs, who beat Canada in a shootout, must beat Slovakia in any way Tuesday to stave off a trip to the relegation round. Who saw that coming? USHL Cedar Rapids forward Freddy Tiffels was among the heroes for Germany. (IIHF.com)

- Perhaps more amazingly, the Germans beat the Czechs without Leon Draisaitl, who was suspended one game for his check from behind on Andrew Copp in Sunday’s game against the U.S. (NHL.com)

- Finland also pulled off an upset of their own, riding goalie Jusse Saros to a 4-1 win over Russia and putting themselves in second place in Group B. (IIHF.com)

- Remember when Michal Plutnar of the Czech Republic shoved a ref? He got suspended one game (today’s loss vs. Germany) for it. (CBSSports.com)

- I’m filing a few feature stories for USAHockey.com through RedLine Editorial. You can check out the first one about the pro experience Stefan Matteau and Connor Carrick bring to the WJC (USAHockey.com)

- Davis Harper profiled U.S. alternate captain and star center Andrew Copp (NHL.com)

- Ten years ago, the U.S. won its first ever World Junior Championship gold medal. USA Hockey’s Cameron Eickmeyer asked quizzed some of this year’s players about that team. Tommy Di Pauli did pretty darn well with it…

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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.
This entry was posted in American Prospects, Junior Hockey, NCAA, NHL, U.S. National Teams, USA Hockey, World Junior Championship. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship: USA vs. Canada Preview

  1. charlie yankee says:

    Excellent preview.

    My concerns, however, are the fallout from the Erne-Drouin incident, the fact that USA has cruised, so far, and that following these relatively easy wins, they have the off before going up against a Canadian team that seems to be on the way up.

    Am I wrong?

  2. charlie yankee says:

    Oh, yeah–Good on the German team !

  3. Chris, I’ve been following the WInterhawks and it’s no surprise Nic Petan came up big today. He’s another forward that the U.S will have to keep in check.

  4. Anonymous says:

    There’s no hanging with Canada 5on5. They’re too good. We have to force them to take bad penalties and score on the PP or we’re done.

  5. Silk says:

    Canadian here, your page came up in my search for articles on today’s game. Very nice article, it was an exciting game. :)

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