Canadian NHL fans eagerly watch the World Junior Championship each holiday season to get a look at the future stars of their franchises.
This year’s tournament, hosted in the Czech Republic, will give hockey supporters plenty to see as there’s a ton of talent and big names competing for their countries in the 10-day long tournament starting on Dec. 26.
So who are the Canadian NHL team prospects and which country do they play for? Here’s a look:
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
Rasmus Sandin: The defenceman will most likely be one of the tournament’s stars this year for Sweden and log big minutes. Sandin played in six games earlier this season for the Maple Leafs before being sent to the AHL, where he’s done well. He had two goals and two assists in five games at last year’s world juniors.
Mikko Kokkonen: This tournament could be a good showcase for the Finnish defenceman, who was selected in the third round of the 2019 NHL Draft, but is still unsigned. He has two goals and one assist in 20 games this season for Jukurit in Liiga.
Nick Robertson: Robertson has garnered a lot of attention in the first half of the OHL season for his goal-scoring ability. The American forward missed a month of action with the Peterborough Petes, but still has 23 goals and 12 assists in 22 games.
Cole Caufield: All eyes will be on the Habs’ 2019 first-round sniper, who has impressed many in his first season of NCAA hockey with Wisconsin. There’s no doubt Caufield can put the puck in the net and fans should be able to see a plethora of it at this year’s tournament while he plays for the U.S.
Mattias Norlinder: Canadiens fans will have a close eye on the Swedish defenceman, who Montreal selected with its third-round pick in 2019. He’s unsigned, and has six goals and eight assists in 28 games this year for MODO in Sweden’s Allsvenskan.
Jordan Harris: Harris has produced 13 points in 18 games during his sophomore year at Northeastern University. The defenceman was a third round pick of the Canadiens in 2018 and was being paired with Flyers 2019 first-rounder Cam York during the Americans’ training camp.
Alexander Romanov: Montreal’s 2018 second-round pick has four assists in 33 games this season with the KHL’s CSKA Moskva as a 19-year-old defenceman. He had one goal and seven assists in last year’s world juniors as the Russians claimed bronze.
Philip Broberg: His Sweden coach, Tomas Monten, says Broberg has matured a lot since joining the SHL’s Skelleftea AIK this season. Monten was quick to praise the defenceman on his skating and says the Oilers’ eighth-overall pick from the 2019 draft made the right call by returning to Sweden this season.
Olivier Rodrigue: Hasn’t had a great season in Moncton of the QMJHL this year, but Canadian management love his experience playing for the country on the international stage. Where he will slot into Canada’s three-man rotation remains to be seen.
Raphael Lavoie: Lavoie is a big, skillful right-winger who can be streaky. He flashes elements of brilliance at times, but can leave you scratching your head at others. It’s a big reason why he dropped to the second round of last year’s draft. He will most likely slot into Canada’s bottom six.
Patrik Siikanen: The Finnish forward has plenty of size at six-foot-two, 198 pounds, but hasn’t proved to be a big point producer so far this season for JYP of Liiga with just two assists in 20 games. Perhaps a transition to playing against men his own age will help spark him.
Matej Blumel: The right-winger reportedly turned down an opportunity to play collegiate hockey at the University of Connecticut to instead go home after two years in the USHL. He’s shown he can be productive in the past. Can he do it again on home ice in the Czech Republic?
Senior Writer Ryan Dixon and NHL Editor Rory Boylen always give it 110%, but never rely on clichés when it comes to podcasting. Instead, they use a mix of facts, fun and a varied group of hockey voices to cover Canada’s most beloved game.
David Gustafsson: Jets fans will be familiar with Gustafsson as he’s played 22 games this season for the NHL club. His offensive production as a centre has been minimal with just one goal and playing in this tournament should boost his confidence.
Simon Lundmark: Lundmark has split time this year between the SHL’s Linköping HC and its junior affiliate. This is the Swede’s third-straight year playing in the SHL and first appearing at the world juniors.
Ville Heinola: A reigning gold medal winner at the tournament, Heinola will be a key cog on the back end for Finland. His strong play at last year’s tournament caught the eye of Winnipeg, who took him with the 20th overall pick in the 2019 draft.
