World Juniors hockey semifinals are today

Canada and the U.S.A. both play games for the chance to face each other in the final on Thursday
world juniors A scene from the World Juniors in 2015 at Toronto's Air Canada Centre. (© Angelo Cordeschi |

Today in Montreal are the semifinals of the 2017 World Junior Championship, or the World Juniors. This is a yearly international tournament for men under the age of 20. The four teams remaining in these two games are from countries who are all hockey powerhouses: Canada, Russia, Sweden, and The United States. Which means that we should be in for a pair of barnburners (a.k.a. thrilling, high drama matches!).

A coming out party

Before Patrice Bergeron, Sidney Crosby, and Corey Perry were Stanley Cup and Olympic Gold-winning superstars, they were "just kids" playing in the World Juniors for Canada. (Getty Embed)

The World Juniors a big deal in the hockey world (and at least in Canada, watching it has become a big holiday break ritual over recent years). It's often the moment when future stars announce themselves to the rest of the planet. If you think of all of today's biggest NHL stars—Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Carey Price, Patrick Kane, John Tavares, and on and on—it's difficult to think of many who didn't somehow come up big as youngsters at the World Juniors. In fact, some of the hottest players in the NHL right now, like Connor McDavid, Patrik Laine, Auston Matthews, and Mitch Marner, are all still young enough play in this year's tournament (they're just too good for their NHL teams to let them go for a couple weeks).

The quality of play is high. The stakes? They're high, too. (Come on, these guys are playing for their countries!) What's not to love? Exactly! So let's get you set for the games!

Semifinal 1: U.S.A. vs. Russia (3:00pm EST)

The U.S.A. and Russia already played a super exciting game earlier this tournament, so this should be great. (Getty Embed)

When you add on its history as the Soviet Union, Russia has won more total medals (34) at the World Juniors than any other nation. This year's team is certainly not the strongest they've had in the last few years. They already lost twice in the opening rounds of the tournament. But the Russians have made a habit of starting slow, only to come on really strong by the end. Like all Russian teams, these players are fast and full of skill.

Meanwhile, the United States is one of only two teams that haven't lost yet at this year's World Juniors. They beat host nation Canada convincingly and have already beaten the Russians, too. That match was a close U.S. victory: 3–2. Will the Americans repeat their success? Or will the Russians learn from the experience and once again turn it on late in the tournament?

Semifinal 2: Canada vs. Sweden (7:30pm EST)

Matt Barzal has been an important part of Canada's offence this year. (Getty Embed)

It's pretty rare that Canada isn't considered a threat to win gold at the World Juniors, and this year is no different. They've already won gold more times than any country (16). They're the host nation, too, which never hurts. Overall, Canada has looked very good this year. The only mark against them was a 3–1 loss to the U.S.A. on New Year's Eve. They also have had a few issues deciding on a top goaltender, moving back and forth between Connor Ingram and Carter Hart. Still, this is a typical Canadian team: well coached, full of talent, and not many weaknesses.

Nothing has troubled the Swedes so far, but they know that Canada will be different. (Getty Embed)

Sweden is a slightly tougher team to judge. On one hand, they haven't lost a game so far. They've scored 26 goals and let in only 9 in five matches. So they're really good, right. Yes, they are, but... they also played in the weaker Group A in the opening rounds. (Canada, Russia, and the U.S.A. all played in the much stronger Group B.) So sure, Sweden has pretty much walked all over every team they've faced. But none of those teams are anything as good as Canada.

In the end, this game will probably come down to one thing: who takes the most penalties. Canada's undoing against the U.S. were the penalties that they took. Meanwhile, Sweden has scored five times on the power play in their last two matches. But if both teams keep it even, this will be a really close one.


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