The World Juniors Championship tournament has always been a welcomed addition into living rooms over the holidays. Families gather around the television to cheer on Canada as the team begins its quest for another gold medal.
This year’s tournament takes place in Helsinki, Finland and sees Canada looking to defend its gold medal that was won on home soil last year. They have not won a gold medal in Europe in this tournament since 2008.
With the roster now set, Canada kicks off its preliminary matches against the United States at 1:00pm EST on TSN.
The Ontario Minor Hockey Association is well represented on Canada as Travis Dermott, a five-time OMHA champion with the York Simcoe Express, will be an important member of the defence corps.
Craig Button, TSN’s Director of Scouting, appeared on the latest edition of the Breakaway podcast to break down the roster and its OMHA graduate.
“Travis is a real smart player. He understands how to make a play in the defensive zone, how to make a play in transition, how to make a play offensively,” said Button. “There’s not a lot of flash to Travis’ game. He’s just a good, efficient player and that’s what he’s going to be asked to do.”
During the pre-tournament games, Button said that the coaching staff wanted to see if Dermott could increase his pace of play to fit the international style of play. Along with speed and tempo, Button said those were the main things the coaches were looking for when constructing the roster.
The record for highest attendance at the tournament has been broken in each of the last two editions in Europe and Button expects that trend to continue this year. He touts the unpredictability of the competition as a reason why it continues to be so great.
“What stands out for me now is the fact that there’s been a different winner for the last five seasons. The parity of this tournament is second to none. You look at the quality of teams, the high-end talent of the individual players… Five different countries winning the tournament in the last five years, everybody goes into the tournament knowing they have the chance to compete for a gold medal.”
Along with last year’s roster, Button says that the 1982, 2005 and 2009 teams stand out the most in his memory. Still, with the NHL clubs controlling the fate of allowing many of the players to play in the tournament, it can be tougher for countries to assemble a true ‘best of the best’ roster. While Canada used to stand alone in that regard, Button said that’s not the case anymore.
The turnover on the World Juniors rosters is often high as the age limit of 20 years old restricts many players from returning to compete. Lawson Crouse, Joe Hicketts, Brayden Point and Jake Virtanen are the holdovers from last year’s team and Button believes this is enough of a core to build around.
“I think that you have players that won, I think that’s significant, that can help the other players. What it really helps the other players with is understanding at different points of the tournament, different points in particular games, ‘Hey listen, this is what we got to do, this is how you stay settled,’ you can always look to those players as kind of guideposts and I think that’s always important.”
The group this year is younger but not less accomplished. Button doesn’t think that age will be a hindrance on a team stacked with offensive firepower.
“You have the leading scorer in the OHL last year, Dylan Strome. You have the second leading scorer in Mitch Marner. You have one of the top scorers in the Western Hockey League in Brayden Point and Matt Barzal. These guys have been prolific scorers. It’s not easy to score at the World Junior level but do I think that they have the ability to score and be an offensive threat? Absolutely I do.”
Regardless of the result, the World Juniors tournament gives fans a sneak peek at future NHL players while being able to cheer for their country at the same time.
“This is a great opportunity for fans to not only root for their home country but also to see what players are coming up to play for their favourite teams. You combine all those elements together and you get a real high-end, entertaining tournament.”