Since the current playoff format was established in 1996, Canada has been to the gold medal game at the World Juniors 19 times. Their opponents including today's final have been: Russia (9 times), United States (5), Sweden (4), and Finland (1). The Finns have been to the ultimate game six times: Russia (2), Canada, Czech Republic, Sweden, United States (1).
Back from 2021
Canada’s only returning player who won silver at the 2021 World Juniors is goalie Dylan Garand. Finland, meanwhile, has ten returnees from their bronze-medal-winning team that year.
Because same as during the original event in December 2002-born players remain eligible also in August, we will have the oldest gold-medal winner ever tonight. Candidates are Donovan Sebrango (CAN, b. 12 January 2002) and Ruben Rafkin (FIN, b. 8 January 2002).
Canada’s coach, Dave Cameron, was last behind his nation’s U20 bench in 2011, when the team had an historic collapse in the third period of the gold-medal game against Russia, turning a 3-0 lead into a shocking 5-3 loss. But this 11-year gap between coaching at the World Juniors is not the longest by any means. Lou Vairo coached the Americans for four years running, 1979-82, and then not again for 21 years! Walt Kyle was behind the U.S. bench in 1993 and not again until 2006, a 13-year difference. Hannu Jortikka coached Finland 13 years apart, first in 1997 and then again in 2010. Sergei Starygin of Kazakhstan coached the U20 team in 2001 and then not again at the top level until 2019 (although he also coached them at the Division I-B and I-A level in 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2018). Bengt Olsson in Sweden also coached in 1980 and not again til 1991, also an 11-year gap.
What an odd statistic. Finland is the least penalized team and has been short-handed only 12 times in five games, yet they have given up a whopping six goals and are dead last in penalty killing. They also have had 26 power play chances, the most in the tournament, and have scored 14 times, way more than any other team (Sweden is second with seven). They have scored 28 goals in six games and fully half have been with the extra skater.
Of the ten captains this tournament, five are forwards, five defenders.
Although there have been a few one-sided games this year, there have been but three shutouts, one recorded by Sweden, one by the U.S., one last night by Finland The American goose egg came via a very rare U20 instance of it being shared by two goalies who, more uniquely, were both making their Team USA debuts, Andrew Oke and Remington Keopple.
Only four players have appeared at the cancelled 21/22 WM20, the 2022 WM18, and the current 2022 WM20: Logan Cooley (USA), Jiri Kulich (CZE), Connor Bedard (CAN), and Joakim Kemell (FIN).
Latvia got an invite to Edmonton because of the absence of Russia and of Belarus, which finished first in Division IA. But below Latvia was Norway, and only a 4-2 Latvia win over Norge gave the Latvians the superior placing in that tournament that allowed them to finish second behind Belarus and come to Edmonton. Had Norway been the team here now, it would have been the first time since 2014 they had played at the top level. But, it wasn’t meant to be.
In 27 games at the top level of the World Juniors, Austria now has 26 losses and a tie, from 2004. That single point came from a 2-2 tie with Ukraine on 3 January 2004, in the relegation round. One of the players on that team was Philipp Pinter, the coach of this year’s team.
There could be a very simple solution to Austria’s problems, though. They have 14 right-hand shots on the team, by far the most in the tournament (Slovakia has three, by comparison). In today’s hockey, more and more players are shooting left, so perhaps they need to develop or name more lefties to the team!
Czechia has not won a World Juniors medal since a bronze in 2005. That win came at the expense of the U.S. in Grand Forks. Petr Vrana scored early in OT to give the Czechs a 3-2 win.
On-ice officials have exercised great caution when dealing with head hits and dangerous play along the boards. The result has been a plethora of video reviews to make sure they get the call right. But before they go to review, they consult, and the choreography has become something of a visual delight as they get in close in the officials’ semi-circle, give a group hug, and discuss among themselves.
Around the Corner
The 2023 groups will provide some great games to look forward to. Group A will play in Halifax and consists of Canada, Sweden, Czechia, Germany, and Austria. Group B in Moncton, New Brunswick, has the United States, Finland, Switzerland, Slovakia, and Latvia. The schedule hasn’t come out yet, but according to the usual template you’d think the New Year’s Eve games would be Canada-Sweden and United States-Finland. As well, teams will face relegation this time, so teams such as Austria, Latvia or Slovakia in particular need to up their game or face demotion. Moncton has never hosted an IIHF tournament game. The most famous hockey-playing son of that fair city is Gord Drillon, who was on Toronto’s famous 1942 Stanley-Cup winning team that remains the only NHL team to come back in the finals from 3-0 down (to Detroit) to win.