We're less than eight hours away from rekindling one of the greatest rivalries in international hockey: the United States versus Canada.
I remember years ago when this matchup was one (as an American) you would look at with fear and just hope that it was over quickly. But with a USA Hockey resurgence and new waves of star players being developed in the U.S., there's a brand new attitude to it.
The next chapter gets under way at 4:30 a.m. ET and will air live on the NHL Network, and there's a lot at stake. Team USA needs a win to feel better about itself heading into the medal round, and Canada is battling it out with Russia to win the group.
Some of the best U.S. vs. Canada games in recent memory took place in the calendar year 2010, beginning with John Carlson's overtime, gold medal winner at the World Junior in Saskatoon. In this post, we'll take you through two of the more memorable World Junior matchups between these border rivals -- both from the same tournament.
In a tournament-opening 8-0 win over the Germans on Thursday, we saw Team USA's speed and transition game overwhelm an undermanned team.
The next day against Russia, we saw them meet their match.
U.S. head coach Phil Housley liked a lot of what he saw in the Germany game but he also knew his team would need to find another gear for its second game. The Russians didn't come out with the quick right hook many thought they would, but once the game got settled, they were locked in an enthralling hockey chess match with the Americans.
Did Team USA play well enough to win the game? Those arguments are always hard to settle, simply because they lost the game. But there were enough indications in a hard-fought 2-1 loss to Russia that proved the Americans have what it takes to make it out of their group and into the medal round -- provided they continue to play their style.
And that style has been a quick transition, north-to-south brand of hockey seemingly tailor-made for a talented group of defensemen and 13 fleet-footed forwards that love to play off the rush.
Looking ahead to tomorrow morning's game against Canada (4:30 a.m. ET, live on NHL Network), combating skill and speed with skill and speed is probably the best course of action for the U.S. side. Housley isn't going to alter his approach for one preliminary round game -- regardless of its significance -- and quite frankly, the Americans have a team that's deep enough to fight fire with fire against Canada.
Team USA's medal aspirations at this World Junior took a hit with a loss to Russia today. And man, was it ever a tough-luck loss.
Johnny Gaudreau sparked the Americans with a glorious scoring chance just seconds into the game, but Russian goaltender Andrei Makarov stretched across the crease to make a remarkable toe save. That seemed to be the story of the game, as the U.S. settled down after an early goal by Russia but couldn't get more than one puck behind Makarov in a 2-1 preliminary round loss.
It was opportunity after opportunity for Team USA but Makarov was solid, making the saves he had to make as well as some stops that changed the momentum of the game. After a while it seemed to frustrate the U.S. but they forged on, and had several chances to take a lead in the latter stages of the second period.
Albert Yarullin capitalized on a bad U.S. penalty in the opening minutes and ripped a one-timer past goaltender John Gibson for a 1-0 lead that energized the home crowd. But Team USA had a better response, and though it didn't score, settled into the hockey game and began to instill its style as the first period closed.
Some late-breaking news tonight courtesy of NHL Network's Rob Simpson on Twitter.
A few days after submitting a roster with six defensemen prior to Team USA's opening game vs. Germany, head coach Phil Housley and the USA Hockey management staff have finally decided on their roster. Simpson has reported that Patrick Sieloff, a Windsor Spitfires blueliner and Calgary Flames draft pick (2012), will be added to the U.S. roster as the seventh defenseman and is expected to dress later today vs. Russia.
With every exciting outcome, there is disappointment...and thy name is Matt Grzelcyk right now. The Boston University product will be heading home tomorrow, per Simpson, and will rejoin the Terriers in time for a Jan. 4 game at home.
Sieloff fits into the U.S. defense as a physical defensive defenseman who is known to be a good skater. If the penalty kill were to struggle, his presence gives Housley another option to turn to -- especially if Team USA dresses seven defensemen (and Simpson hints that may be the case).
Here is the official group of defensemen for the U.S.: Seth Jones, Jacob Trouba, Mike Reilly, Jake McCabe, Shayne Gostisbehere, Patrick Sieloff, Connor Murphy.
Team USA and Russia are about eight hours from dropping the puck on a pivotal preliminary round game, so make sure to join me once again on Twitter (@RobMixer) and catch all of our World Junior coverage right here on BlueJackets.com.
He was a sixth-round pick of Columbus (No. 158 overall) at the 2011 NHL Draft in St. Paul, Minn., and as it so often turns out for a late-round pick, you don't really hear much from them until they've reached the professional ranks. But Sedlak didn't sulk -- he improved steadily every year.
Now as a 19-year-old in a pivotal year of World Junior tournament eligibility, Sedlak has earned the trust of the Czech Republic national junior team's coaching and management staff, and was named the team's captain shortly before the tournament began.
In 2011, he captained the Czech Republic junior team at the U18 World Junior Championship, tallying three goals in five tournament games in the midst of a stellar campaign with Ceske's U20 team back home. But it wasn't a rosy finish for the Czechs at that tournament, finishing in eighth place and looking overmatched on most nights.
But it was that following summer when the "under the radar" aspect of his game seemed to relent, if only a little bit. Sedlak was picked up by Chicoutimi (QMJHL) in the first round of the 2011 CHL Import Draft -- the annual draft that distributes European players to Canadian junior teams (Oscar Dansk was assigned to Erie this same way) -- and decided it was time to test his game against the best junior players in North America.
Sean Kuraly and Connor Murphy talked before this year's World Junior tournament about being representatives for the state of Ohio, and ambassadors for the sport of hockey in central Ohio.
Both players made their World Junior debut today in Team USA's 8-0 win over Germany, but beneath the surface of an impressive all-around performance, it was about more than just an opening victory.
Ohio was center stage this morning and its natives were in the spotlight, playing a leading role for the United States. Kuraly was at center ice for the opening faceoff (which he won cleanly) and also scored the first goal of the tournament -- a gorgeous backhand through the five-hole of German goalie Marvin Cupper.
Connor Murphy, who was reportedly injured in a pre-tournament game and had to have his medical situation cleared before the U.S. could finalize its roster, played with American captain Jake McCabe in a shutdown-type role and looked solid. No doubt there were some nerves for the two Columbus products, but they each played well and played a lot as the game progressed.
Phil Housley couldn't have drawn it up much better to start the tournament.
The first-time U.S. head coach had seen flashes of brilliance from his team all summer and into last week's national junior team training camp, but he also saw a group of players that would give him many difficult decisions -- beginning with selecting the team.
Housley got a good look at (most of) his final group today as Team USA rolled to an 8-0 win over Germany in its first game of the 2013 World Junior tournament in Ufa, Russia. Eight different U.S. players scored goals in today's game, including three defensemen, and it was the kind of well-rounded effort that Team USA had to begin tournament play with.
The Americans' line of Alex Galchenyuk, Sean Kuraly and Riley Barber were electric all game long, and they got started just 19 seconds into the game.
Not only did Kuraly -- a Dublin native -- win the opening faceoff, he was on the finishing end of a beautiful play started by Blue Jackets draft pick Mike Reilly. Reilly sent a 150-foot stretch pass to the offensive blue line, where Galchenyuk tipped it to Barber who sent Kuraly in home free.
With one slick backhand deke, Kuraly slid the puck between the legs of German goaltender Marvin Cupper for a 1-0 USA lead. Unfortunately for the Germans, it was just the beginning of a long day at the rink.