It's a rite of passage of sorts, the annual World Junior Championship, also known as the World U20 Championship in International Ice Hockey Federation circles. Lots of interesting food for thought when this event hits the ice.
Two years ago at the 201 WJC, Team USA beat Team Canada in OT in the gold medal game at Saskatoon. At the same time, in Atlantic Canada, Team USA won the World U17 Challenge. At the WJC post-game press conference, I suggested to Team USA head coach Dean Blais that the two international titles won by Hockey USA teams on consecutive nights must bode well for their program, moving forward. His response; "Well, they're learning to win." So, my question right now is; How many of the players from the U17 championship team have remained with the Hockey USA program, and how many of those who have been "learning to win" will be in Alberta for the 2012 WJC? The answer; only TWO! They are goaltender John Gibson and forward J.T. Miller. To borrow a phrase from one of the best in the biz, Kelowna Rockets (WHL) play-by-play man Regan Bartel, this is something "that makes me go hmmmmmmm......"
Aaron Vickers, the Managing Editor of Future Considerations, provided outstanding coverage of the Hockey Canada Selection Camp in Calgary, for both FC and NHL.com. Calgary is home for Vickers, so the 2012 WJC will certainly result in his best coverage efforts. He is already touting Team Finland as a medal threat, based on their showing early in a 3-1 pre-tournament defeat at the hands of Team Canada. I'll take his word for it, but I am somewhat skeptical about the Finns offensive depth.
I will miss the "behind the scenes" media follies this year as the 2012 WJC is not on my radar. I'll watch the hockey from a distance with great interest though, knowing that the Canadian media en masse will be putting on an embarrassing display along the lines of "do you kow who I am"? Especially some of the veteran guys in the industry, clowns that I hope will soon just back away from their keyboards and the complimentary buffet tables. I won't miss being jostled from behind by ignorant, 350-pound paper-weights who lack the common decency to show just an ounce of consideration. Had I been working the 2012 WJC, I'd have arrived prepared with my laptop, voice recorder, and a pair of sharpened elbows looking for targets.
The city of Calgary will be on fire with great hockey at different levels for the next couple of weeks. The WJC is the headliner for sure, but Hockey Canada is introducing the World Sport School Challenge (WSSC) this month. It's a six-team, round-robin affair that wraps up on New Year's Eve, pitting three western Canadian "academy" teams and one from the USA against the Finland and Slovakia U17 national teams. The Finns and Slovaks are on the outside looking in this year as international teams are rotated at the World U17 Challenge, which will be played in Windsor, Ontario. So, the new WSSC will enable these two young teams to compete internationally this month. Pursuit of Excellence and the Okanagan Hockey Academy will be there. And by the way, don't forget the annual Mac's Midget Tournament in Calgary, a huge celebration of boys and girls hcokey.
I'm really pulling for Team Canada assistant coach Ryan Huska at the WJC. He's one of the good guys, determined, soft-spoken, polite and focused. A gold medal will go along very nicely with his 2009 WHL Championship (Kelowna Rockets), and the Memorial Cup hardware he earned as a player with the Kamloops Blazers of the WHL. And also Brendan Gallagher of the Vancouver Giants...the diminutive one! He's a gritty kid who busts his ass to be the best. Gallagher is a great young player, an upbeat interview as well, a guy who I'm sure has already made a favourable impression with his Team Canada peers. If his work ethic becomes every players benchmark this month, I really like the team's chances.