The Toronto Maple Leafs are currently deep into the NHL mini pause in a bid to stem the tide of COVID positives and players required to enter the protocol, and while the NHL might not be back for some time, there is at least the World Juniors to contend with.
It’s now December 26th, the biggest part of the holidays is over with, you’re full to the brim with turkey, potatoes, stuffing, pie, carrots, parsnips, and the few sprouts someone in your household made you eat. Despite what you may be thinking, the best is yet to come.
Post December 20th, give or take, the TV guides are filled with endless movie marathons and usually fantastic sporting events. Fans of football have always been treated to games, while the NBA has mostly cornered the market on Christmas Day sports. In Europe, and for the early risers, Boxing Day has always brought a great deal of soccer and then there comes hockey’s party piece – the World Juniors.
This year it will likely take much more of the spotlight due in no small part to the ongoing Omicron variant and COVID spread ravaging its way across Canada and the US.
For the uninitiated the World Juniors can be something of a weird tournament; a selection of international teams, playing in prime time with all of the network’s stars covering the tournament and you likely don’t know many, if any, of the names of the players playing.
So here is your cheat code, you don’t need to do any research, and indeed this piece is written almost entirely on gut choices. For better or for worse, here is your Armchair Guide to the World Juniors.
Armchair Guide to the World Juniors
This tournament lacks big name star power in the way that previous iterations of the World Juniors have, and while the Toronto Maple Leafs have a few notable players in the form of Topi Niemela, Roni Hirvonen and Matthew Kneis of Finland and the USA respectively, there isn’t much else in the cupboard for Toronto fans.
The closest the tournament has to a bona fide star, or in this case two, are both on Team Canada in defenseman Owen Power and forward Connor Bedard. Bedard is really the name that should stand out as he becomes the 7th 16-year-old to be selected and joins the exclusive group of Wayne Gretzky, Eric Lindros, Toronto Maple Leafs forward Jason Spezza, Jay Bouwmeester, Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid.
Bedard was also granted exceptional status into the CHL joining Toronto Maple Leafs captain John Tavares, Aaron Ekblad, McDavid, Sean Day, Joe Velano and Shane Wright.
Wright is also one to keep your eye on, the forward is a top candidate to land No.1 overall at the 2022 draft. Wright is likely going to be matched by 17-year-old American Logan Cooley – a fast, agile and smart thinking hockey player.
A good Armchair Guide doesn’t delve too deeply into the intricacies of players at the tournament so neither shall we here (just keep some of those names in mind when watching).
The biggest surprise of the tournament will be the Germans. They surprised a number of people last tournament for their pluckiness and while the Swiss team also played well, this year it will be the Germans who somehow manage to sneak into the last four (that’s right, Russia will have an atrocious tournament).
If you’re a betting person (and don’t mind one of the riskier bets you’ll make) that’s the one for you. Why the Germans? Just because that’s the kind of year they are going to have, and if you don’t believe me, take a bite of Bratwurst and tell me, what’s the wurst that could happen?
The biggest margin of victory at the tournament will be a 7-0 win for Finland against Austria on December 27th. The Finns have a very experienced squad, and led by one of the Toronto Maple Leafs top prospects Niemela, they will give a hiding to the Austrians who will hit the post 3 times in the game.
The game of the round robin stages will be the United States versus Sweden, December 29th at prime time. This rivalry often gets forgotten in the USA-Canada / Canada-Russia / Finland-Sweden rivalries, but this one will take the cake. Circle it in your calendar now.
You want a game to snooze to? Pick the Sweden-Switzerland game on December 31st – both of these teams are efficient, well-organized, capable, adept and reliable on the ice. Get a nap in before the New Years festivities during this one.
Finally the medal positions, and there is only going to be one winner and that is Finland this year. Their squad is deep, experienced and talented and they will blow away the Americans before edging the Canadians in the final.
There you have it, your Armchair Guide to the World Juniors. Remember, put your money on the Germans now and by next year you’ll be able to have your own little landhaus in Bavaria.