World Juniors outright odds (As of Dec. 21)
Team Canada: 1.90
Team USA: 2.20
Team Finland: 7.25
Team Sweden: 11.00
Team Russia: 12.00
Team Czech Republic: 16.00
It’s that time of year again.
Team Canada will enter the World Junior Hockey Championships in Vancouver and Victoria, B.C., as the favourite to win the gold medal, repeating as champs for the first time since the 2008 and 2009 competitions, which capped off an impressive run of five straight first-place finishes for the red and white at the annual tournament that has become such a huge holiday tradition north of the border.
A week before the tournament gets underway on Boxing Day, Team Canada’s odds to win the gold were 1.90 at PlayNow.com, followed closely by Team USA with odds of 2.20.
What a spectacle for hockey it would be if these two teams – which have put forward some epic games in past World Juniors and seem forever entrenched in one of the most exciting and bitter rivalries in hockey – face off in the final at Rogers Arena on Jan. 5.
After Team USA, Finland has the third best odds to win the tournament at 7.25 at PlayNow.com, while Sweden is fourth at 11.00 and Russia rounds out the top five with odds of 12.00 to win gold.
Since winning gold in 2009, Canada has appeared in the tournament finale five times, taking home silver on three occasions, the latest being in 2017 when they lost a heartbreaker to the U.S. in the shootout. Team Canada rebounded last year and defeated Sweden in the final, winning the gold for just the second time in the last nine competitions.
This should give an indication of how difficult it has become to win the gold.
Since 2009, no nation has won this tournament on back-to-back occasions. Team USA has been able to win three of the last nine world juniors, as one of five different champions in that time frame. The talent pool for the top hockey superpowers entering this tournament can fluctuate year to year, and new stars can rise and then dominate for any of those top countries in any given year.
In 2015, Canada snapped a five-year gold drought with an absolutely stacked roster led by Connor McDavid, months ahead of his selection as the first overall pick in the NHL Draft.
The following year, Canada didn’t even medal and Finland took home the gold with a roster that included Patrik Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi, who would go on to become the second and fourth overall selections in the 2016 NHL Draft.
The challenge in a tournament like this is having balanced scoring, good special teams, top goaltending and a group that is able to find chemistry. Talent alone may not get a team to the gold medal game because there are four or five main challengers now that also boast highly skilled rosters.
For local Canucks fans, there is additional rooting interest.
Michael DiPietro, taken in the third round of the 2017 NHL Draft by the Vancouver Canucks, could be in line to start in net for Team Canada – a situation that could help him prepare for what it’s like to play in the hockey hotbed of Vancouver later on down the road in his career.
DiPietro started for Canada in its first pre-tournament game and allowed three goals on 17 shots faced. Those aren’t good numbers. But there are two key things to remember, as the battle for the job of Canada’s starting goalie heats up: It’s their first game of pre-tournament play and it really only matters what DiPietro does when he’s given his opportunity in the crease in actual tournament play; and DiPietro has already backstopped a team to a championship, as the No. 1 goalie for the Windsor Spitfires during their 2017 Memorial Cup run.
Look to the U.S. roster, and a familiar name should be patrolling their blue line. The Canucks selected Quinn Hughes seventh overall in the 2018 NHL Draft and he is putting together another impressive season on defence in his second year of NCAA hockey with the Michigan Wolverines. The smooth-skating, puck controlling defenceman is the poster boy for hope on the blue line for the Canucks organization and certainly their fans will want to chart his progress and success in this tournament.
For those still hoping the Canucks somehow get the No. 1 overall pick in the draft in Vancouver later next spring, Jack Hughes – younger brother of Quinn Hughes – is also expected to be an offensive catalyst up front for the American squad.
The last time the tournament was played in Vancouver, back in 2005-06, Canada won the gold, finishing off Russia in the final. That marked Team Canada’s second straight gold medal, repeating as champions for the first time since their other previous run of five straight titles during the mid-to-late 90s.
Could history repeat itself again in Vancouver?