I know it’s Christmas Eve, and you’re likely running around like a chicken with your head cut off, trying to get everything done before the stores close — aaahhh damnit, I forgot poultry seasoning…
Anyhow, since Seattle is new to this hockey thing I’m going to let you in on something that you wouldn’t find unless somebody told you where to look for it: the World Junior Championships. And, hands down, this is the best hockey you’ll see outside of the NHL playoffs.
The tournament starts the day after Christmas, and runs through January 5th. It’s a collection of 10 teams from countries ranging from the US, Canada, Russia, and Sweden all the way to Kazakhstan and Germany. All the players are 20 years old or younger, and they’re essentially a preview of the top stars in the NHL 5 years from now (or less).
Don’t believe me? Have you heard the names Jake Allen, Devan Dubnyk, or Carey Price? How about Felix Potvin, Roberto Luongo, or Marc-Andre Fleury? They all played in the World Juniors. But folks, those are just goalies, and just from Team Canada.
Want Americans? How about Jack Eichel? Phil Kessel? Washington’s own T.J. Oshie? James Van Riemsdyk, Max Pacioretty? Patrick Kane? And last year’s #1 overall pick in the NHL Entry Draft, Jack Hughes? All of them put on the Team USA sweater at the World Juniors.
The list of superstars is longer than is possible to list here, there are literally hundreds of NHL players from pretty much any country in the hockey world who have played in this tournament. The talent on display at this event is equivalent to what you would see at the Olympics — and in some ways, even better.
See It All
Shockingly, this year the NHL Network is broadcasting every game. Not just the USA and Canada games, every single game. It starts with the World Junior Championship preview shows on Christmas Day at 2pm and 3pm, with replays at 5pm and 8pm (all times PST). Then the first game is at (whew!) 6am on the 26th. The tournament is in the Czech Republic, so you’ll have to get up pretty early if you want to see every tilt live. But nearly all of the North American team games are at what I consider a reasonable hour, and hey — that’s why we all have DVR’s.
The most anticipated game of the tournament is usually the hotly-contested US-Canada contest. You’ll see that right out of the gate on December 26th at 10am. That game is can’t-miss, and those two teams usually end up meeting each other again in the medal round. So in this round-robin contest, the winner gets bragging rights, but the loser gets something to exact revenge for.
If you’re busy with work and family and returning stuff to stores through New Year’s, the action heats up with the quarterfinals on January 2nd, then the semis on the 4th and the gold medal game on the 5th. That’s when the stars will really shine, and you’ll see some amazing hockey being played. I’ve been a WJC disciple for over 20 years, and it never disappoints.
Needless to say, this is some of the best hockey you’ll see all year. Not only that, you’re going to be seeing some of these players suit up for Seattle in the next 5 years. That’s why Ron Francis is going; as will scouts for pretty much every professional team in the industrialized world.
If you want a look at the schedule to see when your favorite teams are playing, here’s the NHL Network game schedule. Otherwise check your local listings.
We now return you to your regularly-scheduled holiday bedlam. Everyone have a safe and happy holiday, and we’ll see you in 2020.