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USA vs. Finland Preliminary Round Preview

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Team USA begins their quest for gold at the World Junior Championships this afternoon when they take on the defending champions from Finland.

Here's what you need to know for today's contest

When: Puck drops at 3:00pm EST

How to Watch: The game will air on the NHL Network, and will be available to stream for free via

What's at Stake: This will be the first of four preliminary round games for the United States. The top four teams in their pool will advance to the quarterfinal round. The result here isn't hugely important, but could play a factor in drawing a weaker/stronger opponent in the quarterfinal round.

Who to Watch for the United States: If you haven't heard of Jack Eichel, you'll likely get a thorough education this afternoon. He'll lead the US offense. Behind him, the US is very deep at forward with a number of players that could score. Keep an eye on the US' youngest forward, Auston Matthews, who could be the next Jack Eichel.

Who to Watch for Finland: Finland's hopes for a repeat of their gold medal performance begin with goalie Juuse Saros. Saros is tiny for a goalie, listed at 5'11", but he has consistently been a thorn in the side of the United States coming up through the ranks, and was stellar in last year's World Juniors.

College hockey fans might recognize St. Cloud State defenseman Mika Ilvonen on the blue line for the Finns. Also on the blue line will be talented puck-moving defenseman Julius Honka, a first round pick in last year's draft that has played this season in the AHL.

Their forwards are young, including one of the few '98 birthdates playing in the tournament in 6'3" man-child Jesse Puljujarvi. While most of this tournament's focus will be on the battle between Jack Eichel and Canada's Connor McDavid for the first overall pick in this year's draft, Auston Matthews and Jesse Puljujarvi might be battling for the early front-runner position in the 2016 NHL Draft.

Other notables at forward include Kasperi Kapanen, who was selected in the first round of last year's draft. Mikko Rantanen, who is projected as a first round pick in this year's draft. And Roope Hintz, who is named Roope Hintz.