BUFFALO, N.Y. — Canada had a day off at the world junior hockey championship Thursday after opening the tournament with a pair of decisive wins over Finland and Slovakia. The Canadians face their biggest challenge yet on Friday afternoon when they play the United States in an outdoor game at New Era Field, home of the NFL’s Buffalo Bills. Here are three major factors in a game between the top two teams in Group A.
FROZEN AMERICANS — The United States entered the world juniors as one of the favourites to win Group A and maybe even win the whole tournament. But a shocking 3-2 loss to Slovakia on Thursday night makes the game against Canada a must-win for the U.S. Unfortunately for the Americans, they will be playing on just 17 hours of rest.
“You’ve got to realize the stage and realize that you’re playing the world juniors,” said American forward Casey Mittlestadt after the loss to Slovakia. “You can’t take anyone for granted.”
REVENGE BEST SERVED COLD — The rivalry between the two teams runs deep, with seven Canadian players returning from last year’s team that lost to the United States in a shootout in the world championship final in Montreal. Beyond that, many of the players on the two teams have tangled on rival club teams or in other international events like the Ivan Hlinka under-18 tournament.
“It was a tough experience last year, but I think all of the returners learned from what happened,” said defenceman Dante Fabbro, one of the seven veterans on Canada’s roster. “We’ve implemented that into our team this year and we want to finish the job and get the upper hand early in the tournament.”
PUT ON ICE — Both Canada and the United States have put an emphasis on fast skating for the tournament with the intention of running other teams off the ice. But the rink set up on the turf at New Era Field isn’t close to the same level as the ice at the KeyBank Center. With it cracking or even breaking under the blades of charging players, both teams will have to simplify their games to succeed.
“It’s not going to be a normal-style hockey game where you find out which team is better than the other,” said captain Dillon Dube. “It’s going to be tough and I think that whichever team can stick to its game plan and play a full 60 minutes and continually play that simple game will win.”
Follow @jchidleyhill on Twitter
John Chidley-Hill, The Canadian Press