One of hockey's finest traditions is the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship, which annually begins on Boxing Day in Canada, or Dec. 26 in the United States.
This year's tournament is being held in Malmo, Sweden and as one would expect, features a collection of the finest young hockey players on the planet. The defending champions from the U.S. don't have many of the familiar names from last year's squad (Seth Jones, Jacob Trouba and John Gibson are all currently playing professional hockey) but head coach Don Lucia's squad has as good a chance as any to repeat as gold medalists.
The Canadians, featuring two Blue Jackets prospects in Josh Anderson of London and Kerby Rychel of Guelph, are leading contenders for gold as well. It's a young group for Canada, too, with names like Aaron Ekblad and Connor McDavid headlining a group that gives fans a glimpse at some potential NHL superstars of tomorrow.
And the host nation, Sweden, has to be considered the favorite entering the tournament. Anchored in goal by Jackets prospect Oscar Dansk of the Erie Otters (one of the best teams in junior hockey this season), the Swedes have a balanced lineup that doesn't have many weaknesses. Columbus first-rounder Alexander Wennberg is an alternate captain for Sweden and figures to be a key player for them in the middle of the ice.
So, how did Blue Jackets prospects fare on Day 1 of the WJC? Let's take a look.
OSCAR DANSK (SWE)
The 19-year-old netminder is a World Junior veteran at this point and is no stranger to high-pressure international competition. He made 30 saves for Sweden in their 5-3 win over Switzerland to open the tournament, and by all accounts, played a solid game in what was an occasionally-frantic opener for both sides.
ALEXANDER WENNBERG (SWE)
It was a strong opener for Wennberg, who is having a fine season with Frolunda HC and now playing a prominent role for his home country in the WJC. Wennberg anchored one of Sweden's top lines in a 5-3 win over the Swiss, and assisted on line mate Andreas Johnson's late goal which capped the scoring.
KERBY RYCHEL (CAN)
Though he didn't get on the scoresheet in Canada's opening win over Germany, Rychel skated on left wing of the top line with Nic Petan and Curtis Lazar.
JOSH ANDERSON (CAN)
Anderson really had to earn his way on to Team Canada, and did so with a strong start to his season with the London Knights and an impressive showing in Canada's camp. Anderson scored the first goal in a four-goal first period for Canada off a nice pass from Frederik Gauthier six minutes into it, and was buzzing around the rink throughout.
Notes: The Slovakian team (featuring Marko Dano) opens its World Junior schedule on Friday against Germany. Markus Soberg of Norway did not play in his team's 11-0 loss to Russia.