It all comes down to this.
With the United States’ narrow win over Finland and Canada’ stomping of Russia, it’s an all-North American gold medal matchup between the rival nations for the 2021 World Junior Championship gold medal.
The path to this gold medal affair wasn’t overly stressful for either team. Canada is a clean 5-0-0-0 in this tournament and leads the event with 41 goals scored.
After a Christmas Day loss to Russia to open their tournament, the U.S. has run the table and ranks second to Canada with 34 tallies across six games.
It would seem we have a couple high-octane offenses set to go at it in this one, but there’s much more to this one than elite skill up front.
It’s the USA vs. Canada in the gold medal game from the Edmonton bubble!
USA vs. Canada Betting Odds
- USA (+300)
- Canada (-400)
- USA +1.5 (+115)
- Canada -1.5 (-140)
- Over 6 (+100)
- Under 6 (-120)
USA vs. Canada World Junior Pick Breakdown
They got a run for their money as Finland mounted a ferocious third-period comeback in last night’s semifinal, however an Alex Turcotte game-winning tally with 1:16 to go in regulation punched the States’ ticket to this gold medal tilt with the rival Canadians.
It’s been an impressive tournament for a U.S. squad in search of their first gold since 2017, and after disappointing to a sixth-place finish at last year’s event, you can bet they will be looking to cap the reversal of the trend at this year’s tournament.
While he shares the tournament point lead with Canada’s Dylan Cozens with 16 in just six games, there hasn’t been a better player in this year’s field than Anaheim Ducks first-round pick Trevor Zegras. As an 18-year-old last year, Zegras paced the Americans with nine points in five games, all coming in assist form.
While he’s racked up 10 helpers this time around, he’s also notched six goals to show he can do more than set up his teammates. Zegras was a one-man wrecking crew through the round robin phase and the fact that he has nine more points than the next closest American (Matthew Boldy, John Farinacci), it’s clear who has led the team to this point.
Trevor Zegras with his second consecutive two-goal game 🔥 pic.twitter.com/hlvvqbdrcl
— TSN (@TSN_Sports) December 29, 2020
Finland’s Topi Niemela leads all defenseman with seven points this year, however the States’ Cam York has six of his own to rank second in that category. The University of Michigan Wolverine has five points in eight games at the NCAA level and tallied a healthy 16 points in 30 games as a Freshman last season.
York and Jake Sanderson lead the U.S. blueline while the likes of Turcotte, Boldy, Cole Caufield, Arthur Kaliyev, Farinacci and even power forward Brett Berard have supported Zegras with the team’s secondary scoring. Aside from Zegras and perhaps York, there isn’t a player on this team that’s boosted his individual stock more than Boldy as the Boston College Terrier and 2019 Minnesota Wild first-round pick has notched five goals and seven points in six games coming out of a difficult Group B.
All that said, this game could very well ride on the performance of goaltender Spencer Knight.
We witnessed Canada get to 2020 12th overall draft pick Yaroslav Askarov for five goals in last night’s affair, and Knight will have his work cut out for him likely in the same way Askarov did 24 hours earlier.
He’s been very good in this tournament, turning in a 1.98 GAA and .922 Sv% in five appearances. He’s also worked to a 1.50 GAA and .955 Sv% in four games with Boston College this season after yielding a 1.97 GAA and .931 Sv% in 33 games as a Freshman a season ago. Knight is a 2019 first-round pick of the Florida Panthers.
After one, it remains a scoreless contest. The U.S. will start period two on the power play.
— USA Hockey (@usahockey) December 29, 2019
If Knights excels, the U.S. is right in this one. If he falters as Askarov did last night, it’s a major uphill battle for the States as Canada is sure to put plenty of pressure on Knight and that U.S. blueline.
After bringing their ‘C’ game to the table in a 3-0 win over the Czech Republic in the quarterfinal, Canada came out firing in last night’s semifinal contest with Russia, vastly outplaying their opponent and making a very good goaltender in Askarov look awfully uncomfortable in net.
A trio of first-period tallies was more than Canada would need in their eventual 5-0 rout of the rival Russians, and now it’s on to a U.S. squad hungry to get back on top of the hockey world.
