Any time the United States faces off against Canada in international hockey competition, it's a big deal. But the stakes are particularly high on Saturday morning when the US faces off against Canada in the semifinals of the IIHF World U18 Championships in Zug, Switzerland.
Game time is scheduled for 3pm local time, which works out 9am Eastern Standard Time. The US broadcast of the game will be streamed for free via FastHockey, while the Canadian broadcast will be televised on TSN.
Canada won all four games in the preliminary round, though fell behind to both Latvia and Finland before coming back to win. Sweden came within a goal of Canada late in the third period, but the Canadians hung on for a quarterfinal win.
The United States, meanwhile, dropped their first game of the tournament to Russia, a frustrating 3-1 loss in which the US dominated Russia by a 50-16 shot margin. Since then, the US has dominated all other opponents with wins of 10-0, 6-4, 13-1, and 7-2.
Leading the offensive charge for Team USA has been the top line of Auston Matthews centering Matthew Tkachuk and Jack Roslovic. Matthews continue to solidify his status as one of the best American prosects ever--better than Jack Eichel, even--with a tournament leading 12 points in five games. Those numbers might even be higher were it not for the US taking their foot off the gas in some of those blowout wins. Roslovic is the only one of the three expected to play college hockey, and the Miami commit has really helped his NHL Draft stock with a strong performance in this tournament.
If there has been a weakness for the US in this tournament, it's that they really feel the absence of Noah Hanifin and Zach Werenski, who were both eligible for this year's tournament, but not playing. The US lacks a really high-end, shut-down defender to match up against Canada's top line.
For Canada, the player to watch is projected first round pick Matt Barzal, who has matched Matthews' 12 points in five games played. Barzal is a slick offensive player that loves to have the puck on his stick. Keeping him under wraps and forcing him to create opportunities away from the puck will be a key for the US defense.
Canadian defenseman Thomas Chabot, another projected first round draft pick, has been the top defender for Canada in the tournament and provided some offense from the blue line.
In goal, Zach Sawchenko got off to a rough start in the tournament, but has settled down and was very strong in Canada's quarterfinal win. The US offensive attack has been suffocating in this tournament and Sawchenko will likely be counted on to make a lot of saves to hold Canada in this game.
The US likely comes in as the favorite in this game. The advantage of most of this team playing together for the entire season really shows in the tournament, while the Canadians are missing many top eligible players(some guy named McDavid) due to the CHL playoffs. But this game should still be a battle.
The US has won gold in five of the last six U18 World Championships, with Canada winning the sixth. With Russia losing in shocking fashion to host Switzerland yesterday in the quarterfinal round, it looks like this semifinal match-up is essentially the match-up for the gold medal and should be a tough, intense game.