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2012 WJC schedule: CAN, USA play on Dec. 31

by Mike G. Morreale
The 2012 International Ice Hockey Federation host committee and Hockey Canada announced Tuesday the final schedule for the World Junior Championship, slated for Calgary and Edmonton.

The tournament, which runs Dec. 26 through Jan. 5, 2012, will feature an intriguing preliminary-round tussle between 2011 silver-medalist Canada and the bronze medal-winning United States at 8 p.m. ET on New Year's Eve at Rexall Place in Edmonton.

For the last 35 years, the World Junior Championship, the premiere international tournament for under-20 hockey players, has provided a springboard to those players looking to solidify their status as a player capable of coming up big in pressure moments.

Many of today's current NHL stars have proven themselves on this international platform, including Sidney Crosby, Mike Richards and Jarome Iginla for Canada; Patrick Kane, Zach Parise and Bobby Ryan for the United States; Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin and Ilya Kovalchuk of Russia; Nicklas Lidstrom, Henrik Zetterberg, Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin for Sweden; Martin Havlat, Milan Hejduk and Tomas Kaberle for the Czech Republic; Teemu Selanne, Saku Koivu and Mikko Koivu for Finland and Marian Hossa, Marian Gaborik and Jaroslav Halak for Slovakia.

The United States and Canada will compete in Group B, hosted in Edmonton, along with the Czech Republic, Denmark and Finland.

Russia which rallied from a three-goal deficit against Canada with five unanswered goals in the third period of a 5-3 victory in the 2011 gold-medal game, will compete in Group A with Latvia, Slovakia, Sweden and Switzerland. Those games will be played at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary.

Canada leads the all-time standings with 15 gold medals, followed by the 13 won by the Soviet Union/Russia. Canada has been to 10 straight gold-medal games, winning five in a row from 2005-09. Canada saw its five-tournament win streak ended by the U.S. in a 6-5 overtime victory in the gold-medal game in 2010 in Saskatoon.

The tournament will open at 3:30 p.m. ET on Dec. 26 as Canada, coached by Don Hay of the Western Hockey League's Vancouver Giants, faces Finland. The U.S., led by University of Nebraska-Omaha coach Dean Blais, also opens Dec. 26, at 8 p.m. against Denmark.

Defending champion Russia will play Switzerland in its tournament opener at 10 p.m. ET on Dec. 26 in Calgary.

After a day off, Canada will play Czech Republic at 8 p.m. on Dec. 28, Denmark at 8 p.m. on Dec. 29 and the U.S. on Dec. 31. The U.S., meanwhile, plays Finland at 3:30 p.m. on Dec. 28, the Czech Republic at 3:30 p.m. on Dec. 30 and Canada on Dec. 31.

Canada beat the U.S. 4-1 in the semifinals of last year's WJC. While the victory sent Canada to the gold-medal game, the U.S. was left to play for the bronze, which it won with a 4-2 defeat of Sweden. It marked the first time the U.S. had medaled in two straight tournaments. Since 2003, the U.S. has won two golds and a bronze.

The quarterfinals will be played Jan. 2 at 5 and 9 p.m. and the semifinals will be played Jan. 3 at 5 and 9 p.m. The bronze-medal game will be Jan. 5 at 3:30 p.m. ET; the gold-medal game will be played Jan. 5 at 8 p.m. All knockout-round games will be played at Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary.

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
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