U18WMC: USA vs. Canada — A Meaningful Prelim Tilt

At 8 p.m. (2 p.m. ET), Canada and the United States will square off in the final Group A preliminary round game at the 2012 IIHF World Men’s Under-18 Championship. A win clinches the group and a bye to the semis for the U.S., while a loss by three goals or more gives Canada the Group title and the bye.

No matter the level, USA-Canada is always a heated contest full of surprises. Expect a high-pace, hard-hitting hockey game between the North American rivals.

Over the last few years, there have been some classic games between these two at the World Under-18 Championship. Just last year, the two squared off in an epic semifinal matchup that included a late-game multi-goal comeback from Canada, before Tyler Biggs won it for the U.S. in overtime. Two years prior, the U.S. and Canada met in a semifinal match-up, with the U.S. scoring two goals in the third period and Jack Campbell standing on his head for a 2-1 win over Canada in Fargo, N.D.

The last preliminary-round meeting between the U.S. and Canada came in 2010 in Belarus. The U.S. easily handled Canada, 5-0, as Jack Campbell collected the shutout.

So what will this year’s battle bring? Find out after the jump…

Canada will know it not only has to score, but score in bunches to win the group, so expect them to turn it loose a little bit offensively. Team Canada boasts two of the leading scorers in the tournament in Matt Dumba and Kerby Rychel, both of whom have notched six points in the tournament.

The U.S. meanwhile has yet to allow a goal in tournament play. Collin Olson (2) and Jared Rutledge (1) have combined for three shutouts. Who gets the nod in net tonight has not been made public as of yet. No matter who the U.S. goes with, its defense will have to continue to be the strength of the team. Having only allowed 18.3 shots against per-game, a tournament best, the U.S. has been stifling.

Canada has a lot of gifted forwards up front including first-round hopefuls Brendan Gaunce and Scott Laughton, to go along with budding youngsters Hunter Shinkaruk and  Sam Reinhart who have dazzled at points of the tournament.

The big star for Team Canada has been Dumba, however. With six points from the blue line, the Red Deer Rebels defenseman has been getting the job done at both ends of the ice, looking dominant at times. He has a deadly shot from the point and can skate as well as anyone.

The U.S. should have an answer for the potent Canadian attack, with its fleet-footed defensive corps and big, physical guys on the back end.

The U.S. forwards will have to step up, getting pucks on net and trying to solve Matt Murray, who has seen all of the action in net for Team Canada so far.

The U.S. has seen consistent production from Nic Kerdiles, Matt Lane and Quentin Shore. It’s balanced offensive attack should serve Team USA well, as its lower lines should match-up well with Canada’s.

Team USA’s speed should also be a factor.

Don’t expect the Americans to sit back and try not to lose, as opposed to going for the win. There’s no doubt that Team USA is in the driver’s seat for the bye, but there’s more to it for this American club. There’s certainly pride, but the opportunity to ride a big wave of momentum into the medal round has to be appealing.

There’s still the pressure of winning the fourth consecutive gold as well. The streak hasn’t seemed to weigh to heavy on this group, but it has to be in the back of their minds. Either way, it should be a spirited effort from the U.S. team.

No matter how you break it down, this will be a great battle between two very solid teams that don’t have a lot of love for each other.

You can catch it all on FASTHockey.com. Broadcast is set to kick off around 1:50 p.m. ET, with a brief pre-game show, then I’ll have all the action live from Kajot Arena in Brno. Should be a lot of fun. Hope you’ll tune in if you’re able.

It’s a great day for World Under-18 Championship hockey!

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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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