As Christmas music is played round the clock and lines at the post office get longer, it can only mean one thing: the IIHF World Junior Championship are is the horizon.
This 2020 tournament is the 44th edition of the International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship and will take place in the cities of Ostrava and Třinec, both located in the northeast region of the Czech Republic. The event will begin on Dec. 26, and will culminate with the gold-medal game being played on Jan. 5, 2020.
The Host Cities
This marks the fourth time the Czech Republic will host the event. It’s the first time for Třinec to open their rinks to the world; their matches will be played at the Werk Arena, which can hold 5,400 fans. Ostrava has twice co-hosted the senior Ice Hockey World Championships and was the primary host of the WJC in 1994. In Ostrava, the games will be played at Ostravar Arena, which can hold a capacity of just under 10,000.
Ostrava, the third-largest city in the Czech Republic, is in the northeast area of the country, less than 10 miles from the border with Poland. It has a population of roughly 300,000 people.
There are 10 teams participating in two groups of five. The group seeds are based on the final rankings of last year’s tournament. Group A includes Finland, Switzerland, Sweden, Slovakia and Kazakhstan. Group B includes the United States, Canada, Russia, Czech Republic and Germany.
The tournament, once a playground for a few great teams, has grown into a truly global battle. While there are still favorites – Canada, USA, Russia, Sweden and Finland have rosters filled with NHL-caliber talent – at least half of the teams have the skill and depth to capture gold for their country.
Team Finland is the defending champion, having beaten Team USA in the 2019 edition of the tournament that was hosted in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Team Canada is stacked. They’ve won the gold medal 17 of the 43 World Junior Championships – the most of any country. They have also earned the most medals (34) of any single country. This isn’t counting the iterations of Team Russian, Team Soviet Union and Team CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) who have won a combined 36 medals.
Team USA enters the 2020 WJC having claimed four-straight medals in tournament play for the first time in its history.
In addition to their 2019 silver medal, the U.S. earned gold in 2017 and two bronze medals in 2016 and 2018. Scott Sandelin, head coach of the University of Minnesota Duluth men’s ice hockey team, will serve as head coach for Team USA.
Honors from the 2019 Event
At the end of each tournament, the media at the event selects an All-Star team, while the directorate of the IIHF presents awards to the top forward, top defenseman and top goalie. Last year, the winners Team USA forward Ryan Poehling, Team Russia defenseman Alexander Romanov and Team Russia netminder Pyotr Kochetkov.
Poehling ended the tournament with eight points (5G, 3A) in six games. He was drafted 25th overall in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. In March of 2019, he signed a three-year entry-level contract with the Montreal Canadiens and joined the team for the remainder of the season.
In his NHL debut, Montreal’s season-closing game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, he scored a hat trick. This made him the first Canadiens player to achieve the feat since Alex Smart on Jan. 14, 1943. If that wasn’t enough, he also scored the game-winning goal in the shootout.
Romanov finished with one goal and seven assists, anchoring the Russian defense and leading them to a bronze medal. He was drafted 38th overall by the Canadiens in 2018.
Kochetkov won four of five games, posting a 1.45 goals-against average and .953 save percentage. He was drafted in the second round (36th overall) by the Carolina Hurricanes in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft.
A Showcase Tournament
The WJC attracts the best hockey players in the world. Eligible players must be under 20 years old and must represent the country in which he has citizenship. Any player who is drafted by an NHL team must get permission to play in the tournament.
The tournament expanded from eight teams to the current 10-team format in 1996. The world champion is crowned from the “Top Division” but there are also three lower pools—Divisions I, II and III—that each play separate tournaments playing for the right to be promoted to a higher pool or face relegation to a lower pool.
The next several years tournament sites are already known. The 2021 WJC will be hosted by Edmonton and Red Deer, Alberta. The 2022 event will be hosted in Sweden, while it will move to Russia for 2023.