The 2012 World Junior Hockey Championships are set to kick off on Monday afternoon in Alberta, even though it's still the year 2011. It's a deep field this year in the 10-team tournament, but just as was the case last year --- and the year before, and the year before -- the favorites haven't really changed.
Canada and the United States lead the way, at least according to Bruce Peter at SB Nation's international hockey blog, Puck Worlds. Peter picks the Americans to return home with the gold this year, calling the team the best all-around unit in the field. He predicts another Canadian run that falls just short, followed by a bronze for Finland and a heartbreak for Sweden. Russia, the defending goal medalists, wrap up Peter's top five.
For Canada, the perennial favorite hoping to rebound from two tough years in a row, it's a tougher go this time around than in any recent year of the tournament, and that's despite the home ice advantage. We'll let the expert explain.
Canada looks like a gold medal contender, and really, the goaltending has the potential to show that as well. But it's a tougher go for Canada this year, and not just in the preliminary round with the USA, Czechs and Finns. There are five teams that legitimately seem to have teams that can win this tournament, whereas most years there only seem like two or three true contenders. The home crowd advantage seems to be waning the more often the tournament is held in Canada, as other nations are getting used to the intimidating atmosphere.
If Canada doesn't win gold, it'll be a disappointing result. But there are more nations that are taking that attitude into Calgary and Edmonton these next two weeks.
The Americans will attempt to win their second gold medal in three years and upset Canada again in the process, and they have a familiar face behind the bench as they try to do that. Again, from the expert:
In the end, the Americans boast one of, if not the most complete lineup in 2012. And there's one more important note on this team: the return of the 2010 WJC gold medal winning Head Coach, Dean Blais. Whereas last year's team came up short in the grit department against Canada, according to [writer Chris] Peters, Blais won't allow that to happen. "Team USA really struggled to score goals last year... This team will be faster, stronger, and tougher, no doubt. One thing you may have noticed... there wasn't much grit on last year's roster. I think that will be remedied this time around. Blais holds his players accountable and makes adjustments quickly."