Tonight, on the eve of the new year, the United States and Canada will face off at Montreal’s Bell Centre with the victor taking the top spot in Group A of the World Junior Championship. Both sides stand at 3-0 with Canada holding a slight edge in points as they won all three contests in regulation. This game will feature top products of the United States highest level of amateur hockey, the NCAA, up against Canada’s CHL. The conversation for this tilt begins with an obvious comparison: Eichel vs. McDavid. These forwards are expected to be the first two overall picks in this year’s NHL draft, however have not dominated this tournament as expected, with Jack Eichel and Connor McDavid having just 2 and 3 points respectively. All three of McDavid’s came against a weak Germany, and Eichel’s most important moment is likely his shootout goal in a close win over Finland. Despite the enticing story line surrounding the two forwards, the fate of this game lies within the other 40 players and how they will match up.
As an American writer I will attest that our Nation loves superiority, and Canada is widely respected as the international hockey leader. USA Hockey is strengthening thanks to a strong development program, and it’s time to snap a streak that’s seen the US lose the last five NYE games against its neighbors. My first key for the United States tonight is special teams, more specifically staying out of the box. Canada is 5/10 on the powerplay, an incredible 50%, while the US is a dismal 1-for-13. Both sides have yet to concede a powerplay goal, but USA shouldn’t expect that streak to continue if they take any bad penalties. Both teams play a skillful game, so they need to avoid the box.
My second key for the American’s is scoring early. Both team has only allowed one goal against, and Canada has poured on 16 goals through three games. Expect a sellout, robust crowd backing the Canadians as energetically as they would for a Canadiens playoff game at the Bell Centre. The USA needs to keep that crowd out of the game by keeping the score close and controlling the tempo as much as they can. Thatcher Demko in net for the American’s has the ability to steal a game and they will need their best play from solid defencemen such as phenom Noah Hanifin to cut off the offensive prowess of Canada.
The final key is match ups, where both teams will try to line up their top defensive forwards against their opponents top scoring lines. The USA needs to shut down the Curtis Lazar and McDavid line with physical forwards and try to free up Eichel-Tuch-Motte for some scoring chances. Keep an eye out for impressive puck handling ability from forward Sonny Milano, and don’t be surprised to see a scoring chance or two come off the stick of Yale’s hard shooting forward John Hayden.
If North American hockey fan’s get their wish tonight could be a preview of the tournament’s gold medal game, but for now we are poised to enjoy what promises to be a crazy finish to the preliminary round as the clock runs out on 2014. USA! USA! USA!