While the U.S. has a mighty impressive group of forwards, there isn’t a team in the tournament as deep as this Canada roster. Despite captain and Chicago Blackhawks center Kirby Dach being hurt in the pre-tournament exhibition with Russia, all 13 forwards Canada will dress tonight are first-round NHL draft picks.
Cozens has been the key cog in sharing the tournament point lead with Zegras, but also paces the tournament with eight goals in six games, two more than the second-place Zegras.
Dylan Cozens scores his fifth goal of the tournament! pic.twitter.com/p7yKMbJXyC
— TSN (@TSN_Sports) December 31, 2020
However, the Canadian attack hardly stops with Cozens. Connor McMichael, Alex Newhook, Dawson Mercer, Cole Perfetti and Philip Tomasino have all been brilliant for Canada from an offensive standpoint and the fact that 2020 second overall pick Quinton Byfield skates as the team’s third-line center is a good indication of just how talented and deep this group is up front.
Hold my beer, says the Canada blueline. While it’s easy to praise the forward group as the team’s biggest advantage, let’s not forget a defense that has helped pitch two shutouts in a row entering this one. Canada has allowed just four goals in six games and just two over their last five.
Sure, they played in the weaker Group A throughout the round robin, but held Finland to just one goal, a team that scored three on the U.S. just 24 hours ago and held Russia’s talented top line of Rodion Amirov, Vasil Podkolzin and Marat Khusnutdinov largely in check last night.
It’s a group that’s simply suffocated their opponent in the neutral zone as teams have had major issues entering the Canadian zone with any type of speed or momentum as the mobility to hockey IQ of this defense corps is off the charts, led by Bowen Byram, Thomas Harley and Jamie Drysdale, the former two of which could play in the NHL this season.
All that said, the most impressive player on this team could very well be goaltender Devon Levi. Levi, not invited to the team’s summer evaluation camp at all, was invited to main camp after the Canadian brass reviewed additional tape of possible goaltenders given the seeming lack of options.
Levi got the nod to start Canada’s exhibition with Russia, and has played all but one period since as backup Dylan Garand played the third period of their 16-2 thrashing of Germany in Game No. 1.
Levi will enter this one sporting a cool 0.53 GAA and .975 Sv% in six games, by far the best numbers of any goaltender in the tournament. He’s been calm and collected in the crease and has yielded next to no rebounds throughout the tournament, swallowing up nearly everything thrown his way. Also a Panthers prospect (7th round, 2020), Levi will join Northeastern University after the completion of this tournament.
🇨🇦 Devon Levi has as many shutouts as he does goals against through 6 games.
Read that again.
— TSN (@TSN_Sports) January 5, 2021
Top to bottom, Canada has indeed been the best team in this tournament, but they’re in for their toughest test yet in this one.
USA vs. Canada World Junior Pick
If you’ve seen these two teams play at this event this year, this is the gold medal game you are hoping for. Canada has thoroughly dominated in all three phases of their roster, and the U.S. has a vicious offensive attack while sporting some elite blueline talent. Additionally, Knight’s tournament numbers rank second behind Levi.
Prior to the tournament, I took the United States to win the tournament at +450. Of course, that was before I knew Levi would impress this much, but I had Knight as the x-factor in his team claiming hold at significant value over Canada at short +105 odds.
That said, these odds are giving us a happy medium. Canada is surely the better team, but it will take more than that to win this one. They’ll need to play their best defense of the tournament and Levi will need to cap one of the best goaltending performances this tournament has ever seen with another standout effort.
The U.S. penalty kill has been nearly identical to Canada’s, and the Canadian power play has clicked at a healthy 33.3% in this tournament, third-best to this point.
I do think the U.S. generates some offense tonight and I think Zegras and co. will capitalize on the man advantage.
All that being said, I see this one as a close game. Maybe a 3-2 or 4-3 affair in favor of Canada. With that in mind, I love the odds we are getting with the U.S. +1.5 on the puckline.
If the U.S. pulls off the upset, that’s fine. If they don’t, at least we can still hit this pick if this ends as a one-goal affair. There’s no blowout to be had in this one, so grab the United States as puckline underdogs and end this tournament on a positive note!