Originally scheduled to be played in Russia before that country’s invasion of Ukraine, the 2023 World Junior Hockey Championship will be played in Canada for the third consecutive year. This time the event is taking place in the Maritimes, with Halifax, Nova Scotia and Moncton, New Brunswick serving as hosts.
The 2022 version of the tournament was cancelled last December due to a COVID-19 outbreak and then restarted in August. It wasn’t a popular tournament, with a combination of the summer schedule and a sexual assault scandal for some of Hockey Canada’s previous under-20 teams souring the sentiment for the event, leading to low turnout. Despite the reduced home-crowd energy compared to what the Canadian players had experienced in the past, they won the tournament over Team Finland in the final, arriving in Halifax as defending gold medallists.
Team Canada final roster
|#||Player||Position||League||Current team (NHL)|
|#||Player||Position||League||Current team (NHL)|
|29||Benjamin Gaudreau||G||OHL||Sarnia Sting (SJS)|
|1||Thomas Milic||G||WHL||Seattle Thunderbirds|
|2||Nolan Allan||D||WHL||Seattle Thunderbirds (CHI)|
|5||Brandt Clarke||D||NHL||Los Angeles Kings|
|24||Ethan Del Mastro||D||OHL||Mississauga Steelheads (CHI)|
|4||Tyson Hinds||D||QMJHL||Sherbrooke Phoenix (ANA)|
|25||Kevin Korchinski||D||WHL||Seattle Thunderbirds (CHI)|
|27||Jack Matier||D||OHL||Ottawa 67's (NSH)|
|3||Olen Zellweger||D||WHL||Everett Silvertips (ANA)|
|18||Caedan Bankier||F||WHL||Kamloops Blazers (MIN)|
|16||Connor Bedard||F||WHL||Regina Pats (2023)|
|17||Colton Dach||F||WHL||Kelowna Rockets (CHI)|
|14||Zach Dean||F||QMJHL||Gatineau Olympiques (VGK)|
|19||Adam Fantilli||F||NCAA||University of Michigan (2023)|
|21||Nathan Gaucher||F||QMJHL||Quebec Remparts (ANA)|
|11||Dylan Guenther||F||NHL||Arizona Coyotes|
|20||Zach Ostapchuk||F||WHL||Vancouver Giants (VAN)|
|7||Brennan Othmann||F||OHL||Peterborough Petes (NYR)|
|9||Joshua Roy||F||QMJHL||Sherbrooke Phoenix (MTL)|
|12||Reid Schaefer||F||WHL||Seattle Thunderbirds (EDM)|
|10||Logan Stankoven||F||WHL||Kamloops Blazers (DAL)|
|15||Shane Wright||F||NHL||Seattle Kraken|
Canada has seven returning players from the tournament held about four months ago, and six of them are forwards. It’s a group of players that found success at the top level very recently, and many have since had the benefit of professional training and advice at NHL training camps.
They also have Shane Wright back in the fold, a player who had been at the cancelled event last December but not at the summer restart as he prepared for the season with the Seattle Kraken. At that point no one expected him to ever see the World Juniors again, but the Kraken had him in limbo to begin his rookie season, not feeling he was good enough to get regular minutes in the NHL lineup, but also not wanting to send him back to the OHL where he would have to remain for the entire season. Leading up to the World Juniors, he had been reassigned to the AHl, where he performed well, then responded with a goal in his return to Seattle. He goes into this tournament with a bit of restored confidence, and a lot of desire to erase the memory of the start of his 2022-23 campaign.
There is goal-scoring talent on every line, and a hard-working trio from the QMJHL — Nathan Gaucher, Zach Dean, and Joshua Roy — that plays an energy game to shut down opponents while also finding offence. It’s this depth of talent that will give them the biggest edge over the majority of nations attending.
Every year it seems that Canada goes into the tournament with a forward corps that is the envy of the other nine teams, a big, mobile defence corps that can largely contend with the handful of star players they’ll face — and then a couple of unknown goalies who have never generated the same fanfare. This year keeps with that pattern as the goalies are San Jose Sharks draft pick Benjamin Gaudreau who comes in with an .868 save percentage in the OHL, and Thomas Milic who wasn’t selected in the past two NHL drafts and ranks second on his own WHL team in save percentage behind the 17-year-old Scott Ratzlaff.
Milic’s .919 mark is still good for fifth in the WHL on what is always a defensively strong Seattle Thunderbirds team. He posted a mark of .975 a couple of years ago with the National Under-18 team, and was very solid for Seattle in last year’s playoffs, so this is the level the staff will be expecting him to reach for the duration of this 11-day tournament.
In the end it may not matter how many pucks Milic and Gaudreau allow past them because this team should be able to outscore any defensive woes.
Leading the attack will be Connor Bedard who was lighting the original 2022 tournament on fire with four goals in two games before it was brought to a sudden halt. Even after just turning 17 at the summer do-over, he had eight points in seven games played to finish fifth on the team. He is a true game-breaking talent with speed and the hands to keep up, already with 64 points in the WHL and on pace for 142. He’s going to force every opposing coach to focus a game plan on him, still manage to put up big numbers and highlight-reel goals, and be involved in the most meaningful minutes when the medals are on the line.