Most Represented Youth Teams at Under-18 World Junior Championships
The 2021 IIHF U18 World Junior Championships are set to begin Monday in Frisco and Plano, Texas, with a field of teams from 10 different countries. Teams Czech and Germany will begin the festivities with puck drop at 4 p.m. CT, and will be the first of 28 games over the span of 11 days.
Team USA won the U20 World Juniors in Edmonton four months ago, and the U18 squad will be a strong favorite to win as well. Team Canada may have one of its strongest teams in recent memory because of the pandemic and Team Sweden brings a strong group across the Atlantic as well.
With the top countries from around the world all in one location, we take a deep dive into the players’ origins and the youth organizations they represent.
A pretty diverse group with 25 skaters stemming from 19 different youth programs across five different provinces. Team Canada is unique in another way as well, as three players also hail from different countries with Mason McTavish (Switzerland), Cole Sillinger (USA) and Danny Zhilkin (Russia) all claiming dual citizenship. It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to see that two teams from the Greater Toronto Hockey League (GTHL) account for the largest portion of the locker room, with the Don Mills Flyers and Toronto Marlboros producing three members each.
Team Czech Republic
Stanislav Svozil was a member of the Czech’s U20 team earlier this year, where he picked up an assist in the tournament and the team finished with a 2-2-0 record. The U18 squad is slightly different than previous tournament teams. Of the 25 rostered players, only four are not currently playing in the Czech Republic, making this year’s group a homegrown bunch with little influence from the CHL or other international junior leagues. Those Czech roots run deep through the youth ranks, with three players from HC Plzen and three more from HC Prerov, including the 6-foot-1 Svozil who last played for the club’s U16 team.
The Finns have had great success in this tournament, winning a medal in four of the last five events including two gold and two silver. Defenseman Kalle Ervasti has ties to the States, having spent his 16U season with South Florida Hockey Academy (SFHA), scoring 61 points in 59 games for the club. In addition to him, the Blues, Jokerit and Pelicans are among some of the most represented programs on the team, but Karpat leads the way with four former players, including standout forward Samu Tuomaala.
A country on the rise in the sport of hockey, from NHL MVP Leon Draisaitl, to last year’s third overall pick in Tim Stützle. Germany is back in the top level of the World Juniors tournament for the first time in six years, and the players are part of an international development plan to build up the country’s competitiveness in the event. Part of that comes from an investment at the youth level, where a program like Starbulls Rosenheim and its 2017-18 under-16 team that produced three members of this year’s national team.
It’s one of the smallest countries by land area in the tournament and the national team is limited in terms of resources it can tap into for players. Just eight youth hockey programs account for Team Latvia’s entire roster makeup, and SK Riga alone produced five forwards, two D and a goalie who last played youth hockey for the club’s U16 and U15 teams. While their origins are similar, the players’ current situations vary greatly with skaters actively playing in Finland’s U20 SM-Sarja, Switzerland’s U20-Elit, Norway U21 and Russia’s MHL.
The Russians will bring plenty of offensive firepower to the tournament with Ivan Miroshnichenko and Matvei Michkov headlining the list of forwards. Fyodor Svechkov, Nikita Chibrikov and Ilya Ivantsov are also dangerous, in addition to several others. Eleven members of the team originated from the Central Federal District of Russia; the region surrounding the city of Moscow. One of the most storied and historic youth programs in the country, Dynamo Moscow, accounts for six of the players.
Without a tournament in 2020 due to COVID-19, the Swedes should still be considered as defending champs after defeating Russia in the 2019 event. This year, it may not have the big names on the roster that it normally boasts, but the country should certainly be considered in contention this week anyway, given its history in international play. Frolunda is one of the most recognizable youth programs in Sweden, most likely because it produces international and professional players at an impressive clip. Five Indians alumni, including some of Sweden’s top prospects, will suit up for the Swedes. Keep an eye out for forwards Liam Dower-Nilsson, Noah Hasa, Fabian Lysell and Ludwig Persson as well as defenseman Simon Edvinsson.
Just one player (Attilio Biasca) is currently playing junior hockey outside of Switzerland. The rest of the current roster resides in the surprisingly competitive U20-Elit Swiss League. Biasca suited up for the U20 team in January and has spent the 2020-21 season in the QMJHL. The Swiss will rely heavily on his experience because the country hasn’t fared very well in the U18 tournament. In 21 tournament appearances, Team Swiss has won a medal just once, and it was 20 years ago. Switzerland’s roster is comprised of 25 players from 17 youth organizations, with Kevin Pasche, Nathan Cantin, Benjamin Bourgo and Louis Robin hailing from Lausanne’s U15 team.
Hockey in the States starts with the three M’s: Massachusetts, Michigan and Minnesota. The U18 team, however, starts with just one M… Michigan. Ten players on the roster either reside in, or played their most recent youth hockey in the Mitten State. Dylan Duke, Ty Gallagher, Sasha Pastujov and Red Savage played for Compuware’s 16U team in 2018-19 before all four of them went on to play for the U.S. National Team Development Program (USNTDP) in Plymouth, Michigan. Five others also played for Michigan-based youth programs including HoneyBaked (2), Fox Motors, Little Caesars and Oakland Jr. Grizzlies.
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