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What to expect from Team Canada at the WJC

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The roster, the coach, and the words “blue collar.”

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Kamloops Blazers v Kelowna Rockets Photo by Marissa Baecker/Getty Images

“The heat will be on Canada after being eliminated last year by tournament host Finland in the quarter-finals. And this year the stakes may be higher in Montreal and Toronto, where Canada won gold in two years ago.” — Globe and Mail

But no pressure, Team Canada.

If you’ve read any coverage of the U-20 IIHF World Junior Championship team over the past few days, you’ve probably noticed that there is one storyline emphasized more than any other: that Team Canada is “lacking clear stars.” Up until team selection, the biggest news was that Team Canada desperately hoped that some U-20 stars would be released by their NHL teams.

But this year, NHL clubs aren’t releasing guys like Connor McDavid, Mitch Marner, Jacob Chychrun, Lawson Crowse, or Travis Knoecny to the tournament. This also means that the front runner for first overall pick, Nolan Patrick, isn’t at the tournament either. Patrick hasn’t been medically cleared to play after suffering an upper-body injury while playing with the Brandon Wheat Kings.

Instead, the rhetoric has swirled around what Team Canada coach Dominique Ducharme calls being a “complete team.” In the last pretournament match before the final roster was selected, Team Canada pummeled Team Czech 8-0. It led Ducharme to tell Sportsnet, “I think we’ve got speed, we’ve got skill, I think we’re reliable, we can defend, we’re good at putting pressure on the other team, and we want to put all of that together."

A few days later, Ducharme elaborated to Sportsnet about his perception of the team: “We have four lines plus one [player], that can be producing offensively, playing responsibly, playing with speed. We’ll see different combinations but, on every line, I think we can see some speed, scoring and responsible play. We have hockey players. We talked about being special and I think those guys showed they can be special.”

Let’s notice a few more adjectives that have been used to describe Team Canada:

"The willingness to park egos at the door.” — Blair MacKasey, former Team Canada coach

“Canada’s team for the world junior hockey championship will be all about teamwork, speed and desire.” — Sportsnet

“We have four lines that can score, we have four lines that can play a blue-collar game. It’s exciting for everyone.” -- Mitchell Stephens

“I think we'll be a little bit more of a blue collar type of team this year with a lot of skill, speed and we have a lot of guys who are very responsible. You can see it in all four lines. Guys with high-end skill who put up big numbers in juniors to guys who are defensive forwards. We have really good goaltending, too, which is huge.” — Mitchell Stephens again

What does this mean about Team Canada’s play? If I’m reading team and media rhetoric correctly, it appears that having a bunch of extremely good players rather than a few superstars along with a bunch of extremely good players makes the team identity different, and that because of this “blue collar” identity, the team will play more cohesively with “less ego.”

Errrr okay.

But really, what the team has is tremendous skill (even though none of this skill is drafted by Toronto), and a coach whose system seems to emphasize defensively responsible play, speed of skating, and balanced offence across four lines. Not all teams are this lucky, and Team Canada should count its blessings.

Practice Lines from 12/18

Forwards

Pierre-Luc Dubois - Dylan Strome - Blake Speers

Mathieu Joseph - Mathew Barzal - Taylor Raddysh

Tyson Jost - Nicolas Roy - Julien Gauthier

Dillon Dubé - Anthony Cirelli - Mitchell Stephens

Michael McLeod

Defence

Thomas Chabot - Philippe Myers

Jake Bean - Noah Juulsen

Kale Clague - Dante Fabbro

Jeremy Lauzon

Goaltenders

Carter Hart

Connor Ingram

You can see which prospect is drafted by which team here.

Random notes about the lineup

  • Scott Wheeler comments on the lineup: “Speers on first line would be a bit of a surprise, not because he's not capable but mostly because he hasn't played all year. I think Clague should be the 7th defensemen. Lauzon is sooooooo steady. The third line is better than the second line. Tyson Jost is amazing and should be in the top 6.”
  • El Seldo comments: “While not a team of superstars on paper, not many of these names will be familiar to the Torontonians that will fill the ACC (as junior hockey to them only exists over the holiday break, then disappears for another year); it's a very talented team. Mitchell Stephens is overshadowed by how bad the Spirit are. Dylan Strome was almost an NHLer this year. Michael McLeod is also a very good player on a team not performing so well, and being so far down the line up speaks to the depth Canada is bringing to this tournament. Now, hopefully they can learn to play together in time for the tournament.”
  • Five players are back from last year’s competition: Barzal, Chabot, Gauthier, Stephens, and Strome. Stephens says it’s his first time playing in an international competition on home soil. No pressure. “It raises the stakes a little bit higher. I haven't really played on Canadian soil internationally before so this will be my first test in Canada playing in front of 20,000 fans every night in Montreal and Toronto. It's going to be a heck of an experience and I'll try to soak it all in,” Stephens said.
  • Katya comments: “Dylan Strome and Matthew Barzal personally have something to prove. Mitch Marner is not in junior hockey. Noah Hanifin is in his second NHL year. But there they are. And I'm sure I read somewhere that as soon as Strome was sent down, Barzal called him up and said something about we need to win this.”
  • Baseball Annie comments: “Hart is good.”
  • You can read a deep dive about the five Bolts prospects here, and a brief description of the Habs prospects here.
  • Jost and Fabbro are the only two guys on Team Canada who play for the NCAA, and according to TSN they are getting a lot of curious questions about this.
  • Tampa Bay Lightning prospects Raddysh and Stephens both scored twice in the game against the Czechs, making it hard for the team to cut newcomer Raddysh. The four Bolts prospects have been split across two lines, the current 2nd and 4th. Backup goaltender Connor Ingram is also a TBL prospect. Go, Yzerman, go.
  • Joseph is a character. He sings, he dances, and he’s very outgoing, but he’s trying to reign it all in for the team.
  • The WHL is proud that seven WHL players were selected: Hart (Everett Silvertips), Ingram (Kamloops Blazers), Bean (Calgary Hitmen), Clague (Brandon Wheat Kings), Juulsen (Everett Silvertips), Barzal (Seattle Thunderbirds), and Dube (Kelowna Rockets).

Team Finland is set to meet this “blue collar” version of Team Canada for a pretournament match at Bell Centre, tonight at 7 PM.