The Junior World Championship is a holiday hockey tradition like no other.
This year is an exception.
The tournament still takes place during the main holiday season, only now it takes place in midsummer instead of after Christmas. Confused? Let’s recap.
The WJC 2022 should be held as usual last December. Due to COVID-19 concerns, the site has been relocated to Edmonton, Alberta under restrictive “bubble” conditions. The International Ice Hockey Federation hoped strict protocols would allow the event to proceed as planned. Spoilers: it didn’t.
Four days later, the IIHF had to abandon the game after the United States, Czech Republic and Russia each lost their preliminary round matches due to a rising number of COVID cases in their ranks. At the time, the IIHF did not know if the tournament could be postponed.
A new plan was announced in April. The IIHF said it will re-stage the 2022 repeat of its event from Aug. 9-20 in Edmonton. The results of games played last December would be discarded. Players born in 2002 or later retain their eligibility. And so here we are.
Of course, when the preliminary round starts (again), all eyes will be on the tournament’s all-time favorites from the USA and Canada. These countries highlight two groups of participating nations: Group A consists of the USA, Austria, Germany, Sweden and Switzerland, while Group B consists of Canada, Czech Republic, Finland, Latvia and Slovakia.
Austria maintained its place in a top league despite finishing 10th last year. Normally it would have faced relegation but the cancellation of various U20 tournaments has changed the regulations and they remain in the mix.
The top four teams in each group will play in the quarter-finals starting August 17th. This will be followed by the semifinals on August 19th and the gold and bronze medal games on August 20th.
Before things get rolling, let’s take a look at some of the key storylines and other intriguing players populating this year’s tournament. As hockey fans know, there’s no comparison to the drama the World Juniors can bring. (Editor’s note: A version of this story was published in December prior to the tournament’s initial launch. It has been updated to reflect what has changed between then and now.)
Can Team USA compete?
Spencer Knight made 34 saves and Trevor Zegras scored two points as Team USA defeated Team Canada 2-0 to win gold at the 2021 World Juniors tournament.
This was Team USA’s fifth WJC title, along with wins in 2004, 2010, 2013 and 2017. What USA has never achieved is winning gold in consecutive years. And there’s no time like the present to try again.
Head coach Neal Leaman will be back behind the bench this year after guiding Team USA to gold in 2021. Leaman was a men’s coach at Providence College for 11 seasons and won an NCAA title in 2015.
Team USA has four skaters returning from that winning roster in Brock Faber, Landon Slaggert, Brett Berard and Tyler Kleven in 2021 and retained 17 of the 25 players originally scheduled for the December tournament.
Team Canada will be a prominent stand in the way of a USA repeat, despite having previously suffered significant losses. Nine players from Canada’s December roster are not returning this time, including Owen Power and Kaiden Guhle. Canada, however, boasts impressive goaltender prowess, highlighted by Canadian Hockey League Goaltender of the Year Dylan Garand.
Canada was also the last team to win consecutive WJC titles, winning five consecutive gold medals from 2005–09. Will the USA compete next in a row?
Can Connor Bedard dominate – again?
Technically, the last 16-year-old to play for Canada at the World Juniors was a guy named Connor McDavid.
In December, another Connor followed in McDavid’s footsteps – and (then) 16-year-old Connor Bedard got off to a great start. Bedard entered Canada’s winter selection camp with an outside shot to be the team’s 13th forward. He made the final roster and became the youngest player in tournament history to score four goals in one game in Canada’s first-round win over Austria. A day later, the IIHF ended the championship.
Bedard then rejoined the Western Hockey League’s Regina Pats and had an electrifying 76 points in 38 games.
It’s no wonder, then, that Bedard is entering this tournament iteration not only with Mason McTavish in Canada’s top line, but also as a pick for first place in the 2023 NHL Entry Draft.
Canada head coach Dave Cameron said Bedard’s three months of playing time between one championship and the next had a “huge” impact on his overall game. The center agrees, telling reporters this week he felt he was improving from the second half of last season, particularly in terms of his faceoff percentage. Bedard will be eager to showcase these advances on an international stage.
There’s no reason to doubt that he can. Bedard has long been a high-flyer, including becoming the first player in WHL history to receive special status as a 15-year-old to join the Pats. So maybe it shouldn’t have come as a surprise when Bedard came into camp last winter and was Canada’s top scorer with two goals and four assists.
Despite this, Bedard was not to play a major role for Canada. That changed quickly. Expectations are now sky high for what Bedard can deliver in a squad hungry to get back on top.
