Sports·The Buzzer

Is the United States taking over the world juniors?

CBC Sports' daily newsletter looks at the United States' rise at the world junior hockey championship, and how WNBA players may have influenced a key election.

Americans have won 4 of the last 12 after beating Canada again in the final

Alex Turcotte, top, and Trevor Zegras helped the U.S. to another gold-medal win over Canada on Canadian ice. (Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)

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The U.S. might have Canada's number at the world juniors

For the third time in 12 years, the U.S. beat Canada in a world junior hockey championship final on Canadian ice. Last night's 2-0 win by the underdog Americans in Edmonton shocked many Canadian hockey fans who had seen their boys roll into the gold-medal game with a 6-0 record while outscoring their opponents 41-4.

Maybe it shouldn't have been such a surprise, though. The U.S. came in with a 34-10 goal margin and, in Trevor Zegras, a superstar forward to match Canada's Dylan Cozens. Zegras scored the second goal last night and assisted on the first to steal both the tournament points title and MVP honours from the guy picked two spots ahead of him in the 2019 NHL draft. And, despite the eye-popping stats posted by Canada's Devon Levi leading up to the final, the U.S. had the more talented goalie. Spencer Knight, who matched Levi by earning his third shutout of the tournament last night, was a first-round pick in 2019. Levi went in the seventh last year.

Last night's result also solidifies a trend that Canadian hockey fans might not want to hear. Since Canada's run of five straight world junior titles from 2005-09, the U.S. has become the best country in this event. The Americans have captured four of the past 12 titles — one more than both Canada and Finland — and won all three gold-medal-game meetings with Canada. The Canadians have the edge in silver medals (4-1) but the U.S. has more bronze (3-1).

The rise of American hockey is also reflected in the women's game. Canada won four straight Olympic gold medals from 2002-2014, but the U.S. took the title back in 2018. The Americans have also won the past five world championships. At the most recent worlds, in 2019, Canada became the first of the two countries to fail to make the final.

Even though today's junior stars can become tomorrow's NHL standouts, the United States' success at the world juniors still hasn't bubbled up to Olympic men's hockey. From 1998 to 2014 (when the tournament allowed NHL players), Canada won three of the five gold medals. The U.S. had only two silvers to show and hasn't won gold since the 1980 Miracle on Ice.

Could that drought end soon? We'll see. But a country with that many people and that much wealth can, when it decides to care about something, become a force of nature.

Players from the United States celebrate following their 2-0 win over Canada in the gold-medal game at the world juniors on Tuesday. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

WNBA players may have helped shift the course of U.S. politics

They're still counting the votes (oh boy) but the respectable American networks are projecting that Atlanta Dream co-owner and U.S. Senator from Georgia Kelly Loeffler has lost her high-profile run-off election to Democrat Raphael Warnock. If that result holds up, control of the Senate (and, essentially, control of federal lawmaking) comes down to the other Georgia run-off — between incumbent Republican David Perdue and Democrat Jon Ossoff. Ossoff declared victory today, but has not yet been projected as the winner.

Should both Ossoff and Warnock seal victory, each party will control 50 Senate seats. The tiebreaking vote belongs to Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, and the Democrats also have a majority in the House of Representatives. Controlling both chambers of Congress would give Democrats the power to actually pass laws they want once President-elect Joe Biden takes office on Jan. 20.

That's why the stakes were so high in these two Georgia races, and a group of WNBA players grasped this earlier than most. At a time when most people were focused on the presidential election, they began publicly denouncing Loeffler. Some — including Atlanta players — even showed up to games wearing "Vote Warnock" shirts in support of the Black Atlanta church pastor running against her.

Those players despise Loeffler for several reasons. Besides her support of Trump and Trump-adjacent causes (both deeply unpopular in WNBA circles), Loeffler angered many players by criticizing the league's embrace of the Black Lives Matter movement because she felt it "undermines the potential of the sport and sends a message of exclusion."

As the WNBA made sure to let everyone know, Loeffler had already given up day-to-day operations of the Dream. But still, it took guts for the players to call out an owner like that.

It's tough to say how much of a difference this made at the polls. But ESPN noted today that Warnock was polling at nine per cent in August when the WNBA endorsed him, and Loeffler at 26 per cent. In the November election, Loeffler held steady by getting 25.9 per cent of the vote on the 20-person ballot, while Warnock shot up to 32.9 per cent. The run-off was triggered because no one received at least 50 per cent.

Both parties poured hundreds of millions of dollars and a ton of work into the run-offs. And Trump's deepening unpopularity may have influenced turnout. In the end, that stuff probably made the most impact. But, if the two Democrats end up being declared the winners as expected, the WNBA players who spoke out against Loeffler can say they made a difference too. A share of the victory belongs to them.

Quickly...

Tennis is back. The women's season opened today at the Abu Dhabi Open. Due to pandemic-related cancellations, this is one of the few chances for players to tune up for the delayed Australian Open, which starts Feb. 8. From here, players can head straight to Melbourne to quarantine and then participate in a warmup tournament there starting Feb. 1. Or, if they need to qualify for the Aussie Open, that competition will take place in Dubai starting Sunday. The only Canadian competing in the main draw this week is Leylah Annie Fernandez. The world's 88th-ranked player won her first-round match today in straight sets over No. 96 Jasmine Paolini. Read more about it here.

For the first time in 29 years, a receiver won the Heisman Trophy. Since Michigan receiver and kick returner Desmond Howard got it for the 1991 season, only two guys who played something other than quarterback or running back have been voted the best player in U.S. college football. Michigan cornerback/returner Charles Woodson did it in '97, and yesterday Alabama receiver DeVonta Smith won the honour. He caught 105 passes for 1,641 and 20 touchdowns and added a rushing TD for the top-ranked Crimson Tide, who are favoured to win the national championship game on Monday vs. Ohio State. Alabama's No. 2 receiver is Canadian John Metchie III, who made 47 catches for 835 yards and six TDs.

And finally...

Back to American hockey players for a minute. Another sign of the country's growing potential in the sport came when Auston Matthews — a guy born in California and raised in Arizona — went first overall in the 2016 NHL draft. The super-talented Sunbelter has lived up to the hype, averaging nearly 40 goals in his four seasons with Toronto — including a career-high 47 last season.

Matthews' ability to dominate opponents became evident literally right away. In his first NHL regular-season game, in October 2016, he lit up the Ottawa Senators for four goals in the first two periods. The Leafs went on to lose 5-4 in OT, but a star was born.

Craig Anderson was Ottawa's goalie that night, and he shares his memories of one of the greatest debuts in hockey history in the newest edition of Rob Pizzo's "I was in net for…" video series:

I was in net for...Auston Matthews' 4-goal NHL debut

Sports

12 days agoVideo
6:26
In episode 10 of our series, Rob Pizzo speaks to former Ottawa Senators goalie Craig Anderson about one of the most talked about debuts in hockey history. 6:26

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