Henri Nikkanen: Like Lundmark, Nikkanen has also spent time at both the pro and junior level this season with Finland’s Jukurit. At six-foot-four, the centre has good size and has been productive at the junior level.
Jacob Bernard-Docker: From the Okotoks Oilers of the AJHL to an impressive sophomore season at the University of North Dakota. Bernard-Docker has progressed well over the last year and is on pace to double his point production from 2018-19.
Shane Pinto: Pinto has adjusted to collegiate hockey well since Ottawa picked him in the second round at the 2019 draft. He has 14 points through 17 games with the University of North Dakota and will be playing on a stacked U.S. team.
Lassi Thomson: The Senators took Thomson 19th overall last June and he’s been solid for Ilves in his native Finland during his first pro season. The six-foot defenceman has six goals and four assists in 23 games and will be a key defender for a strong Finnish team.
Vasili Podkolzin: Vancouver is loaded with young talent at this year’s tournament and Podkolzin will be one of the most intriguing names to watch. The Canucks took him with the 10th overall pick at the 2019 draft and the right winger has played in three leagues so far this season. He’s been scoreless in 14 games with the KHL’s SKA St. Petersburg, but after a bronze at last year’s tournament, the Russian will be eager for more in 2020.
Nils Hoglander: Unlike some other of his young Swedish teammates at the world juniors, Hoglander — Vancouver’s 2019 second rounder — has been producing at the SHL level this year. The gritty left winger has six goals and three assists in 19 games to go along with 27 penalty minutes. Could Canucks fans see his physical element at this event?
Toni Utunen: Another returning member of Finland’s gold medal team, Utunen has a lot of experience playing against older players in Liiga for parts of the last four seasons. He’s already matched his career-high in points (three) through 16 games, so there’s signs he may be adjusting to his game.
Karel Plasek: The right-winger hasn’t put up crazy scoring totals at any of his previous levels. However, he’s got one goal and four assists in six games so far this season with the Czech’s under-20 team.
Dustin Wolf: Wolf continues to get passed over at every level — fourth last pick at the 2019 draft — despite his solid performances. He leads the WHL in save percentage with a ridiculous .941 average, although will most likely slot behind Spencer Knight in the Americans’ crease at the world juniors.
Berrettini ends Murray’s comeback at Queen’s
The 34-year-old two-time Wimbledon champion, playing in his first singles tournament on grass for three years, could not handle the ferocious pace of Berrettini as he slid to defeat.
Murray eased past Benoit Paire in his opening match on Tuesday but world number nine Berrettini was too big a step up.
Berrettini’s huge first serve and forehand did most of the damage but the Italian also showed plenty of silky touch on the slick lawns to register his first career win over Murray.
Berrettini, 25, finished the match off with a powerful hold of serve, banging down four massive first serves before sealing victory with a clubbing forehand winner.
He faces British number one Dan Evans in the quarter-final after Evans beat Frenchman Adrian Mannarino.
Murray, a five-time winner of the traditional warm-up event but now ranked 124 after long battles with hip injuries including resurfacing surgery in 2019, has been handed a wildcard for the Wimbledon championships.
Apart from a slight groin niggle, Murray said he was reasonably happy with his condition, considering this was only his third Tour-level tournament of the year.
“I think obviously I need to improve,” Murray told reporters. “I actually felt my movement was actually quite good for both of the matches. My tennis today was not very good today. That’s the thing that I’ll need to improve the most.
“I felt like today that that sort of showed my lack of matches.”
Spanish veteran Feliciano Lopez, who won the singles title in 2019 and the doubles alongside Murray, was beaten 6-2 6-3 by Canada‘s Denis Shapovalov.
(Reporting by Martyn HermanEditing by Toby Davis and Pritha Sarkar)
Be Like the King of the North Division and Develop Skills
It’s been a year unlike no other for Canadian hockey teams, with COVID-19 travel restrictions forcing the creation of a new NHL division made up entirely of Canadian teams. The previous generation of NHL hockey was known as the “Dead Puck Era” because referees tolerated slowing down the game with clutching and grabbing.
The leading scorers today score in jaw-dropping fashion and routinely pull off stickhandling dangles that were unimaginable until only recently. The Canadian team that will win the North Division will be the one with the most skill.
