Favorites entering the holiday tournament, Team Canada will face stiff competition from the Americans, Russians and Swedes as they gun for their sixth straight gold medal victory.
In what has surely become a tradition for Canadian hockey fans, the World Junior Championship, consisting of the best players around the world under the age of 18, is set to kick off its tournament on Boxing Day, 3:30 p.m. ET, against Latvia.
This year, Team Canada goes for its sixth gold medal in a row, but victory is far from a foregone conclusion. After all, last year they barely skived off a loss in the semi-finals thanks to a goal by Jordan Eberle with 5 seconds and change left on the clock. They beat the Russians in a shootout, and topped Team Sweden in the gold medal game, but that could all change this year. In a tournament, any team can quickly drop out of medal contention and having won five years in a row certainly puts a big target on Canada's back. They know the stakes: gold medal or bust.
Six players are returning, veterans from the 2009 team: Ryan Ellis, Alex Pietrangelo, Colten Tuebert, Stefan Della Rovere, Patrice Cormier, and Jordan Eberle. Forward Taylor Hall is expected to be drafted at the top of the first round in June while Luke Schenn's brother Brayden and Toronto Maple Leafs draft pick Nazem Kadri are players to watch.
Not everyone who follows the tournament is always familiar with the Canadian Hockey League's finest, but that is actually the point - the tournament functions as a showcase for future NHLers. Anyone who follows the NHL gets a chance to see who is going to be a potential Calder winner in a few years. Here is a list of notable NHLers from 2005-2009 who have won gold as an under-18 player for Team Canada:
2005: Sidney Crosby, Jeff Carter, Dion Phaneuf, Cam Barker, Shea Weber, Patrice Bergeron, Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, Clarke MacArthur, Nigel Dawes, Michael Richards.
2006: Kris Letang, Marc Staal, Jonathan Toews, Dave Bolland, Andrew Cogliano.
2007: Carey Price, Sam Gagner, Bryan Little, Darren Helm.
2008: Steve Mason, Drew Doughty, Steven Stamkos, Claude Giroux, Luke Schenn.
2009: John Tavares, Tyler Myers, Jamie Benn.
Below is Canada's full roster for this year:
Jake Allen (G) QMJHL
Martin Jones (G) WHL
Jard Cowan (D) WHL
Calvin de Haas (D) OHL
Ryan Ellis (D) OHL
Travis Hamoic (D) WHL
Alex Pietrangelo (D) OHL
Marco Scandella (D) QMJHL
Colten Tuebert (D) WHL
Luke Adam (F) QMJHL
Gabriel Bourque (F) QMJHL
Jordan Caron (F) QMJHL
Patrice Cormier (F) QMJHL
Stfean Della Rovere (F) OHL
Jordan Eberle (F) WHL
Taylor Hall (F) OHL
Adam Henrique (F) OHL
Nazem Kadri (F) OHL
Brandon Kozun (F) WHL
Brandon McMillan (F) WHL
Greg Nemisz (F) OHL
Brayden Schenn (F) WHL
WHL = Western Hockey League
OHL = Ontario Hockey League
QMJHL = Quebec Major Junior Hockey League