World Junior Hockey Championships 2011: Canada-USA Semifinal Breakdown

Christopher Ralph is THW’s prospect and draft analyst.

Hockey fans look forward to Christmas; Die hard hockey fans look more forward to Boxing Day and the start of the World Junior Championships!

I have a “natural buzz” this time of year that is present with or without Christmas spirits of the alcohol-infused variety.

This is hockey at its finest. Before the huge contracts, the young guns are still playing to make it to the big league.

Passion. Pride. Creativity. Youthful enthusiasm. All on fine display. Today you can throw in the deeply embedded THW Live for our World Junior Championship preview show, but with so much to discuss, time in my segment dissolved rapidly.

In the following breakdown, I look at ten key elements with one bonus.

Canada vs. USA – WJC 2011

1.      Goalies – Jack Campbell was absolutely lights out after he came on in relief of Mike Lee last but under intense scrutiny and spotlight this year. Neither Olivier Roy nor Mark Visentin has truly emerged as a No. 1 dominant goalie, allowing too many soft goals. I predicted Visentin would overtake Roy as the tournament progressed, but this has been far from clear-cut.

Advantage = USA

2. Blueline – Close, but I’d give the nod to Canada – each Canada blueliner can contribute offensively on varying levels. (three of four of Canada’s returnees are defensemen)

Advantage = Canada

3. Forwards – Dead heat

Advantage = Even

4. Experience – U.S. 8 returnees, Canada 4

Jack Campbell {Photo: JensWesseling - Flickr}

Advantage  = USA

From Elite Prospects:

Canada U20 experience: 127 GP
NHL experience: 10 GP
AHL experience: 25 GP

USA U20 experience: 132 GP
NHL experience: 25 GP
WC experience: 6 GP
AHL experience: 90 GP

5. Coaching – Canada’s Dave Cameron possesses a calm and assertive intensity; nothing against Yale’s Keith Allain

Advantage = Canada

6. Physicality/Size – Even with Ellis & Barrie, Canada has average size of 6’2” & 210 lbs. on blueline.

Advantage = Even (Canada average size overall 6’1 & over 199 lbs; USA 6’1” & 195)

7. Special teams – Ryan Ellis = X-factor

Advantage = Canada – Power Play

Advantage = Even – Penalty Kill

8.      Home Ice – Many Canadian fans will be present given proximity to southern Ontario.

Advantage = USA? (62 percent of all tickets sold for tournament, sold in Canada! With >90 percent for Canada games)

9.      Depth – If I recall correctly, Canada has 16 firstr-round draft picks on the roster with Sean Couturier to join that list in June; USA has nine first-rounders with quite a number of second-rounders.

Advantage = Even

10. Groups – Canada in group of death! Advantage? – Sweden, Russia and Czech Republic

– To be considered the best you want to beat the best – Canada will have to do just that and will have to have their “A” game from the onset of the tournament. USA will likely cruise to a semifinal bye. (As predicted, USA made it through to semifinals relatively unscathed).

Advantage = USA

Braydon Schenn #10 {Liam Richards - Flickr}

*Bonus: Star Power – USA: Morin, Kreider, Campbell  poised for big tournament; possibly Campbell’s chance to shine again; Canada: Ellis, Schwartz, Couturier, Johansen could be the ones to fill the void left by Eberle, Hall et al.

Update: Ryan Ellis and Braydon Schenn have carried Team Canada with strong contribution from Ryan Johansen. Charlie Coyle and Chris Kreider have been USA’s best to this point. I have been really impressed with Drew Shore even if the stats have not been there (although he’s been one of the best face-off men in the tournament). Kyle Palmieri could also prove to be a difference maker.

Advantage = Canada but extremely close; Ryan Ellis is again the X-factor.

Key Injuries: Canada – Jaden Schwartz – This was thought to be the stocky talented forward’s coming out party. His absence has been felt up front given his unreal offensive upside.

Who is your pick to win? (Again, this is my pre-tournament prediction.)

USA is the favorite and deserves to be. When it’s all said and done by tournament’s end, I think Canada will come together and will be extremely tough to play against. After the U.S., they broke up the string of five in a row. Canada edges out the U.S. in a tight final to recapture gold.

*Follow The Hockey Spy on Twitter as I infiltrate, dissect and analyze happenings of hockey prospects and the NHL entry draft.

This document is the intellectual property of Christopher Ralph and cannot be used or duplicated in any way without expressed written consent. Any use of this document without the expressed written consent of Christopher Ralph will result in public exposure and legal prosecution.