Well, it's finally arrived. The day most Canadians have anticipated since suffering a 6-5 overtime setback to the United States some 340-plus days ago -- the 2011 IIHF World Junior Championship.
Team Canada will open at 4 p.m. ET on Sunday against Russia, certainly no easy task against a team also eager to get back on track following a sixth-place showing in the 2010 WJC in Saskatoon, Sask. Team USA, meanwhile, will open against Finland at 8 p.m. ET. Both games are at HSBC Arena and, in addition to live coverage on the NHL Network, NHL.com will be there to provide features, game reports and blog reports. So keep checking back often.
Canada was perfect in three pre-tournament games, outscoring Finland, Switzerland and Sweden by a combined, 17-3. Most impressive in that set was the triumph against Sweden, of course, which is also considered a medal favorite, with the likes of several top prospects, including Ottawa goalie Robin Lehner, Calgary defenseman Tim Erixon and forwards Calle Jarnkrok (Detroit) and Anton Lander (Edmonton).
But, as Canada coach Dave Cameron has said throughout the exhibition schedule, its anybody's game. Still, the Canadians do have an impressive arsenal at their disposal, despite the fact some may claim it might not be the offensive juggernaut that fans have become so accustomed to. In fact, you could almost say that the Canada and Team USA are mirror-images. They possess NHL-caliber talent and are big, strong, tough, fast and willing to play the roles their given.
In case you haven't seen our prediction at NHL.com, you can see them here. Basically, I'm picking Team Canada based on their tremendous success in recent years in this tournament. Yes, the U.S. won it last year, but it's tough to go against the perennial favorite -- at least for one more season.
The one advantage the U.S. has against Canada is in goal, where the experienced Dallas Stars prospect Jack Campbell returns between the pipes. Canada likely will have Mark Visentin in net. Coach Dave Cameron informed his Sunday starter on Christmas Day but didn't inform the media. Reports from Canada have Visentin getting the nod. Both Visentin and Olivier Roy lack international experience.
Visentin earned a 5-2 victory against Finland and also stopped all 20 shots faced in an 8-0 defeat of Switzerland in exhibition play. Roy got the nod in the 4-1 triumph against Sweden, making 29 saves.
Cameron had top 2011 Entry Draft-eligible prospect Sean Couturier playing with Florida prospect Quinton Howden and Edmonton's Curtis Hamilton in the final exhibition tuneup. Columbus prospect Ryan Johansen, meanwhile, was moved to the top line alongside a couple of Buffalo prospects, Zack Kassian and Marcus Foligno.
Team USA coach Keith Allain had San Jose prospect Charlie Coyle centering for the Rangers' Chris Kreider and Anaheim's Kyle Palmieri on the top line and Minnesota's Nick Bjugstad with the Rangers' Ryan Bourque and Chicago's Jeremy Morin.
In addition to the U.S. and Canada, there are two other games on the docket to open the WJC on Sunday. Germany will face Switzerland at 12:30 p.m. ET and Norway meets Sweden at 4 p.m. ET.