MONTREAL -- The United States renews its border battle with Team Canada at 4 p.m. on the NHL Network on the final day of preliminary round action at the 2015 World Junior Championship. The winner claims the top seed in Group A as the tournament moves to the quarterfinals.
The Americans enter the game one point in back of the Canadians, having won two games in regulation and another in a shootout while their foes to the north have won all three games in regulation. The New Year's eve showdown between the countries has become somewhat of a tradition here at the World Juniors. This year's game in the hockey-rich city of Montreal couldn't provide a better backdrop for the marquee clash.
The Canadians defeated the U.S. on New Year's eve last year by a score of 3-2 to take the top spot in group play for the 2014 World Junior Championship. It set up a more difficult crossover matchup for the Americans, who were bounced by the Russians, leading to a disappointing fifth place finish in 2014.
The Americans are very deep and strong down the middle with Jack Eichel, Auston Matthews, Dylan Larkin and J.T. Compher as the team's four centers. Larkin, the third line pivot, has been named the U.S. Player of the Game in the last two outings. He is the leading scorer for Mark Osiecki's squad.
Defensively, the U.S. has been stout since giving up a goal just 1:22 into the first game of the tournament against Finland. The United States hasn't allowed a goal since. The one knock on the U.S. so far in the tournament could be its perceived sloppy and lackadaisical play at times. That likely won't be an issue on Wednesday in a game that the Americans will surely be amped up for.
McDavid vs. Eichel
Sure, this game is about much more than a battle between the two top prospects for the 2015 NHL Draft, but it's a big part of it. Connor McDavid of the Erie Otters and Boston University's Jack Eichel get to square off in a head-to-head clash playing for their respective countries.
Eichel is the U.S. captain and first line center. He has been praised for his leadership abilities throughout the tournament and during the weeks leading up to the event. The North Chelmsford, Mass. native has just a goal and an assist in three games, although both were absolute highlight reel material. He has 14 shots on goal and has looked dynamic at times despite not finding the score sheet as much as he is accustomed to.
McDavid missed a significant chunk of games for the Otters in OHL action leading up to the tournament due to a hand injury suffered in a fight. The Richmond Hill, Ontario native has a goal and two assists in three games while centering the Canadian's second line and serving as an alternate captain.
Unanimously, draft experts have McDavid pegged into the top spot and Eichel falling second. One game likely won't change that, but it certainly adds to the already tremendous intrigue for a game between the U.S. and Canada.
Wednesday's goaltending matchup features two backstops who have spent time honing their skills in the state of California. San Diego native Thatcher Demko, a Vancouver Canucks prospect and sophomore at Boston College, is the starting goaltender for the Americans. He'll be opposed at the other end by Edmonton, Alberta native Eric Comrie, who is a duel citizen. The Tri-City Americans netminder played minor hockey for the LA Selects. Comrie, a Winnipeg Jets draft pick, is making his second start of the tournament, having split time with Zachary Fucale. Demko is getting his third start, having been given the nod in all but one game in which Brandon Halverson started for the U.S.
NCAA vs. CHL
Like it or not, anytime the U.S. and Canadians get together in a tournament like this, it becomes a referendum on the college route vs. the major junior option. 17 of the 23 players on the American roster are in college hockey or likely to play college hockey. There are four players from the OHL and two from the WHL while the entire Canadian roster is made up of guys playing major junior or former CHL players now in the NHL.
The game will be televised live on NHL Network across the entire United States, but for viewers without access to a television or that particular channel, the game will be streamed live on NHL.com. In addition to following @SBNCollegePuck, another good Twitter source is @USAHockeyScores.
Happy New Year and Happy Hockey!
Jeff Cox covers college, junior and high school hockey, NCAA recruiting and NHL Draft prospects. Follow him on Twitter @JeffCoxSports.