Tuesday, December 07, 2004

The WJC: Tale of Two Countries

The roster was announced for the World Junior Championships this week for the United States and the selection camp roster was announced for the Canadian team. Now, we'll get to the Canada scenario in a moment, but you have to let the Champs go first.

The United States of America

The United States is coming back with eight players from their World Junior Championship team of last season. Starting from the back out, Alvaro Montoya was the no brainer to be the starting goalie. His "coming out" party last season in Helsinki by taking the US team all the way to the finals and getting to the gold. His back up will be Vancouver's first rounder from 2004's Draft, Cory Schneider.

The big name on the back line is Ryan Suter. His leadership and "stay-at-home" play was able to get him to the AHL this season. However, the one thing that will be a little hinderance to him is that he's coming off a seperated shoulder he suffered in Milwaukee of the AHL. Aside from Suter, the US is touting a no-name defence with many players still in their prime of college and one player in high school. The other returning defencemen are Matt Likens, who has 8 points as of today for the University of Wisconsin Badgers, and Matt Hunwick, who has 6 points for the University of Michigan Wolverines.

Up front, Team USA seems stacked. With returning players the likes of Patrick O'Sullivan, Drew Stafford, and Dan Fritsche; added with Robbie Schremp makes the US a favourite in the WJC once again. One surprise to some was the addition of Chris Bourque to the team. The Freshman out of Boston University has 12 points in 15 games and seems to be playing a higher level than most put him at. Also, with newcomers Ryan Callahan and Mike Brown thrown into the mix, the United States are very deep up front and could overpower any of their opponents. Playing in front of the home crowd in North Dakota won't hurt much either.

Team Canada

As with any team to come out of Canada, it's always who doesn't make the team rather than who does. Often, that's a problem that many people would like to have-- such is the case for Hockey Canada. However, they haven't even set a roster yet, and people are creating a buzz. First, Brent Burns and Nathan Horton were not invited to the selection camp, which bugged some people, but not too much. Horton becoming a moot point as he is now sidelined with a shoulder injury. Second, 21 out of the 32 invitees are from the Western Hockey League. Many think that coach Brent Sutter is a "homer" for the WHL, but with scouts from Quebec and Ontario saying these are the best 32 to come to the selection camp; then you can cite favouritism.

But let's start from the back out. In net, the four goalies there are Jeff Glass (Kootenay), Kevin Nastiuk (Medicine Hat) Rejean Beauchemin (Prince Albert), and Devan Dubnyk (Kamloops). Both Dubnyk and Beauchemin attended the summer camp for Hockey Canada, but numbers wise, Nastiuk and Glass have out played them both. One odd exception was Seattle goalie Bryan Bridges who is leading all goalies this season in goals-against and save percentage. One tell-tale sign is that this is his first big season of his junior career.

In the blue line, the Canadians are as deep as any team out there. With the force of Dion Phaneuf, Cam Barker, and Brent Seabrook, combined with the speed of Shaun Belle and the smarts of Mike Green; the Canadians could very well shut down their opponents without having any of the goalies worry about keeping a lead.

To gain the lead, the Canadians could very well get a lead and start piling it on. Returnees Sidney Crosby, Patrice Bergeron, Ryan Getzlef, and Nigel Dawes will lead the way. However, the team has so many sharpshooters invited, it'll be hard to cut anyone on the team. Players like Ryan Stone and Eric Fehr of Brandon could be cut because of players like David Bolland and Corey Perry of London out playing them. The depth of the Canadians upfront is something that any team would crave, but it's also a bitter pill to take if you can't make the right decisions.

In either case, like always-- the United States and Canada are going to be the favourites of this WJC and why shouldn't they. The Canadians are coming off two silver medals and the US is coming off their first medal, which was a gold, last season. Don't forget about the Russians and Alexander Ovechkin, but I think the Russians will be overpowered by these two North American squads.

This has been ScottyWazz. Take care of yourself and someone else. PEACE!!

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