2012 WJC: USA vs. Canada Preview

It’s been a long time since a game between the United States and Canada meant so little. This was supposed to be a game that meant everything. Tickets were going for hundreds and some for thousands of dollars before the tournament started. After losing its last two games and Finland defeating Denmark in regulation Friday night, the U.S. is officially headed to the relegation round regardless of result tonight.

USA plays for pride tonight after losing to Czechs (Photo: Dave Arnold)

The shock likely hasn’t worn off for the players and staff. Still, there’s hockey to be played and tonight’s contest offers the U.S. its biggest rival. For Team USA, this game may not have much meaning in the standings, but it is the last significant game the U.S. will play. With two relegation-round games ahead, and Denmark facing a near impossible task of avoiding getting sent down to Division 1A, there’s not a whole lot to get excited about for the American players.

USA-Canada is always a spirited match-up. There is a genuine disdain for each other on both sides of this game. Canada will be looking to head into the medal round on a high note, while also hoping to pile on to Team USA’s already humiliating preliminary round. The U.S. look to take something positive out of the World Junior championship. In the end, this is Team USA’s championship game.

Coming up after the jump, a look at USA-Canada.

Team USA Update

The U.S. National Junior Team lost Derek Forbort to injury early in the game against the Czech Republic.  Forbort went awkwardly into the boards, knee first, and appeared to be in quite a bit of discomfort. He was essentially carried to the locker room and it didn’t look pretty.

Neate Sager of Buzzing the Net tweeted that Forbort will not play against Team Canada tonight.

Jack Campbell (Photo: Dave Anold)

Sager also tweeted that Blais has not decided on a starting goaltender for tonight’s contest against Canada. For the record, John Gibson has never lost to a Canadian national team, having defeated Canadian squads at both the U17 Challenge and U18 Championship.

One also has to wonder about the mental state of both goaltenders, who are likely to shoulder some of the blame for the defeats of the last two days. Last night, Blais said this to Mike Morreale about Jack Campbell:

“Jack is feeling really bad, obviously, because he’s used to medals and it looks like he won’t be leaving here with one this year.”

For goaltenders, the mental aspects are often just as important the physical skills. A confidence-shattering loss to the Czechs is a tough pill to swallow for any goalie.

We’ll see if Blais gives the youngster Gibson a crack at Canada or if he goes with the veteran Campbell.

Charlie Coyle was also sick last night. Blais mentioned that he wasn’t sure the forward would be able to go for Team USA against Canada. Not having Coyle was noticeable last night. His two-way abilities and his size could have helped if he was at 100 percent.

Being without Derek Forbort and a less-than-healthy Charlie Coyle is some serious attrition to contend with against a very strong Team Canada.

Tonight’s Matchup

The U.S. and Canada have met at least once each WJC since 2003. They have met in important preliminary and medal-round games in that span, and only twice the U.S. has come out on top. Both of those wins came in gold-medal games.

Last night, U.S. captain said “We’ll beat them,” during his post-game remarks and it was written everywhere that he was guaranteeing victory. Zucker later tweeted the following:

In no way did I ever “guarantee” a win tomorrow night. I said “USA is approaching the game as if we are going to win” like we always do #usa

Zucker’s complete quote from NHL.com’s Mike Morreale:

“We’re going to beat them,” he said. “That’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to try our best and we’re going to go out there and we’re not going to change anything we do. We’re going to play.”

Jason Zucker (Photo: Dave Arnold)

It’s probably good that Zucker clarified what he meant, but either way, it’s already out there that he guaranteed a victory. He may not have meant what he said in the context you’d gather from reading it.

Of course that quote was going to be highlighted by every major media outlet. It adds a little drama to a fairly drama-less game.

This game still has to mean something as far as media and TV broadcasts are concerned, even though it really doesn’t.

This also probably gives a Canadian team with its fate already decided a little extra motivation. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about Canadian national teams, they will take anything that can potentially motivate them and use it.

There’s no question that Canada is coming into this game with the hope of demoralizing the U.S. It’ll be up to Team USA to at least show up tonight and play with the pride that was taken away a bit in the last two games.

