So, fuck it. The Toronto media conspiracy, unable to generate interest in the Marlies beyond the Bloor & Yonge intersection, are moving on... to the BIG JUNIOR TOURNAMENT in Ufa, Russia! Who needs big-league hockey? We've got hotshot youngsters playing at 4 am local time on only a week's acclimatization! And hey, I'm not immune: my inability to post really awful predictions of doom for NHL teams I don't like, followed by middling-at-best playoff calls, has really weighed on me these past few months. Between this and the upcoming Spengler Cup (and we're definitely winning that, HC Davos be damned) I'm lapping up all the puckhandling they'll shovel at me. A man cannot live on 67s games alone, especially not this man with the way his team is going, now that our core players from the last four seasons have all graduated.
To that end, I'm pleased to present My Equally Valid Opinion: "So Bored With The Lockout" World Juniors Predictions Edition!
10. Latvia -- I freely admit I know next to nothing about the Latvians. Hell, all I know about their adult players is most of them have 70s cop show 'staches. The only time they've finished higher than ninth was in 2009, after the Swiss were unexpectedly demoted the year before, and the only reason they're even back this year is because the IIHF changed the relegation rules back to just one team dropping out instead of two.
They can make it, if: they take advantage of the lesser of the two groups (including the aforementioned Switzerland) and maybe drive a couple of games to overtime, giving themselves a fingerhold to stay out of the dead-last drop into Division I.
It all goes wrong when: the whole room gives up on an 11-0 drubbing at the hands of Sweden when they suddenly and collectively realize they can't all play for Dinamo Riga.
9. Germany -- Oh, the lucky Germans. After years of bouncing up and down between the top of the lower division and the bottom of the higher one, they finally have a chance to stick around with the new format. If ever there was a team with "perennial ninth-placer" written all over it, it's the ol' black red and gold. The bad news is they're definitely the odd seed out in Group B
They can make it, if: goaltender Marvin Cuppers gets some SHAWINIGAN KICKBACK MAGIC in his game and blocks the pucks as deftly as Jean Chretien used to block questions.
It all goes wrong when: their top forward Tobias Rieder, listed generously at 190 pounds, gets his ass knocked down by some American defender with a chip on their shoulder.
8. Switzerland -- Last year, the Swiss had goaltender Tim Wolf backstopping for them. TIM WOLF. Great name, real exciting. This year's roster is boring as hell. I want to make a "neutral zone" joke here but even that has me yawning out loud right now. Pick it up, Swiss, bring back the glory years of... I don't know, Martin Gerber? That guy was pretty good, when he wasn't under any pressure whatsoever from a decent offensive team or a backup goalie waiting for him to blow it. I think that describes Swiss hockey as a whole.
They can make it, if: they put together a few of those STUNNING UPSETS that their wikip page makes a big deal about. Get amped up by walloping Latvia, then turn it around and take a point away from Sweden in the next game.
It all goes wrong when: their fans go home early to watch the Spengler instead, and the subsequent shift in momentum gives Finland the edge they need to make a big comeback. Then the Czechs stymie them and it's hello, relegation round.
7. Canada -- My home country dropping to the relegation round? BLASPHEMY. Don't laugh, though, nobody thought the Americans would end up there last year either, and they weren't even playing the Russians in their group. Will we smash the Germans tonight? Of course. Will we then become overconfident, taking an unexpected loss (possibly in overtime) to the Slovaks, before falling apart at the seams against our historic rivals? NOT UNLIKELY. You heard it here first.
They can make it, if: they shake off my brand of doomsday prognostication, win every game with wire-to-wire victories, and generally play like champions. Also, if Coach Spott gets wise and benches Malcolm Subban after the opening game. (Binnington is much better. My brother-in-law says so.)
