EDMONTON — If Boxing Day typically (though not this year) marks the start of the World Juniors, then New Year’s Eve represents when the tournament starts to get real.
The last day of December signals the end of the preliminary part of the preliminary round and the point when the tournament’s stakes are raised significantly.
Canada has played on Dec. 31 every tournament since 2006 save for a one-year exception for the 2018 event.
Tonight, or more precisely late this afternoon, this year’s editions of Teams Canada and Finland will renew that tradition to determine the winner of Pool A at this year’s tournament and an easier quarterfinal opponent.
“There’s going to be lots of people watching from all over the country, The New Year’s Eve game is always a big one,” said Team Canada forward Dylan Cozens.
On the one hand tonight’s game is just another group game between two teams already assured of making the quarterfinals.
On the other it’s when the tournament starts to get interesting, as contenders collide and teams look to round into form ahead of the elimination games.
“It’s going to be a huge game. Without it being the New Year’s Eve game, it’s for first place,” said Cozens.
A WORLD JUNIORS TRADITION
Today’s game will be the 30th time Canada has played on Dec. 31 at the World Juniors (though some were afternoon games).
Canada has won 17 of those contests, lost 6, tied 4 and won one game in a shootout and lost one as well.
Canada’s most frequent Dec. 31 opponent, by far, is the United States with 11 matchups, many of them memorable.
At the 2012 tournament, Canada fended off a late American comeback to win 3-2 at Rexall Place.
On Dec. 31 2009, Canada scored a shootout victory over the U.S. in front of a raucous crowd in Saskatoon.
A year before, a John Tavares hat trick, including two goals in less than a minute, helped Canada overcome an early 3-0 deficit and beat the United States 7-4 in Ottawa.
“It was kind of a crazy game. And then Tavares is just took it over,” said Team Canada’s Zach Boychuk who scored in the 2008 game.
“Those are definitely the funnest ones to be a part of.”
Today’s game against Finland will be the fourth Dec. 31 meeting between the teams, tied with Sweden for second-most NYE matchups against Canada.
Last year, Canada beat the host Czech Republic team 7-2 in Ostrava on Dec. 31.
‘EXCITED I GET TO BE A PART OF THAT’
New Year’s Eve international hockey catches the attention of more than just sports fans, and has drawn audiences of more than three million Canadians.
“We’d always have people over in a normal year for New Year’s Eve,” said Canadian defenceman Kaiden Guhle of his family in Sherwood Park.
“Having Canadian hockey on is just another great time to get together.”
While there won’t be fans there, the fact the game is in Canada and remains destination viewing for millions across the country keeps the tradition alive.
It’s a spectacle Guhle and his teammates are ready to embrace ahead of what will be their toughest test of the tournament so far.
“I’m excited I get to be a part of that this year.”
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