Canada will have the home ice advantage when they open the 2019 World Junior Championships against Denmark on Boxing Day.
The full schedule of games to be played in Vancouver and Victoria was released this week by the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF), finalizing the details that hockey fans and ticket holders have been waiting for.
Group A games will be played at Rogers Arena in Vancouver and includes the home nation, along with Russia, Denmark, Switzerland and the Czech Republic.
Group B games will be played at the Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre in Victoria with the United States , Slovakia, Sweden, Finland and newly promoted Kazakhstan. The full schedule is available here.
“The announcement of the tournament schedule is another indication of how close we are to puck-drop on Boxing Day,” said tournament director Riley Wiwchar, in a release from the IIHF.
“Excitement has been building for months in the province, and that now extends across the country and around the world as fans get set to enjoy some of the best international hockey the world has to offer.”
The group stage will take place between Dec. 26-31 in both cities with the top four teams of each group advancing to the quarter-finals, also played in both cities. But from the semi-finals on to the gold medal game Jan. 5 will all be played in Vancouver.
Ticket packages are still available for both cities.
New coach for Team Canada
The young men vying for a spot on Canada’s junior hockey team know their coach’s storied legacy.
They know Tim Hunter spent 15 seasons playing in the NHL as an enforcer in Calgary, Quebec, Vancouver and San Jose. They know he won a Stanley Cup with the Flames in 1989, an entire decade before any of them were born.
#NEWS | A gold medal-winning assistant in 2018, Tim Hunter is the new head coach of Team Canada, with assistants Marc-André Dumont, Jim Hulton and Brent Kisio. #WorldJuniors #REPRESENThttps://t.co/ZsfhRpXhD9 pic.twitter.com/uG6JitKfSV— #WorldJuniors (@HC_WJC) July 3, 2018
And they know Hunter’s now sharing his experience with young players, working to shape the next generation of hockey greats.
“We all know his history and what he did for the game. So it’s really nice to have him behind the bench. He gives great advice for young players, just how to develop and feel comfortable out there,” said Antoine Morand, a forward who’s hoping to make Canada’s squad this winter.
The 57-year-old Calgarian was named head coach of the team last month after being an assistant coach with the squads that took home silver from the 2017 world junior hockey championship and gold from the 2018 tournament. This week, the new role has him in Kamloops, B.C., where Canada is taking part in the world junior hockey showcase.
“Any time you’re involved with Hockey Canada, it’s a real honour and a real thrill,” Hunter said of the promotion.
The Canadians lost only one game in last year’s tournament, dropping a preliminary match against the U.S. 4-3 in a shootout. They have won gold 17 times in the 42-year history of the world men’s under-20 championship.
Training camp begins in Kamloops
Alex Formenton and Maxime Comtois know what it takes to capture world junior hockey gold and now they’re sharing their wisdom with a whole new squad.
Both of the young forwards were part of the Canadian team that captured the championship in Buffalo, N.Y., last January and both of them keep their championship rings next to their beds.
“Every time I wake up, I just want to be better than I was the day before,” Comtois said Monday in Kamloops, where he’s on the Canadian roster at this summer’s world junior showcase.
Canada has 39 players at the event, a group that will eventually be whittled down to the team playing in the annual world junior tournament in Vancouver and Victoria this winter.
Comtois and Formenton are the only ones at the showcase who were also part of last year’s gold medal-winning group. St. Louis Blues prospect Robert Thomas was invited, but is reportedly recovering from an ankle injury.
The young men playing for Team Canada at the showcase hail from across the country, from South Surrey, to Summerside, P.E.I. But many have played together previously, in development camps, junior hockey clubs and university teams.
The tight-knit bond of last year’s squad was evident to Morgan Frost, even as the centre watched at home.
“You could just kind of tell,” he said. ”They had such good chemistry on the ice and they wore teams down, they worked hard and they played for each other.”
Defenceman Ty Smith saw a high-speed, physical game as he watched last year. Being part of that action is something he’s wanted since childhood.
“(Playing in the world juniors) is kind of something that you always dream about as a kid. I watch it every year on TV at Christmas time,” he said.
Smith and Frost said they’ve both had other players tell them how special the experience is, and believe playing on Canadian soil will only amplify that feeling.
- With files from the Canadian Press