Why care about the World Junior Hockey Championships?

Last Tuesday, the World Junior Hockey Chamionships (WJHC) were decided in front of a sellout crowd of 15,171 fans in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

The gold medal game between host Canada and the United States was watched, at some point, by a third of the population of Canada. The U.S. won in overtime, 6-5, ending the Canadians’ five-year streak of winning the tournament.

Even still, the awesomeness of the U.S.A. winning the gold medal in a juniors tournament is overlooked by many. So why should you care about the WJHC? Boy, am I glad you asked.

1. It’s like a mini-Olympics, but it happens every year. The best players under 20 from around the hockey world come together for two weeks after Christmas and duke it out tournament-style. It makes for some extremely exciting hockey in an otherwise dull time of the year, hockey-wise. NHL teams are in their mid-season slumps or strides and most people need something to shake things up, and the WJHC is it. National pride always brings out the best in teams, and the USA and Canada had the two epic battles of the tourney, their now-annual New Year’s Eve game and the gold medal game, which both went to overtime.

2. The future of the NHL plays in it. Teams like Sweden, Finland and Russia have a handful of guys each year that are drafted and will probably make the show one day. The US and Canadian teams, on the other hand, are a different story. The US has only six skaters who aren’t currently drafted, though four became eligible for the upcoming NHL draft only this year. EVERYONE on the Canadian team has been drafted. Everyone except Taylor Hall, that is, but he’s expected to go No. 1 in the 2010 Draft, so it’s semantics at this point anyway. Seeing this, it’s no wonder the two best teams at the WJHC had the most drafted talent.

3. You, in Erie, PA, could watch a ton of these players put on a show. The Erie Otters play in the OHL, a developmental league that showcases a lot of future NHL talent. John Tavares, the No. 1 pick in last year’s draft, played for the London Knights. I saw him play the Otters in the first round of the OHL Playoffs (I wasn’t terribly impressed). My point is that, for about 10 bucks, you can watch potential NHL superstars in their early days, which is something rare. Here’s a list of guys at the WJHC that are currently in the OHL:
Cam Fowler, USA, Windsor Spitfires
Brian Lashoff, USA, Kingston Frontenacs
Al Jenks, USA, Plymouth Whalers
Philip McRae, USA, London Knights
Jeremy Morin, USA, Kitchener Rangers
Ryan Ellis, Canada, Windsor Spitfires
Calvin de Haan, Canada, Oshawa Generals
Taylor Hall, Canada, Windsor Spitfires
Nazem Kadri, Canada, London Knights
Adam Henrique, Canada, Windsor Spitfires
Stefan Della Rovere, Canada, Barrie Colts
Richard Panik, Slovakia, Windsor Spitfires
Ramis Sadikov, Russia, Erie Otters
Aleksandr Burmistrov, Russia, Barrie Colts
Ivan Telegin, Russia, Saginaw Spirit
Michal Jordan, Czech Republic, Plymouth Whalers
Petteri Similä, Finland, Niagara Ice Dogs
Matias Sointu, Finland, Sudbury Wolves

4. Perhaps most importantly, the WJHC is in Buffalo, N.Y., next year. For those of you who aren’t graduating, you may just get TV coverage of the tournament in Erie, which would be sweet. Try to get tickets, buy a jersey and cheer your country to a medal. Check it out – the WJHC is a big deal, and it should be on your short list of things to do when not partying during Christmas break.