It all goes wrong when: any other team goes up by two goals on them. There's been this funny trend the last few years where junior players from Canada forget all their teamwork and training when they get behind a couple of points, foregoing the usual unselfishness and trying to do everything by themselves. It's doubly weird, considering how often we used to generate big comebacks -- remember '09 against the Russians? Combine that with the general strengthening of the international field and it suddenly seems entirely reasonable for us to have a close shave with the bottom half of the results table. Especially if we leave in Subban. I can't tell you why I've got it out for that kid. I don't like his brother much either, maybe that's got something to do with it.
6. Finland -- This year's Finnish roster is ALL FINLAND ALL THE TIME. Don't they usually have a couple of guys who have been playing in North America? Maybe I'm just imagining that. Olli Määttä is bringing his umlauts over from the London Knights, and Boone Jenner won't be there to give him a concussion this time.
They can make it, if: they don't get too soft in their group games. Since winning bronze in 2006, they've only just made it back to the semifinals last year. Can't slow down in the knockout stage, guys.
It all goes wrong when: they go on a tear, winning three straight before Sweden takes them out 8-0. Totally demoralized, they immediately lose to the third-place group B team and then fall in the 5th place consolation game.
5. Czech Republic -- I miss Peter Mrazek. He would've made these guys medal contenders. As it is, I dunno, just not feelin' optimistic about the Czechs this year.
They can make it, if: somebody else steps up in goal. Maybe it'll be Machovsky? He plays for Brampton, they beat Ottawa a few times. Then again, everyone is beating Ottawa. Ugh, I feel like I'm losin' my perspicasity here.
It all goes wrong when: same problem as Finland, really: they're not gonna beat whoever comes out of the other group. Especially if that team is Slovakia. The FORMER UNIFIED NATION GRUDGEMATCH is always fun tho!
4. United States -- the good news is, most of last year's team which sucked it up so bad is gone. The bad news is, that means most of these kids are fresh meat, not yet tested in the meat grinder of international competition. I'm leaning towards it being a good thing for them, though.
They can make it, if: they forget everything about last year and concentrate on getting it done right now. Just shove it all right outta mind. Today is a new day. Get hella optimistic.
It all goes wrong when: their rookies forget how to tie their laces and they all trip over their own feet at the same time, leaving the net wide open for a European hat trick.
3. Slovakia -- Nearly everyone on this team plays for HK ORANGE 20. I love chemistry in international competition. There's no rational reason behind it, I just think it's neat when guys already know who they're sitting with on the bus. Feels like it oughta work out for 'em, right?
They can make it, if: nobody sees 'em coming. Think about it: Russia, USA, and Canada are all focusing on each other. Slovakia feels like the obvious pick for fourth place. But they're good enough to sneak on through, hit their stride in the knockout stage, and go all the way to the podium.
It all goes wrong when: I'm completely wrong about chemistry and they lose to Germany. If this happens and any commmentator brings in their own competing intangibles like "grit" and "hustle", I will scream.
2. Russia -- Host nation, solid team, number 1 draft pick who isn't busy overseas because of a lockout. You have to assume these guys are the favourites.
They can make it, if: this "Nail Yakupov" kid? Maybe you've heard of him? He ought to have a few really good games.
It all goes wrong when: you probably think I'm gonna put a crazy thing about Nail in here, like he'll go deaf after getting yelled at really loud by a coach or something. But nope, I'm serious, I think the kid's gonna be fine. What concerns me is the defense and goaltending. Alright, yes, they have Vasilevski back there, but if your blue-liners aren't cutting off the shots you ain't makin' all the saves. I could see them losing a "tight" one 10-9 or something.
1. Sweden -- They won last year and I've got Christmas company now. Works for me. Let's go, yellow.
They can make it, if: they're still as good this year and haven't lost any key components, especially not a big faceoff-winning center.
It all goes wrong when: it turns out the Swedish Ice Hockey Federation was right and they really DID need the Senators to release Mika Zibanejad to their roster. Whoops! Sorry, guys.