Today the fun begins at the 2020 World Junior Championships. The first games begin at 9 a.m. Toronto time, and the medals get handed out on January 5. In between there’s a lot of hockey and three Leafs prospects to watch this year. Oh, and Team Canada, too, if you’re into that.
The 2020 WJC is in Ostrava and Trinec in the Czech Republic. Both cities are in the northeast of Czechia, near the Polish border, but also very close to Slovakia, which should make for some Slovak-heavy crowds for their games. The location is perfectly central to all the big hockey nations of Europe, so Russian, Swedish and Finnish fans can easily fill the stands for their teams as well. Expect the atmosphere to be fantastic and the whistling through every power play to be very loud.
Because of the time difference, most of the games are in the afternoon, Toronto time, with some starting in the morning, but 9 a.m. is the earliest start time.
There is action every day from today through to New Year’s Eve, and then after a day off on New Year’s Day, the quarterfinals and medal rounds run through January 5.
The WJC is a 10 team tournament with a relegation and promotion aspect. The two five-team groups play their round-robin games in their host city, and then the top four in each group play a cross-over quarterfinal. Finishing first or second in the group means you don’t travel for the quarterfinal games, but an exception is usually made for the host team to keep them in the main city with the larger arena.
The two last-placed teams play a best-of-three set of games to determine who is relegated to Division I Group A for next year. The 2020 winner of that group moves up to the WJC next year. That tournament finished up a few weeks ago with a surprising win by Austria. They will compete in Red Deer/Edmonton next year for the first time in over 10 years.
Like most IIHF events, the WJC is a three-point system with three points going to the regulation winner and two to a winner in overtime or a shootout. The third point is awarded to the loser.
The overtime format is a five-minute three-on-three in round-robin games. In playoff games, the overtime period is 10 minutes, in the gold medal game, the overtime period is 20 minutes with a full intermission beforehand.
The shootout format is a five round shootout with five different players on each team taking shots. Next is a reverse-order tie-breaker round if necessary. Under IIHF rules, any player can take shots in the tie-breaker series, and players can shoot multiple times. Players who were serving a penalty at the end of overtime cannot participate in the shootout.
Goal stats and standings lists credit the winning shootout goal as a Goal For.
Leafs defence prospects Rasmus Sandin and Mikko Kokkonen will face each other in the round robin today at 1 p.m., in the first and likely the toughest match for each team. Group A, which plays in the smaller Trinec arena, is the weaker group, with Slovakia and Switzerland, both better junior teams than they are senior men’s teams, likely to join Sweden and Finland in the quarterfinals. Kazakhstan, the winner of promotion last year, rounds out the group.
Nick Robertson gets to play in the much tougher Group B in Ostrava along with the host Czech team, Russia, Germany and oh, yeah, Canada. Team USA is favoured to be a strong team, and Germany is the likely team to miss the quarterfinals, but this group is the one where upsets can happen. Robertson takes the ice today at 1 p.m. against Canada.
It’s common for the WJC to be formatted to put the big rivalries on the ice on the last day; this year, they’re today, so buckle up and get ready to watch some exciting hockey. The Czechs play Canada on New Year’s Eve for the big finish to the round robin.
How to Watch
In Canada, most of the games are available on TSN, with some only online. If you are not a television subscriber to TSN, you can subscribe to the online-only service for a very reasonable price. You can opt for just one month for $19.99 or $4.99 for a single day.
Who is Good?
Most people in the know are calling this year’s WJC a tough one to call. There are many very good teams, and no one dominant team. Canada is strong, but so are other teams in their group. Team USA has some outstanding players, as do Sweden, Finland, and of course, the Russians, who are often the least well known coming into this event.
The WJC often seems to be a contest of who has the hottest goalie, and the Finns have the big name in Justus Annunen, but Spencer Knight of USA can be a force in net as well.
I’ve gotten a lot more distant from prospect watching as the Leafs have traded their first-round pick two years in a row, so I’m not claiming any expertise on these teams. If you want to learn more, I am directing you to this fabulous post at Raw Charge that outlines the strengths and weaknesses of every team. It’s detailed and informative, and I won’t pretend I could have written anything half this good.
Nick Robertson is an exciting offensive player with a scrappy-do nature and a willingness to be the most annoying player on the ice at all times when he isn’t busy getting a lot of points. He’s just plain fun to watch.
Nick Robertson just scored a beauty pic.twitter.com/zbjY2vklM4— Kevin Papetti (@KPapetti) December 23, 2019
Rasmus Sandin is a more cerebral player. He’ll be on the top pair for Sweden, and you’ll get a chance to see him play a lot of minutes where he seems to float over the ice with the puck. His skating is smooth, his passing is smooth, his decision making is calm and controlled. He plays the circle back and regroup style that the Leafs now use and he learned in the Soo.
Last year in the WJC, Sandin was more aggressive offensively than he was on the Leafs early this season. He knows when to pick his moments, and he’s not prone to getting caught on a bad pinch too often. Defensively, he’s grown so much after a season on the Marlies, it’s hard to predict how good he’ll be, but he is a standout performer vs his age-mates.
Mikko Kokkonen is going to play a lot less than either of the other two. He should be the fifth to eighth defender on any given day for Finland. He’s not a flashy player, and isn’t a big offensive force off the power play. He’s not likely to get a lot of power play time on this roster. He is more notable for the mistakes he doesn’t make as an 18-year-old who doesn’t turn 19 until after this tournament is over in January. We should expect that Kokkonen’s development is a long arc where, if all goes well, he’ll show up on the Marlies one year and we’ll be shocked at how steady and reliable he is.
For the full schedule of games, the standings and more, the official IIHF site for the tournament has it all.
You’re all ready to watch now, all you have to do is decide between the flash of Robertson or the sophistication of Sandin. If you’re cheering for Canada against Robertson, I don’t want to hear about it.