7 things to know for tonight's Canada-USA gold medal game

Jan 5 2017, 6:23 pm

Canada versus USA for all the marbles, what else could you ask for?

Team Canada will play arguably their biggest hockey rival in the World Junior Championship gold medal game at the Bell Centre in Montreal tonight (5 pm PT/8 pm ET).

The stakes are high and the pressure is real…


1. History

With 16 gold medals since the inception of this tournament back in 1977, no country has won more than Canada. The Americans have only won the tournament three times, but they get the edge in recent history given that their golds came in 2004, 2010, and 2013.

Canada won the gold medal game in Toronto two years ago, but the last championship before that came all the way back in 2009.

2. RECENT history

USA beat Canada 3-1 on New Year’s Eve during round robin play. The Americans are the only perfect team at this year’s tournament, going 4-0 in the opening round, before beating Switzerland 3-2 in the quarterfinal, and Russia 4-3 in a thrilling shootout victory in the semis.

The only blemish on Canada’s record is the loss to the US. Canada was impressive in their tournament-opening game, defeating Russia 5-3. They made quick work of Slovakia (5-0) and Latvia (10-2) in their other two round robin games.

Team Canada looked vulnerable at times against the Czechs in the semis, but pulled out a 5-3 win. Canada’s most impressive win was their last, a 5-2 win over the tournament favourites from Sweden in the semi-finals on Wednesday.

3. Goalie drama

It hasn’t been a perfect tournament from Canada in any position, but none has come under more scrutiny than in goal, where both goalies have been sub-par up until last game.

Canada’s overall team save percentage is .890, ranking them seventh out of 10 teams. Contrast that with USA, who have a team save percentage of .923, ranking them fourth.

Last year’s CHL Goaltender of the Year, Carter Hart, started the tournament but lost the #1 job to Connor Ingram before the New Year’s Eve game. Ingram started the game against Sweden, but was pulled after allowing two soft goals on just three shots.

Hart took over and stood tall the rest of the way, stopping all shots that came his way.

That has improved his overall save percentage, which stands at .923 heading into the Final. Hart will get the nod for today’s game and Canada will need him to be sharp once again.

4. Somebody hit somebody!

It doesn’t seem to matter what level of hockey it is, when Canada and USA play, the games are always physical.

Canada hasn’t built a rough and tumble team like they may have done in years past, but they ramped up the physical play significantly in their last game against Sweden. Expect to see that again tonight.

5. Attendance

Don’t be surprised if you see some empty seats for this one. This tournament has struggled at the gate for the first time that I can remember at a World Juniors hosted by Canada.

Toronto and Montreal split the tournament games two years ago as well, so perhaps there is a bit of a fatigue factor at play. Tournament organizers appear to have overplayed their hand with regards to ticket prices also.

But still.

In a great hockey city like Montreal, with the way both semi-final games played out, and Canada versus USA in the Final, this needs to be a sellout.

Doesn’t it?

6. Players to watch

Arizona Coyotes draft pick Dylan Strome has led the way offensively for Canada, scoring 10 points (3-7-10) in six games. That has him tied with USA’s leading scorer, also a Coyotes draft pick, Clayton Keller.

Most of Strome’s points have come on the power play though, where he has been a force. Anthony Cirelli has led the way at even strength with seven points.

Second in scoring for Canada is defenceman Thomas Chabot, a draft pick of the Ottawa Senators, who has been arguably their best player.

Watch for Canada to dominate in the faceoff circle, as Strome, Cirelli, and Matt Barzal are all ranked in the top-six in tournament faceoff percentage.

Should this game come down to a shootout, Canada better have a good scouting report on American Troy Terry. Terry scored three times in the shootout on Wednesday against the Russians, going five-hole with every attempt.

7. Rankings

Canada is the highest scoring team in the tournament, while USA ranks fifth. Both teams have lethal power plays, with Canada second in the tournament (31.03%) and USA third (29.63%).

Canada has the edge on the PK though, ranking second (88.00%), while USA is sixth (75.00%). Canada has also been remarkably disciplined in this tournament (by Canadian standards), with the seventh-fewest penalty minutes (58) in the tournament, compared to USA, who rank ninth (73 PIMs).

Stats are great, but nobody will care about them after today. For these two teams, it’s gold or bust.

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