One thing that was hard to ignore during Canada's win over Team USA on Sunday was its relentless depth at forward.
They don't have just one scoring line or a group of five or six players that Steve Spott can call on when they need a goal; it's a well-structured team that has offensive firepower up and down the lineup. Spott rolls four lines and likes to get them all involved, and in scoring 15 goals in their first two games of this World Junior, it was an open invitation.
But even with three solid wins in the bag and a bird's-eye view of the medal round, the Canadians know they'll need to be better -- and they are getting a major piece of their team back for tomorrow's game against Russia.
Boone Jenner was suspended for a pre-tournament hit on Swedish defenseman Jesper Pettersson that resulted in a dislocated shoulder and broken wrist. Pettersson was ruled out for the entire tournament and it only added to a pile of significant injuries for the Swedes, who were outraged at what they deemed a dangerous hit by Jenner.
Spott and Jenner both defended the hit, saying it was not malicious or done with intent to injure. Replays showed the hit was delivered after Pettersson had released the puck, but Jenner's arms and elbows were tucked into his body and there was no contact to the head.
The IIHF agreed with the Swedes and handed Jenner a three-game suspension, causing him to miss games against Germany, Slovakia and the United States. It was a definite bummer for Jenner, who is having a tremendous season with the Oshawa Generals (OHL) and is currently tied for the league's goal-scoring lead.
Anticipation was high for Jenner coming into the tournament because he was likely to play a bigger role than he did last year and be counted on as a leader by the coaching staff. He was a top penalty killer for Canada and saw a lot of ice time against the opposition's best players, and the expectation is he will fit into a similar role once he returns.
“I can’t wait to get back out there,” Jenner told the Toronto Sun. “It has been pretty tough. (Watching) is not what you want to be doing. I’m going to be a little nervous. I’m going to be ready to go. I’ve been thinking about it a lot.”
One thing is clear once he does get back into action: the drama put into tomorrow's game against Russia has pretty much vanished since all of the pre-tournament talk.
Both teams are solidly into the medal round and the only thing left to decide is seeding -- which is still important, but not as dire as Team USA's must-win with Slovakia. It will be interesting to see how Spott uses Jenner in his first game back: does he ease him into the lineup or will he take advantage of the adrenaline and let Jenner set the physical tone of the game?
The latter is most likely, especially given the physical, North American style of game the Russians have played since Mikhail Varnakov took over as coach of the national junior team.
Faceoff is set for 9 a.m. ET and the game will air live on the NHL Network in the United States.