Over the holidays the IIHF World U20 Championship, more commonly referred to as the World Juniors, was held in Calgary and Edmonton. The tournament featured rising junior stars from countries around the world and a 10-team round-robin format. Hosting alternates between countries, and Canada was the host this year. The games were held at Rexall Place and the Scotiabank Saddledome, the NHL arenas of the respective cities.
Forty-three players were invited to Team Canada’s selection camp, including 25 forwards, 14 defencemen, and four goaltenders. The final cuts were made a few weeks prior to the start of the tournament. The team consisted of some familiar names, including Quinten Howden, Mark Visentin, and Jaden Schwartz, selected to return to the roster after previous years. Schwartz took the NCAA route; he plays for the Colorado College Tigers while studying at the college.
Aside from Schwartz and NHL players Devante Smith-Pelly and Brett Connolly, the roster was made up of players from various teams in the three leagues that make up the Canadian Hockey League. Phil Di Giuseppe, invited to selection camp but one of the final cuts, attends the University of Michigan.
The tournament began on Boxing Day in Edmonton, with Canada matching up against Finland. Although Canada finished with a perfect record in the round-robin, some struggles were evident.
Early in the tournament, Team Canada suffered the loss of Anaheim Ducks player Devante Smith-Pelly, a gritty forward with valuable NHL experience. Smith-Pelly broke a bone in his foot after blocking a shot in the first game. Rules regarding a set roster at the start of the tournament prevented the team from calling up any players.
Goaltending also appeared to be an issue. Mark Visentin of the Niagara Ice Dogs (OHL) appeared to have some difficulty in the first few games. Scott Wedgewood of the Plymouth Whalers (OHL) was the starter of the semifinal against Russia after an impressive performance against USA in the final game of the round-robin.
Team USA, believed to be a strong rival of Team Canada, finished the tournament out of medal contention with two wins and two losses.
In the semifinal in Calgary, Canada came up short against the Russians, to the disappointment of the fans in attendance and around the country. Canada was losing by a score of 6–1 midway through the third period, and although they came back to score four unanswered goals in four minutes, the final score of 6–5 in favour of Russia left Canada with an all-too-familiar feeling of defeat—from the same team that stole the gold medal in a spectacular final a year ago.
The loss to Russia resulted in Team Canada competing for the bronze against Finland on Thursday afternoon. Canada won the game 4–0, extending its medal streak to 14 years, dating back to the silver medal won in 1999 in Winnipeg. It is the first time in 11 years that Canada did not make it to the tournament final to compete for the gold medal.
Canadian Mark Stone of the Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL), a 2010 Ottawa Senators 178th overall draft pick, gave an excellent performance at the tournament, tallying seven goals and three assists in six games.
Sweden defeated Russia in the final Thursday evening to win the gold medal for the first time since 1981.
Until recently, Canada was given the hosting responsibility every four years. As part of an agreement between Hockey Canada and the IIHF, Canada will now host the tournament in 2015, 2017, 2019, and 2021.
The World Junior Hockey Championship has a history of being a popular tournament for hockey players and fans alike, fueled by passion and national identity.