The IIHF World Under-20 Championship returns to Russia for the first time in 12 years, when the Czech Republic won its second title in a row with a victory over Finland in the gold-medal final in Moscow.
Canada settled for bronze in 2001.
Here is a primer for the return this year's event to Russia:
Pool of death
The Canadian juniors are in a five-country pool with gold-medal contenders Russia and United States as well as Germany and Slovakia. They will need to be on their game in the preliminary round in order to grab top spot in the pool and advance straight into the semifinals next week.
The defending champions from Sweden are in Pool A with Czech Republic, Finland, Latvia and Switzerland.
Here is Canada's preliminary schedule and medal-round dates (all times Eastern):
- Wednesday - Germany, 4:30 a.m.
- Friday - Slovakia, 4:30 a.m.
- Sunday - United States, 4:30 a.m.
- Monday - Russia, 9 a.m.
- Jan. 2 - Quarter-finals, 4 a.m. and 8 a.m.
- Jan. 3 - Semifinals, 4 a.m. and 8 a.m.
- Jan. 5 - Bronze and Gold medal games, 4 a.m. and 8 a.m.
Several NHL scouts we talked to at the Canadian junior selection camp in Calgary earlier this month felt that other than Canada, Russia, Sweden and the United States an eye also should be kept on Finland. Then the Finns went out and beat both Canada and the U.S. in exhibition games in Finland last week.
So they no longer arrive in Ufa as underdogs. Finland has a nice mix of youth and older players on its roster.
The scouts will keep a watchful eye on 2013 NHL draft eligible forward Aleksandr Barkov, whose Russian father Alexander played for Moscow Spartak and finished his days playing in Finland.
There are several Finland juniors making their mark in Canada and at home playing in the SM-Liiga, the top professional league in Finland. Pittsburgh Penguins prospect Olli Maatta is in his second season with the London Knights of the OHL.
Calgary Flames prospect Markus Granlund plays for HIFK. Nashville Predators draft pick Miikka Salomaki, a forward, and defenceman Ville Pokka, a New York Islanders prospect, both line up for Karpat.
Defenceman Rasmus Ristolainen, another top prospect plays for TPS Turku, and Barkov performs for Tappara, where he Dad played for a decade between 1994-2004.
NHL scouts will descend on Ufa to not only check on the progress of their draft picks, but to grade some of the top prospects for the 2013 NHL entry draft.
Here's a list top-10 draft prospects in alphabetical order entering the world juniors.
- Aleksandr Barkov, C (Finland) Tappara
- Jonathan Drouin, LW (Canada) Halifax Mooseheads
- Ryan Hartman, RW (United States) Plymouth Whalers
- Juuso Ikonen, LW (Finland) Blues
- Seth Jones, D (U.S.) Portland Winterhawks
- Artturi Lehkonen, LW (Finland) Kalpa
- Elias Lindholm, C (Sweden) Brynas
- Nathan MacKinnon, C (Canada) Halifax Mooseheads
- Rasmus Ristolainen, D (Finland) TPS Turku
- Alexander Wennberg, C (Sweden) Djurgarden
The Swedes won their first world under-20 championship last year in Calgary, but their chances at a repeat took a hit when the Senators would not release Mika Zibanejad from the AHL Binghamton Senators. They also have two good defencemen out with injuries in Jonas Brodin, a Minnesota Wild prospect, and Oscar Klefbom, a 2012 first-round Edmonton Oilers draft pick.
Swedish forward Jesper Pettersson was knocked out of the tournament with a dislocated shoulder and broken wrist when he was slammed with a late hit from Canada's Boone Jenner
in an exhibition game last weekend.
A U.S. Story
How did Alex Galchenyuk wind up on head coach Phil Housley's U.S. junior team? He was born in Milwaukee in 1994 when his Belarusian father Alexander lived there and played for the then IHL Admirals.
The older Galchenyuk, a centre, played for Moscow Dynamo, but when the Iron Curtain fell in 1992 he left to continue his pro career in North America, Germany, Switzerland and Italy.
The younger Galchenyuk, 18, was a first-round (third overall) selection of the Montreal Canadiens last June. In his third season with the OHL Sarnia Sting, Galchenyuk has 61 points in 33 games and was just one point behind Niagara IceDogs centre Ryan Strome, who will play for Canada, in the OHL scoring race.
The Lockout Effect
Canada usually has a built-in excuse if it doesn't win gold at the world junior because some of its top players usually are in the NHL. But not during a lockout. In fact, Canada has gone a perfect 13-0 combined and won two gold medals in the lockout world junior tournaments of 2004-05 and 1994-95.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins would have been with the Edmonton Oilers if there were not a lockout. Strome (N.Y. Islanders), Dougie Hamilton (Boston Bruins), Jonathan Huberdeau (Florida Panthers), Mark Scheifele (Winnipeg Jets) and Boone Jenner (Columbus Blue Jackets) were strong candidates to crack NHL rosters if there was no lockout.
Russia's Nail Yakupov (Oilers) and Mikhail Grigorenko (Buffalo Sabres) also likely would have been in the NHL if there were no lockout. AHL Connecticut Whale left wing J.T. Miller possibly could have made the New York Rangers.
Canada has won 14 Canadian junior medals in a row with five gold, six silver and three bronze. But Canada has not won gold since 2009, when Jordan Eberle and the junior team won the program's fifth consecutive title in Ottawa.
Since Canada started its junior program of excellence in 1982, the longest gold-medal Canadian drought between wins was in 1997 and 2005.
Here are the medal winners from the past three world junior tournaments:
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- 2010 (Saskatoon and Regina) - Gold: United States; Silver: Canada; Bronze: Sweden.
- 2011 (Buffalo and Niagara) - Gold: Russia; Silver: Canada; Bronze: United States.
- 2012 (Calgary and Edmonton) - Gold: Sweden; Silver: Russia; Bronze: Canada.