Thursday, December 31, 2009

Saskatoon Showdown: Canada vs. USA Tonight

The first big moment many of us has been waiting for since the World Junior (Under-20) Championship began last week is here: the New Year's Eve match between Team USA and Canada, both sitting at 3-0 right now.

Canada is favored in this one and rightfully so. They've got four lethal lines and a deep defense. That team comes at you relentlessly, and it says a great deal about the team when you consider that Brayden Schenn (L.A. Kings prospect and top-10 pick last summer) is playing on the third line. B's No. 1 selection Jordan Caron is playing a shutdown role on this team and doing well with it.

The Americans have been very good, but they've clearly not been up against an opponent like Canada. It will be interesting to see how they respond. Unlike Canada, they've faced some adversity already, falling behind 2-0 to Slovakia early before coming back in their 7-3 win to open the tourney.

Goaltending will be key. Mike Lee and Jack Campbell have the ability to steal games, and whoever is in net (Campbell is due assuming coach Dean Blais is rotating during the round robin) will need to bring his A-game tonight.

USA also could get a big boost if defenseman Cam Fowler can have a strong game. He's had a solid if unspectacular tournament so far, and I was told that he's shown a penchant for deferring to older, more senior players at times during the junior season, and that might explain some of the missing assertiveness in his game. He's clearly got the skills, so it will be interesting to see if he can control the tempo of his team's play more than he has thus far. Every NHL team will have scouts in the house watching, so if ever there was a key moment for Fowler in this campaign, tonight is one of them.

Gametime is 8pm tonight on NHL Network, and the partisan crowd is sure to be raucous. USA's best hope will be to try to strike early to take them out of it a bit, because Canada truly enjoys a home ice advantage in Saskatchewan, and the locals have not been kind to their neighbors to the south.

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