The U.S. National Junior Team has started the World Junior Championship off right with a pair of wins. That was to be expected with Latvia and Slovakia offering the least resistance to start the tournament. Now the Americans face their toughest test, with an even bigger one looming Saturday.
Team USA meets Russia Thursday (3:30 p.m., NHL Network) in a preliminary-round game that at least has major seeding implications. A win for the U.S. means they can finish no lower in second in Group B regardless of the result against Canada on New Year’s Eve.
More than that, however, Thursday’s game is a chance for this U.S. squad to prove itself against a team that has been one of the most consistent medal threats at the World Juniors. Six straight medals for Russia, with four of them under current head coach Valeri Bragin, shows that they know how to win in this tournament, even if only one of those medals is gold. There’s a lot more than luck going into Russia’s frequent trips to the semifinals.
Russia has been a thorn in the Americans’ side in this tournament for decades, too, but particularly so over the last few years as Team USA enters this contest on a five-game losing streak. Records in previous years may not matter with the high rate of turnover when it comes to players. That said, each of the last three tournaments ending at the hands of Russia has not been by mistake and often feel a little too familiar.