International Ice Hockey Federation

Group A ready to rock

Group A ready to rock

Defending champion U.S. to battle Canada, Sweden

Published 18.04.2018 00:22 GMT+5 | Author Lucas Aykroyd
Group A ready to rock
Joel Farabee is a key returnee for the powerful American U18 team that will play in Group A in Magnitogorsk and vie to defend its 2017 title. Photo: Andrea Cardin / HHOF-IIHF Images
Will the defending U18 World Champion Americans battle the Canadians for top spot in Group A? Or will Sweden step up in Magnitogorsk? Let’s take a closer look.

Belarus

For Belarus, appearing in the top division for the second straight year is an achievement in itself. The Belarusians came ninth in 2017 in Slovakia. Previously, the only sustained run they had at this level was from 2002 to 2004.

So what will 2018 bring? Nineteen members of the 2017 team have aged out, and it will be tough to replace the scoring of Igor Martynov, who led that team offensively (3-4-7). Head coach Pavel Perepekhin, who captured the senior Belarus league title with Yunost Minsk in 2016, needs a huge performance from 17-year-old goalie Nikita Tolopilo, who stands 194 cm and 93 kg, to have any chance of avoiding relegation.

Canada

Surprisingly, the Canadians haven’t won gold at this tournament since 2013, or anything since back-to-back bronzes in 2014 and 2015. Coach Don Hay, who guided a Canadian team starring Connor McDavid to the 2013 gold in Sochi, returns behind the bench. Hay also famously won gold at the 1995 World Juniors in Alberta. Regardless of what reinforcements he gets from the Canadian Hockey League playoffs, the winningest coach in WHL history will have some special talents to deploy.

Alexis Lafreniere earned QMJHL rookie of the year honours with 80 points in 60 games. The 16-year-old left wing could be drafted first overall in 2020. His Rimouski Oceanic teammate, Colten Ellis, shone as a first-year QMJHL goalie with a 2.35 GAA and 91.3 save percentage in 51 games. Defenceman Ryan Merkley has racked up 122 career points in 125 games with the OHL’s Guelph Storm and could drive the power play with the fleet-footed, savvy Ty Smith of the Spokane Chiefs. This team can be a contender.

Sweden

The Swedes have never won an IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship, and their last medal was 2016’s silver with Lias Andersson and Elias Pettersson. Still, even without superstar defenceman Rasmus Dahlin, who’s taking time off after the World Juniors and Olympics, they’ll be dangerous.

Torgny Bendelin coached Sweden’s World Junior team from 2005 to 2007, and now he’s poised for his third straight appearance behind the U18 bench. Bendelin will lean heavily on high-flying defenceman Adam Boqvist, who appeared in 15 SHL games and three CHL games for Brynas this season. Centre Jacob Olofsson (Timra), whom World Junior coach Tomas Monten has compared to Peter Forsberg, will get an opportunity to shine, as Isac Lundestrom (Lulea) could see time at the Worlds in Denmark.

With solid goaltending and their traditional commitment to team play, the Swedes could be on track to play for a medal again.

Switzerland

Will other teams underestimate the Swiss after their consecutive eighth-place finishes in 2016 and 2017? Entering his third go-round, coach Thierry Paterlini, who played in two Olympics and eight Worlds, must hope so. After all, Paterlini won’t have standouts like Nico Hischier, Nando Eggenberger, or Philipp Kurashev from 2017.

With an unheralded roster, Switzerland must buckle down defensively and get timely offensive contributions from the likes of skillful forward Valentin Nussbaumer. The 17-year-old played 26 Swiss NLA games this season with Biel-Bienne (5-1-6) and tallied a goal for the Swiss World Junior team in Buffalo. Defenceman Nico Gross, who also suited up at the World Juniors as an assistant captain, is coming off a respectable rookie season with the OHL’s Oshawa Generals.

Overall, it’ll be an uphill climb for the Swiss, who will likely have to win their 23 April showdown with Belarus to dodge the relegation round.

United States

It’s gold or bust for this group. The Americans have won seven of the last nine IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championships and a world-leading 14 all-time. Boasting a full roster from USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program, they could certainly defend their 2017 title from Slovakia.

Up front, key returnees from that team include two potential top-10 NHL draft picks, captain Joel Farabee and power forward Oliver Wahlstrom. Anticipation also surrounds Jack Hughes, whom head coach Seth Appert has dubbed “the best 2001 (born) player in the world.” With 99 points in 52 games this season, the 16-year-old centre has drawn rave reviews for his playmaking and competitive fire. Hughes could go first overall in 2019.

Watch for the big shot of mobile defenceman Bode Wilde, who had 36 points this season, as well as the size and skating of K’Andre Miller. Fans of the early 1990’s Pittsburgh Penguins will be intrigued to see Mattias Samuelsson (son of Kjell) and Adam Samuelsson (son of Ulf) patrolling the U.S. blueline too. If goalie Drew DeRidder’s performance evokes the 1.00 GAA and 95.0 save percentage he earned en route to gold at the 2016 Winter Youth Olympic Games, the Americans should enjoy their time in the Ural Mountains.

 

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