The same applies to Logan Cooley from the USA. He was part of the team’s original WJC roster and counted an assist in a preliminary round game before the COVID shutdown. Leman felt Cooley had made great plays in that match against Slovakia and expected to start relying on Cooley more from there.
That should be especially true now considering what has happened for Cooley since then. He returned to the US National Team Development Program and had a great year with the U-18 team, amassing 75 points in 51 games. That led to Cooley being drafted third overall by Arizona in last month’s NHL Entry Draft. confidence boost? You bet.
Cooley wants to turn pro fast but wants to play in Minnesota next season. The World Juniors should be an ideal transition into his freshman year. The Pittsburgh native is a highly skilled center who can fill a top-six role for the USA and compete toe-to-toe with Bedard and other elite skaters in this tournament.
Where is Russia?
This is the first time ever that a World Junior Championship does not include Team Russia.
They have been at the tournament since it began in 1974 and have won the most medals (37) of any participating nation. Russia was also present at the championship in December. But in February, the IIHF ruled that all teams from Russia and Belarus were banned from participating in all IIHF-sanctioned events. The verdict came amid Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine.
“The IIHF is not a political entity and cannot influence the decisions made about the war in Ukraine,” IIHF President Luc Tardif said in a statement at the time. “We nonetheless have a duty of care to all our members and participants and as such we must do everything we can to ensure that we can conduct our events in a safe environment for all teams participating in the IIHF World Championships program.”
So with Russia eliminated, Latvia is now in. This is Latvia’s first appearance at the tournament since 2017 and its seventh trip overall. Latvia secured their spot by finishing second in the Division 1A competition of the December tournament. Belarus finished first and would normally take Russia’s place in this case, but Belarus is also suspended.
Will new faces appear?
All of the players from December’s tournament could have returned for this Summer Showcase. Of course, not all of them will be, which requires reinforcements in almost every squad.
Say hello to (some of) the newcomers.
William Dufour, F (Canada)
Dufour didn’t make it to Team Canada on the first try. But that was then. The New York Islanders juniors had a great 2022 season with the Saint John Sea Dogs of the QMJHL, leading the league in goals (56) and second in points (116). It was good enough for Dufour to earn the QMJHL’s Michel Briere trophy as league MVP — and he didn’t stop there. Dufour won another MVP title when he led the Sea Dogs to a Memorial Cup championship that spring, recording the most goals (7) and points (8) in the tournament. Dufour has the goalscoring ability that Canada needs and should be a match for great minutes given an even strength and power play.
Sean Behrens, D (USA)
Technically, Behrens is not entirely new here. He made the Team USA roster in December but was unable to travel to the tournament after testing positive for COVID-19. The defender now has another crack in the game and will come into this championship on a high. The Colorado nominee just wrapped up a sensational freshman season at the University of Denver, scoring 29 points in 37 games and helping lead the Pioneers to a national title. Behrens is a talented all-round skater with great puck movement, which he’ll have a lot of fun with in Edmonton.
Thomas Bordeleau, C (USA)
This opportunity has been a long time coming for Bordeleau. He was due to play for Team USA in both 2021 and last winter but was thwarted by COVID-19 protocols both times. The 20-year-old was allowed to play a small role for USA at the men’s World Cup this year. He should play a bigger role in the juniors. Bordeleau is aiming to become a top-six center, using his creativity and high-end skills to give the US A San Jose Sharks draft pick plenty of impetus. Bordeleau signed his entry-level deal with the team at the end of last season.
Jonathan Lekkerimaki, F (Sweden)
Keep an eye out for this Vancouver Canucks draftee. Lekkerimaki has already had a great international season for Sweden, scoring a tournament high with 15 points at the U18 World Cup (where he won gold) and five goals at the Hlinka tournament. Add to that a seven-goal record in the Swedish Hockey League and it’s unsurprising that the 18-year-old is generating a lot of buzz – and expectations – about how he’ll help lead Sweden’s offense in this championship.
Aatu Raty, F (Finland)
This season was a real turning point for Raty. The Islanders got off to a poor start with Finland’s Karpat, recording little ice time in the team’s first six games. Raty was then traded from Karpat to Jukurit in October, where he played under head coach (and former NHLer) Olli Jokinen. It was a perfect game and Raty excelled in his new quarters with 13 goals and 40 points in 41 games. After being completely left out of Finland’s squad last year, he now centers the top line with Roni Hirvonen and Joakim Kemell and could end up being the tournament’s top scorer. Talk about a light up.
https://www.espn.com/nhl/story/_/id/34369687/what-need-know-ahead-re-staged-2022-world-junior-championships What you need to know ahead of the restaged 2022 World Junior Championships