Ridiculous savings on all manner of electronics? Leftover Turkey? Presents from relatives who showed up late after being stranded on the highway in a blizzard? No, my favorite part about Boxing Day is the hockey, and today we have a kickass double header for you. Team Canada opens the World Junior Hockey Championships in Edmonton against Team Finland, while the temporarily homeless Oilers are in Vancouver to take on a Canucks squad that is highly unlikely to show the sort of Christmas kindness and generosity they extended to the Calgary Flames Friday night. I hope you all had an awesome Christmas (or whatever you celebrate) and it was filled with the things that truly matter: good times and good food with family and friends. And that means you too, Oilers fans. Except Zona, who is no doubt a couple Christmases away from becoming a coal baron... Previews of both games after the jump...
First up today is the WJHC kickoff, and unlike some years where Canada eases it's way into the tournament against one of softer teams, they've got quite a challenge right out of the gate in Finland. Canada defeated the Finns in a pre-tournament game last week by a score of 3-1, but we all know these games can be much different when they count, right?
The big story for Canada before a game has even been played is goaltending, as there's already a controversy over who will man the crease for Team Canada. Mark Visentine started against the Swedes Friday night, but was pulled in favour of Scott Wedgewood in a game Canada lost 5-3. Ironically, that was the same score of last year's final as Visentine and Team Canada coughed up a 3 goal lead to lose the gold medal to Russia. Many have questioned the inclusion of Visentine at this year's tournament, as he and Wedgewood both had inferior stats to the other training camp invitees Tyler Bunz and Louis Domingue. It's sounding like Visentine will get the start today, here's hoping he can overcome his demons and not show the kind of performance like he did Friday, giving up 4 goals on 17 shots to the Swedes. He was in goal for the pre-tournament win over the Finns though, it's worth noting.
The Finns are led by the Granlund brothers, they of Youtube fame. No word yet on who will start, my guess is they will go with Chris Gibson, who plays for Chicoutimi of the QMJHL. The Finns have a tough, skilled squad and are looking to improve upon their 6th place finish in Buffalo last year. They haven't won the tournament since 1998, and this is not a far-fetched dream for this team, one bad game from an opponent can often pave the way for someone else, as we have learned in this tournament.
Canada will be looking for big things not only from it's 3 players with NHL experience: Brett Connolly (Tampa Bay), Devante Smith-Pelley (Anaheim), and , who played a handful of games with Winnipeg before being sent back to junior. Team Canada also has it's own set of brothers to watch, as Dougie and Freddie Hamilton suit up in red & white. With just 4 returning members from last year's squad, this team has even more pressure than usual to get back to the top of the junior hockey heap. There's a definite BC flavour to this team, as the head coach is Vancouver Giants bench boss Don Hay. Hay won gold with Team Canada in 1995 during his stint with the Kamloops Blazers. One of his assistant coaches, Ryan Huska is a former Blazer, and he also has a former Vancouver Canuck behind the bench in Scott Walker.
Later tonight the Canucks resume their assault on Minnesota's lead in the Northwest Division as they take on Ryan! Nugent! Hopkins! and the Edmonton Oilers. Canucks coach Alain Vigneault was not pleased at all following the 3-1 loss to Calgary Friday night, so it would hardly be a shock to see the Oilers bearing the brunt of a beating scoreboard-wise tonight. Roberto Luongo, who was outstanding in the loss to the Flames Friday should get the start tonight, while Nikolai Khabibulin is expected to start for the Oilers. Both games this season between these teams have been feisty, one-goal affairs, and there's no reason to expect any different. I would imagine we see Keith Ballard back in the lineup tonight, most likely at the expense of Alexander Sulzer, who has played well since being called up. My guess is that Vigneault will want to keep Andrew Alberts size in the lineup against the Oilers knuckledraggers.
BAND OF THE DAY- WOODS OF YPRES
I was deeply saddened to learn of the death of the main man behind Canada's criminally underrated Woods Of Ypres on December 21st. David Gold was about to see all his hard work pay off as the band's 5th album 'Woods 5: Grey Skies & Electric Light' is due to be released by Earache Records in February. The band's doomy style is comparable to bands like Type O Negative, and as a fan of the band for many years, I was thrilled to see them sign the deal with Earache and finally start to see some recognition. The loss of such a talented musician leaves a huge hole in the Canadian metal scene. RIP. The band had released a single in anticipation of the album release, ironically titled 'Kiss My Ashes (Goodbye)'.