Dec 222009

There’s one thing that gets me excited around this time of year, and it’s not Christmas. Every year I look forward to boxing day, not for the deals but for the World Juniors. The World Juniors is some of the most passionate, inspiring, and clean hockey and is bar none the most exciting hockey you will ever see.

The length of the tournament when combined with the patriotism and pride on the line turns a group of under 20 hockey players into the focus of a nation and the pride of a nation for 2 weeks a year. The game is exciting, and the action is non-stop for a full 60 minutes. With Canada riding five consecutive World Juniors this year has just as much on the line as any other, and anything short of a victory won’t be tolerated.

The thing I love the most about the World Juniors though is the passion in the sport. No matter what the score, these kids go out for all 60 minutes and are playing their hearts out for their country. Far too often we watch the Canucks sit on a lead, or give up as the game winds on and the lead looks insurmountable. Yet when you look at the World Juniors, even though every year is a different crop of players, in the short time they’re together they bond such that to them nothing seems impossible. A perfect example was the improbable comeback they had last year to keep the streak alive.

What makes it even more special is that it’s not just the Canadians that play with that passion. Every game that you watch in the WJs is filled with players that play because they love the game. While Canucks fans won’t get to see Cody Hodgson in this year’s world Juniors it’ll be fun to watch Canucks prospects Jordan Schroeder lace up for the US and Anton Rodin for the Swedes. The World Juniors play hockey that is the definition of never-say-die-hockey and there’s nothing more exciting to watch for those who truly appreciate the game. For two weeks a year, we truly are all Canucks.

Dec 022009

Recently preliminary rosters for the World Junior Championships were released for a few teams and the Canucks right now have three prospects who have been invited to their respective country’s training camp for the junior tournament. Cody Hodgson is on Canada’s roster, Jordan Schroeder is on the USA’s roster and Anton Rodin is on Team Sweden’s roster.

Hodgson who struggled with a back injury throughout the Canucks pre-season was cleared for contact the same day he was invited to the WJ training camp. The Canucks prospect shone at last year’s tournament setting a new record for points scored in a single World Juniors Championship. He’s one of 7 returning players from last year’s squad, three defenceman and four forwards. He’s going to be relied upon to be a big part of the Canadian team’s leadership and with an unproven junior goaltender in net for Canada again, until the man between the pipes proves his calibre, the Canadians offense is going to win this championship. Hodgson’s coming back better after winning MVP honors in the OHL and his next goal should be to win captaincy of this team. He’s led the Battalion for years, he proved he was clutch and lead the offensive junior juggernaut last year at the same tournament, and he’s going to have to step up and showcase every aspect of his game.

Schroeder is a player that Canucks fans don’t get to see play too often. If you watch University of Minnesota hockey, or have access to it, that’s a different story. Schroeder didn’t make an appearance at the Canucks pre-season camp because he would have had to give up his NCAA eligibility and sign a pro contract. Should Schroeder make the team it’ll be a great chance to see how he’s developed with University of Minnesota in his time since the off season. The World Juniors is a fast paced and passionate tournament and it’ll be a good indicator of the speed and rate at which he can play. The Canucks are moving to build a team around a run-and-gun style hockey. Schroeder is a part of that as much as Cody Hodgson is so here’s to hoping he’s not another first round bust like Patrick White.

Rodin was the Canucks 2nd round pick 53rd overall in the 2009 NHL Entry draft. He’s been playing the year with Brynäs IF of the Elitiserien. He’s likely going to be on the 3rd or 4th lines for the Swedish Junior team and might even see some action on Sweden’s second power play unit. If he makes it he could be playing on a junior team with Flames prospect Tim Erixon and Ottawa Senators’ Erik Karlsson.

The Canucks have a lot to look forward to with these prospects and watching Canucks prospects at the World Juniors is going to make the whole thing that much more exciting. In my mind Hodgson is a shoe in for the team pending back injury and Schroeder will likely make the team as well. Rodin is going to be filling in a bottom 6 forward and I see him as having the least guaranteed spot. I’m certainly looking forward to a Canada/US WJHC final. Watching Hodgson and Schroeder duke it out for their country’s pride could show us a dimension of each player we’ve never seen. The pace of the tournament in it’s short length makes the World Juniors my favourite tournament to watch. Following Canucks prospects in it just adds to the experience.

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