Still, the U.S. team is almost in a no-win situation. A loss only exacerbates the humiliation, while a win would only provide frustration, causing fans to wonder how the U.S. could be Canada, but lose to Finland and the Czech Republic. It’s a too little, too late situation for Team USA, but that doesn’t mean they’ll just lay down. There is some amount of pride to be played for.

To give you a quick look at Canada: Its stacked roster has had little trouble so far, rolling past Finland, Denmark and the Czech Republic by a combined score of 23-2. Three players have seven points for Canada including leading goal scorer Mark Stone (6g-1a), leading assist man Jonathan Huberdeau (1g-6a) and Isles first-rounder Ryan Strome (3g-4a).

Canada does have a bit of a goaltending controversy, as Scott Wedgewood and Mark Visentin have traded duties. Visentin, last year’s goaltender, has two starts, while Wedgewood impressed in shutting out the Czechs. It will be Wedgewood getting the start tonight against the U.S., as Bob McKenzie reports.

The U.S. will have to contend with Canada’s relentless forecheck, good team speed and physical play. Canada will try and intimidate the U.S. from the drop of the puck.

If the U.S. has trouble matching Canada’s intensity, things could get ugly quick. Team USA also needs good goaltending and good decisions on D.

Canada will capitalize on any and every mistake with a litany of skill players at the forward position.

The other story that is at least somewhat intriguing and will be talked about way more than it probably should, is that Jamie Oleksiak was a candidate for last year’s U.S. National Junior Team and was cut. He now plays for Canada.

Oleksiak was born in Canada, but played the majority of his developmental hockey in the U.S. He was part of the Little Caesar’s youth hockey program in Michigan, played in the United States Hockey League, skated at the Memorial of Ivan Hlinka for the U.S. and became a first-round draft pick at Northeastern University.

After going in the first round to Dallas, Oleksiak later announced he would play for Canada, not the U.S., in this year’s World Junior Championship. A short time later, he left school to join the Saginaw Spirit in the Ontario Hockey League. So expect to hear about that a lot tonight.

While there are plenty of story lines for tonight’s game, it’s just hard to believe that a potential rematch in the medal round won’t be one of them.

—-

LINKS

USA Hockey’s Game Notes for tonight’s USA-CAN game.

Team USA’s statistics through three games.

Here’s a really neat illustrated guide by Sixteen Wins for tonight’s game.

Sager says tonight’s isn’t a nothing game.

Chris Dilks takes a look at what went wrong for the U.S. for Western College Hockey Blog.

Bruce Peter takes a look at USA’s shocking fall to the relegation round for Puck Worlds.

I’ll be joining the Drop the Puck radio program on WHTK in Rochester, N.Y. to talk about the World Juniors Sunday morning at 10:15 EST.

Expect a USA-Canada recap tomorrow, and continued Team USA World Junior Coverage right here on United States of Hockey.

Advertisements

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, NHL Draft, NTDP, U.S. National Teams, USA Hockey, World Junior Championship. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to 2012 WJC: USA vs. Canada Preview

  1. Disappointed Fan says:

    Well Hopefully there is some serious line juggling tonight! Your 4th liner has 11 shots on goal with less time in 3 games than your 13 shot first liners have in one game. Maybe the coaching staff should have looked at that yesterday before the game and revamped their game plan. I also take issue with Zucker saying the team played outstanding last night in an article. That is not true! They played far from outstanding!

  2. Hcky-in-da-cube says:

    True they didn’t play outstanding. They played like a bunch of individuals. They played ticky-tacky over passing college hockey. It looked like the US team was playing roller hockey. You can’t play a perimeter game when a crash the net strategy is needed. DF you are obviously talking about Watson. He has slightly better chance of getting ice time than Knight and Prince. I think Prince and Knight got lucky this year. They dodged a pretty embarrassing bullet. I saw some comments suggesting Mike Vellucci should get a shot at coaching a WJC team in the future. Well, that would work if USA wanted to have a team that could win year after year by playing the “best” American kids. Right now the focus is showcasing USNTDP’s kids. Pretty sad results if you compare them to Canada and the CHL’s record. Finally, shorten the bench coach and lose bad again this year or roll all 4 lines, shake things up, bench your favorites when they mess up and have a chance at competing or keep doing the same thing over and over and expect a different result. Insanity, right? GO USA GO!