Here are the training aids that will help you develop your skills all year long.
Innovators like HockeyShot Canada make “passers” so that players can develop pinpoint accuracy and the soft hands necessary to cradle and control a pass when it lands on your stick. The high-quality rubber bands return the puck with the same force which passed it, so you can give yourself one-timers or work on accuracy.
Whether you’re on a two-on-one, sending a breakout pass from the defensive zone, or holding down the blue line on the power play, every positional player needs to pass accurately.
A player is lucky to get a few shots on net each game, and they can’t let them go to waste. Until recently, players needed to rent ice in the off-season to practice their shots in realistic game-like conditions.
Now, players can use shooting pads at their home that let pucks glide as they do on real ice. Shooting is perhaps the one skill that requires the most repetition because one inch can be the difference between going bar-down and clanking one wide off the post.
Practice your quick release and accuracy and develop an arsenal of shots, including wrist shots, slapshots, one-timers, and more. The more tools in your tool kit, the deadlier a sniper you’ll be.
Having the puck on your stick is a responsibility, and you don’t want to cough it up to the other team and waste a scoring chance or lose possession. The ability to stickhandle helps you bide time until a teammate is open, so you can pass them the puck and continue attacking.
If you’re on a breakaway, you may want to deke the goalie rather than shoot if your hands are silky enough. Develop stickhandling skills, and you’ll keep goalies and opponents guessing – being unpredictable helps make a sniper’s job easier.
Of course, you also need to handle the puck in your own zone without causing a turnover. Stickhandling is a crucial skill in all areas of the ice.
When the coach sends you over the board, you need to be prepared for whatever comes your way. Maybe you’ll get the puck in the slot or somewhere else, but when it’s playoffs, you always need to be ready. The Kings of the North Division have all of the above skills and more, and you can too if you practice all year.
Australia swim trials calendar shift to reap Tokyo rewards
Australia broke with tradition to hold its swimming trials just six weeks before the start of the 2020 Olympics and former world champion Giaan Rooney said the move could reap rich rewards in Tokyo after disappointments at London and Rio.
Australia has typically held its trials up to six months before an Olympics but that gap has been drastically cut this year with swimmers vying for Tokyo spots this week in Adelaide.
Rooney, who won individual world titles at Fukuoka and Montreal and a relay gold at the 2004 Athens Olympics, said Australia is gearing up for a much improved Games after its swimmers flopped at Rio and London.
“I think we needed to make it work,” she told Reuters. “The shift started about a year ago to bring the trials into line with the rest of the world and qualify five or six weeks before.
“In sport and swimming, six months is a long time,” Rooney added. “From a coaching perspective, it’s much better to know you have chosen the team in form.”
After winning five gold medals at Sydney 2000 and seven in Athens, the Australian team was rocked by accusations of disruptive behaviour by some of its top sprinters at the 2012 Olympics.
Australia won just one gold medal in the London pool and three in Rio five years ago.
Australia knew something had to be done if it was to close the gap on the powerful Americans and moving the trials is part of the strategy.
“I think it’s to make your swimmers more resilient to change,” Rooney said.
“In the USA they get to race every week regardless of illness or breakups and under all circumstances. Nothing rattles them.
“Australia doesn’t have that racing continuity. This is about making sure you are prepared for anything. I think our swimmers are more resilient than they have been in the past decade, COVID is part of this.”
Rooney said there might even be an “upside” for Australia with the Olympics postponed by a year due to the global health crisis, with the emergence of swimmers like teenager Kaylee McKeown, who broke the women’s 100m backstroke world record on Sunday.
“We are now talking about athletes who are not only going to make the Olympics but are medal chances,” Rooney said.
“We wouldn’t have been talking about her this time last year. She might not have been ready for a position on the team. She is now a legitimate gold medal chance in Tokyo once she gets there.”
For all her confidence about Australia’s performance in Tokyo, Rooney was wary of making predictions about a gold rush for her compatriots.
“I think this will be a more successful Olympics for us than Rio in the pool but individual goal medals will still be difficult to come by,” said the 38-year-old.
“The biggest challenge is to make the jump from minor medals to gold.”
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)