It’s that special time of year. There’s nothing quite like spending time with family and friends, eating good food, exchanging gifts, relaxing and then quickly hurrying everyone out of your house so you can watch the World Junior Championship.
It all begins Monday with Sweden and Denmark playing the opening game in Montreal at 1 p.m. ET before the U.S. takes on Latvia in its World Junior opener at 3:30.
I’ve already got a primer on the U.S. roster that will be looking to improve on a bronze medal finish last season, but here’s a look at the tournament ahead for Team USA, as well as where to find it on TV.
Team USA Outlook
The U.S. will enter the tournament feeling as though they deserve a chance to be in the gold medal conversation, and they should.
For United States of Hockey’s full rundown on Team USA’s roster, click here.
The forward group, while not as deep as it could be thanks to some NHL losses and injuries, remains formidable. Led by returnee Colin White (OTT), who was one of the top Americans at last year’s tournament, and captain Luke Kunin (MIN) the U.S. has a group that expects all four lines to contribute offensively. Expect Clayton Keller (ARI) and Jeremy Bracco (TOR), two of the elite playmakers in their respective age groups to have some major contributions, while U.S. goal scoring should get a boost from snipers like Tage Thompson (STL) and Kieffer Bellows (NYI).
Goaltending is going to be another strength of this team. The U.S. kept all three of their top eligible netminders. Tyler Parsons (CGY) is one of the top goalies in the CHL and helped lead the London Knights to the Memorial Cup last year. Joe Woll (TOR) is shining in his first collegiate season with Boston College, playing the bulk of the minutes in net for the Eagles as a true freshman. The same goes for Jake Oettinger, a 2017 draft-eligible. He has been a steady presence for Boston University and has put up some of the best numbers of any goalie in the nation as a true freshman.
The blue line is where the U.S. has some notable concerns, but based on the play of many of those included on the roster so far this season, it’s not as big of a concern as it appeared to be in the summer. Charlie McAvoy will be the leader on the back end, providing both a physical presence and some offensive assistance. Caleb Jones (EDM) will also be a key contributor, following in his brother Seth’s footsteps as one of Team USA’s most important blueliners. He is currently leading WHL defensemen in assists this year. Meanwhile others like Adam Fox (CGY) and Jack Ahcan (2017 eligible) can provide an offensive boost from the back end.
While the Americans have a competitive team on paper, playing in Group B is going to provide a major challenge. The group features host Canada and last year’s silver medalist, Russia. These are the two teams that the Americans have had the least amount of success against in the tournament historically. They’ll also have to play them in each of their last two preliminary-round games. It’s going to be a challenge for the U.S. to finish in the top of the group with both of those rivals standing in the way.
The good thing about such a tough group stage, however, is that the U.S. will be more battle tested for the playoff round. If you face adversity in the tournament, it’s far better to do it in the preliminary round, especially now that four of the five teams in each group advance to the quarterfinals.
The U.S. opens the tournament against Latvia, a team who likely ends up duking it out with Denmark in the relegation round. Then the Americans will take on the Slovakians, which has just enough talent and goaltending to keep the U.S. honest. The full schedule with thoughts on each game is below.
Team USA Projected Lineup (via USA Hockey)
Clayton Keller – Colin White – Tage Thompson
Jordan Greenway – Luke Kunin – Troy Terry
Erik Foley – Jack Roslovic – Jeremy Bracco
Kieffer Bellows – Tanner Laczynski – Joey Anderson
Caleb Jones – Charlie McAvoy
Ryan Lindgren – Adam Fox
Jack Ahcan – Joe Cecconi
Schedule (All times ET, All games broadcast on NHL Network)
A full schedule for NHL Network’s game broadcasts from the World Juniors can be found here.
They’ll be carrying just about every meaningful game in the tournament. That said, unlike in years past, Team USA games WILL NOT be streamed for free on NHL.com, from what I understand. It was the same story last year. So if you want to watch the games, you have to have or find someone else who has NHL Network.
U.S. games will be called by NHL Network’s Steve Mears and longtime college hockey analyst Dave Starman, who has been part of calling many great USA games in this tournament before. These two guys care a great deal about this tournament and should provide a good show.
Additionally, all U.S. and Canada games will be broadcast live on SiriusXM NHL Network and SiriusXM Canada Talks, so there’s some backup if you can’t get to a TV.
Here’s the schedule you can plan your next week around.
Monday, Dec. 26 vs. Latvia, 3:30 p.m.
The U.S. opens its tournament against a Latvian team that is heavy on players plying their trade in North America. Most would still peg Latvia as a team destined for the relegation round, making this a game the U.S. should be able to win handily. It will be worth watching for the first looks at Team USA’s lineup construction and special teams units. The U.S. is currently riding a nine-year winning streak in the opening game at the World Juniors, a feat made more impressive by the fact that it continued the streak with a win over Canada last year.
Wednesday, Dec. 28 vs. Slovakia, 7:30 p.m.
The Slovakians will provide a tougher challenge than Latvia and aren’t to be taken lightly, but the depth gap should be noticeable in this game. The U.S. should still be wary of Slovakian goalie Adam Huska, a Rangers prospect currently playing at UConn, who has game-stealing potential in him. There is a select group of U.S. fans who still shudder at the name Jaroslav Janus. This is the kind of game where you’d like to see Team USA’s top players thrive and expect serious contributions from the secondary scoring to take advantage of the depth advantage the Americans will have.
Thursday, Dec. 29 vs. Russia, 3:30 p.m.
While the U.S. has become much more competitive in the World Juniors over the last decade, Russia continues to be a thorn in the Americans’ side. Team USA has not beaten Russia since the preliminary round of the 2008 World Junior Championship and is in the midst of a five-game skid against their biggest European rival. Losses to Russia in each of the last three World Junior Championships ended Team USA’s gold medal hopes. Including Soviet-era results, the Americans have won only six of their 25 all-time meetings against Russia. With medals in six consecutive tournaments, the Russians are always tough at the World Juniors and this year should be no different.
Saturday, Dec. 31 vs. Canada, 3:30 p.m.
Will we see another New Year’s Eve classic between these traditional rivals? Despite Canada’s lopsided advantage in the win-loss total against the U.S., this game has often been very close. It will be on the big stage in Toronto, with a partisan crowd providing the backdrop for an often electric, emotional game. At last year’s tournament, Team USA earned their first preliminary-round victory over Canada since 1998. Pulling a repeat bid will be a lot tougher on Canadian soil, but this game almost certainly will have big seeding implications for both squads.
Quarterfinals: Monday, Jan. 2, TBD
Semifinals: Wednesday, Jan. 4, TBD
Medal games: Thursday, Jan. 5, TBD