Miracle on Ice 2021: Team USA WJC Preview

Photo by Rena Laverty

  41 years ago, a group of college hockey players from Minnesota and Boston overcame the Russians. The story of team USA overcoming the ultimate hockey powerhouse earned them a fantastic Disney movie. There aren’t any Herb Brooks late-night suicides after exhibition blowouts going on, but the Americans are still heavy underdogs in this yers WJC. They’re going up against a Canadian team with way more talent all around. Even with Canada being fully loaded, the US is in a great spot to redeem themselves from last year’s brutal 6th place finish.

Canada is looking to defend their title on home turf. Blackhawks rookie sensation Kirby Dach was supposed to be the team’s stud until he messed up his hand in their exhibition game. He missed last year’s tournament because he was already playing in the NHL. Thursday, Team Canada confirmed that Dach will miss the entire tournament and potentially start the NHL season. He was supposed to dominate this tournament. Massive blow to the favorites right off the bat, losing their captain, best player, and probably the best player in the entire tournament. The US has a petty good team, and there are a few big names that can help pull off the upset.

Goalies

The US is going to need some crazy goaltending if they want to compete with Canada. Boston College goalie Spencer Knight is returning from last year’s tournament as the starter. The Panthers’ 2019 first-rounder is hoping to redeem himself after mediocre goaltending in last year’s tournament. Even after last year’s disappointing performance, he’s been unreal at BC in his short time there. He was a top NCAA goalie as a freshman and has been very reliable this year. Knight has always been a top US goalie prospect and has shown his talent at all levels. He needs to be the best goalie in the tournament to live up to the hype.

The USA Forwards:

The US is loaded on the front end, starting with Cole Caufield and Trevor Zegras. Caufield, a Canadian first-rounder, has one of the quickest releases I’ve ever seen and consistently creates offense down low. I expect him to be at the top of the tournament total goal scorers. At the US NTDB, he set records for the most goals scored while at the program. He’s currently 1 goal back of the lead league in the NCAA playing for Wisconsin. He’s got crazy offensive abilities and scored 2 goals in the US exhibition game against Finland. He will be on the top power-play unit, rifling one-timers from the off-wing. Hopefully, he will give some of the most entertaining highlights of the tournament after doing it all season so far at Wisco.

Trevor Zegras is the best player on this roster. He might even be the best player in the tournament with Dach out. I think he will lead the tournament in assists and maybe even overall points. He’s very quick with the puck on his stick, can fit passes through any lane, and can blow by most defenders with his speed. The US power play is going to be tough to stop with Zegras feeding Caulfield. His play in this tournament could help him make the Anaheim roster this year and quickly be up in Calder discussions if he makes the opening night roster.

USA Defenseman:

The only guy back from last year’s team is Michigan’s, Cam York. He needs to be the reliable number 1 d-man who can go against other teams’ top units and kill penalties. The other guy to watch out for is Jake Sanderson. He just started his freshman year at North Dakota and was the 5th overall pick in the 2020 draft. He was the first American off the board in this draft. As a big offensive defenseman, his ceiling is very high. He could be the top offensive defenseman in the tournament. He’s going to be electric with the puck and can create plays from anywhere on the ice with his speed. Sanderson was a captain at the NTDB for U18 and U17 and will help lead this team. He’s excellent with the puck and is almost like having a 4th forward out there. The power play quarterback will be a big piece to their goal scoring.

Can anyone beat The US?

The Canadians are as loaded as ever, and all of the pressure is on them to win. Nearly their entire roster is made up of 1st round picks in the last 2 NHL drafts. Despite all that, their goalies aren’t nearly up to the usual Canadian standard. This is the only reason I could see Canada not winning even with the loss of Dach. The Russians are the 3rd best team in the tournament with a returning goalie that can steal them some wins. Their forward group is led by 3rd time World Junior participant Vasily Podkolzin, currently players for SKA in the KHL.

The US faces Russia in their first game on Christmas day. The US is faster and has a better goalie than the Russians, but it is far from a lock. I think the US is going to win and putting up at least 4 goals home. I really like that the most challenging game they play in group play is the first because a win can build so much momentum. Canada will roll through their group for sure and can’t play the US until the semis.

This is one of the best Canadian teams in World Junior history. A victory in this tournament would be the Americans’ biggest upset since Gordan Bombay. The boys dusted Gunner Staal and the Iceland goons. The US will need everything they have to win and a little bit of luck to go with it.

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