  3. people say they should use all chl players but the fact is all these players have been drafted by the chl but chose to play college, they all would be premier chl players. so that ends the fight between college and chl. give it a break. these boys are all players.

    • Chris Peters says:

      Thanks for the comment Elvis. Couldn’t agree more. Where these kids played have no impact on the way they performed over the last few days. It comes down to getting job done when you get there. They all have the ability to have had success.

  4. Hcky-in-da-cube says:

    If you couldn’t agree more Chris than you are as foolish as Elvis. Not all of the players chose college. What colleges are Campbell, Gibson, Tinordi, Etem, Miller, Saad and Watson going to? All NTDP players would be premier CHL guys right? Like Moffatt, Czarnik and Merrill? It is pretty clear that the NHL scouts and teams have a much better idea of which of these boys have ability and which ones are “players”. The CHL teams take flyers on NCAA bound players. Not all of them can handle a 68+ game season. Especially at 16-20 so don’t give me that crap. The statistics don’t lie. The CHL is the best developmental league in the world for hockey. For both players and coaches. Where you are way off is in your line, “Where these kids played have no impact on the way they performed over the last few days.” Where these kids played… or more accurately where they didn’t play had a huge impact on what opportunity they got. Just ask Knight, Levi and Prince if where they play had any impact on the way they performed over the last few days. USA Hockey’s pride and protectionism cost all of the boys a medal this year. That is a fact.

    • Cube: You’re welcome to prefer the CHL, and yes, they self name themselves the best development league in the world, and rightly so. But developing isn’t all about how many games you play, and every day on a bus or playing a game is one more day a player doesn’t practice and hone the skills required to succeed later. Small flaws can become ingrained because a player doesn’t have the practice time to correct them, he goes with what got him there to maintain his ice time during games and it can become harder to correct the small things that need to be corrected at the next level. College allows more practice time to work on correcting the little flaws in a player’s game while honing the skills already there to become a better all around player than when he started college. You don’t get less ice time in college, in fact, if you want it, you can get more. But it is true you get less game experience.

      I have nothing against the CHL, it’s a great league, I follow it fairly closely, I just believe if you have an open mind you would realize that there is more than one way to develop a player’s hockey talent and reach the NHL. The College route is a very viable option for many players. Players who want to continue working on their education while still competing at the highest levels of hockey, may choose college over the CHL. Most high end College players were recruited by the CHL and many CHL players were offered College scholarships, some even committing, before deciding on the CHL route for themselves. College players get to play against top end talent from 18-23. CHL players play against top end talent from 16-20. There is something to be said for playing against older more physically developed players to make a player keep pace with the type of player he will face Professionally, if he is good enough.

      The CHL has and will continue to turn out top end NHL caliber hockey players, but so will the NCAA. 30% of current NHLers went the college route. And this year’s Captain for Team Canada at the WJT is Jaden Schwartz of Colorado College in the WCHA. And most certainly Jonathan Toews would have wore the “C” at 19 for Canada if he weren’t already wearing an “A” for the Blackhawks that year.

      Bottom line, there’s more than one excellent option for players who want to try to reach the NHL, and it is not productive to argue over whether College or the CHL is the preferred route. In the end, it is an individual choice for each player and his family, and those that do make it to the NHL for any extended period from either league would almost assuredly have made it if they had gone the other route, too.

  5. from so sorry says:

    Hcky-in-da-cube you are just a bitter man because your kid didnt make the team

  6. somewhere-over-the-rainbow says:

    well said ron seeley. da cube is a fool for not being able to see past his own hand. there is no need to attack college players. it sounds like he has a personel vandetta against usa hockey. whatever the case you dont have more knowlegdge and ability to pick a team than dean blaisy and his staff. lets get real and grow up.

Comments are closed.