Team Canada looks to defend hockey gold medal on home ice; starts Boxing Day

Canada will have home-ice advantage in Vancouver, Victoria as it attempts to defend last year’s gold medal

It’s a Canadian Christmas tradition as enduring as gifts, gatherings and punch bowls of rum and egg nog.

The world junior men’s hockey championship, which starts Boxing Day and ends with a championship final early in the new year, seems to capture the hearts of Canadians every Christmas season.

Many NHL superstars have represented Canada in the junior tournament, including Connor McDavid, Carey Price, Jonathan Toews and John Tavares.

Canada will have home-ice advantage in Vancouver and Victoria as it attempts to defend the gold medal won last year in Buffalo.

British Columbia Premier John Horgan is eagerly anticipating the show.

“Although the United States tends to focus on the (college football) bowl season around Christmas, the Sugar Bowl, the Rose Bowl, every Canadian hockey fan knows what happens on Boxing Day,” Horgan said. “That’s when the world juniors start. I can’t wait to get going.”

Of the 10 teams in the tournament, Canada is in group A with the Czech Republic, Denmark, Russia and Switzerland. Canada’s opening game is Wednesday against Denmark at Rogers Arena in Vancouver.

Group B includes Finland, Kazakhstan, Slovakia, Sweden and the United States. Group B will play at Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre in Victoria.

READ MORE: Team Canada takes the ice in Victoria for world juniors warmup

The teams in each pool play each other in a round-robin format, with top teams advancing to quarterfinals and semifinals. The final is Jan. 5 at Rogers Arena.

Team Canada coach Tim Hunter acknowledges the expectations to win gold, especially at home, are high and the pressure can be intense. Many of the players are 19 years old, but forward Alexis Lafreniere is the youngest on the team at 17, making him the ninth-youngest player to suit up for Canada at the world juniors.

Hunter said he wants the players to channel the pressure in a positive direction.

“These guys grow up wanting to wake up on Boxing Day with a Hockey Canada jersey on and to compete in this environment,” he said. “It’s a privilege to be in this environment and play in Canada. We look at it as an opportunity — not so much the pressure and expectations of it all.”

Hunter, one of the NHL’s all-time penalty leaders, said speed and quick puck movement will be the trademark of the 2019 team, which he expects to be one of the fastest Canadian squads ever.

Defenceman Evan Bouchard, who played seven games with the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers before being sent back to the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League this season, moves the puck with speed and authority and he is expected to be a strong presence on the power play.

Forward Maxime Comtois, the lone returning player from last year’s championship team, has been a dominant presence for Canada prior to the tournament, notching two goals and two assists in an exhibition win against Switzerland.

Forward Jack Studnicka, of the OHL’s Oshawa Generals, said Canada is getting better every day.

“There’s going to be so many emotions in this tournament, so many highs and lows,” said the Boston Bruins draft pick. “You have to level your emotions and stick to playing and the tasks. It’s definitely a learning process and we’re kind of feeling each other out here.”

Forward Cody Glass, a top Vegas Golden Knights prospect, said he got chills stepping on the ice in the pre-game exhibition contests in Victoria and hearing the cheers from the sold-out arena.

“Canada is so passionate about the tournament,” he said.

There is work to do, though. Canada lost 5-2 to Finland in the final tuneup for both sides on Sunday in Vancouver.

Hunter wasn’t happy with the urgency Canada showed or the power play.

He said he might tinker with the lines.

“We will re-assess things as we go,” he said. “I like to stay consistent, give them some time to build chemistry. They’ve had three games now. We’ll analyze that.”

Hunter was happy to get forward Brett Leason into Sunday’s game after he missed the first two exhibition contests with a hand injury.

“I thought he got better as the game went on,” Hunter said. “I liked the way he finished. We are going to have to move some parts around to fit him in because I think he’s a capable player to contribute on this team.”

Hunter still isn’t sure who his No. 1 goaltender will be. Vancouver Canucks prospect Michael DiPietro and Toronto Maple Leafs draft pick Ian Scott are the candidates.

“That’s a good question,” Hunter said. “They both made some big stops (Sunday). We let four goals in (plus) an empty netter. Its hard to say. You are never happy with four goals. We’ll look at it and analyze it. That’s why we started both guys to give them a chance to play. We believe in them both. There is no one guy that has an edge over the other.”

— With files from Jim Morris

Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

World’s largest hockey stick getting new lights

New lighting system can change colours and patterns

VIDEO: Strong cast tells the story of how justice solves all problems in ‘Measure for Measure’

Plenty of passion with dollops of comedy to leaven the story as Shakespeare Festival continues

Sarah Simpson Column: Good deeds save the day

Is it fair to call it the dog days of summer? I… Continue reading

Driver airlifted after head-on crash on TCH in Duncan Friday

Two people were seriously injured in a head-on crash on the TCH in Duncan yesterday night.

Join the fun at Rotary’s Ogilvie memorial golf tournament Aug. 23

Besides golfing with friends, you are helping fund worthwhile programs

VIDEO: Langley Ribfest met with protesters

Groups that oppose the event for various reasons plan to be on site each of the three days.

Canadians killed in Afghanistan honoured during emotional dedication ceremony

One-hundred-fifty-eight Canadian soldiers died during the mission

It’s snow joke: Up to 30 cm of snow expected to fall in northeastern B.C.

Alaska Highway, Fort Nelson to be hit with August snowstorm, according to Environment Canada

‘I’m just absolutely disgusted’: Husband furious after B.C. Mountie’s killer gets day parole

Kenneth Fenton was sentenced to prison after he fatally struck Const. Sarah Beckett’s cruiser

Sea-to-Sky Gondola in B.C. likely out of commission until 2020

Sea to Sky Gondola carries between 1,500 and 3,000 people every day during the summer season

Helicopter-riding dog Mr. Bentley now featured on cans of new B.C.-made beer

Partial proceeds from every pack go to Children’s Wish

PHOTOS: Weapons seized at Portland right-wing rally, counterprotests

Not all who gathered Saturday were with right-wing groups or antifa

Ferries employees participating in Denman Island cleanup for plastic-shedding ferry

The cleanup comes a few weeks after one organized by residents of the Island

Discussion on grief and loss between Stephen Colbert, Anderson Cooper goes viral

The exchange includes emotional question from Cooper, and outlook on grief as a child

Most Read