5 GAMES TO WATCH
Canada vs. Finland
Canada opens the tournament with a matinee against a motivated Finnish team that has gone five years in a row without winning a medal. It will be a big day for Canadian defenceman Mark Pysyk from the Edmonton suburb of Sherwood Park, the only local boy to crack the squad (though Brendan Gallagher lived there until 12, before moving to Vancouver). Monday, Rexall Place in Edmonton, TSN, 3 p.m.
Russia vs. Switzerland
Switzerland will undoubtedly be the people’s choice against the defending champions from Russia, given that their top player, Sven Baertschi of the Portland Winterhawks, is tearing up the Western Hockey League this year and happens to be the brightest scoring prospect to come along for the NHL’s Calgary Flames in a dozen years. Monday, Pengrowth Saddledome in Calgary, TSN2, 10:30 p.m.
Canada vs. Denmark
In a top-heavy group that includes the United States, Czech Republic and Finland, Denmark represents the one hockey-playing minnow in the pond. The Canadians get a scheduling break here. It is the only time in the preliminary round that they’ll be playing on back-to-back nights, after meeting the Czechs 24 hours before. Thursday, Rexall Place, TSN, 10 p.m.
Canada vs. U.S.
It’s the annual New Year’s Eve classic and a chance for the archrivals to do battle in a game that could decide first place in Group B and the coveted bye directly into the semi-finals. Canada’s all Niagara IceDogs contingent – Dougie and Freddie Hamilton, Ryan Strome, goaltender Mark Visentin – should be providing the scouting report on U.S. goalie Jack Campbell, a member of the Ontario Hockey League-rival Windsor Spitfires. Saturday, Rexall Place, TSN, 8 p.m.
Sweden vs. Russia
Even if all eyes in Canada are focused on a game to the north, the hockey scouts will be congregating in Calgary for a chance to see Russian phenom Nail Yakopov, projected as the No. 1 player eligible for the NHL’s 2012 entry draft, play against Swedish winger Filip Forsberg, projected in some quarters as a possible No. 2. It is also a rematch of the 2011 tournament semi-final, in which Russia came from behind to tie the game and then won in overtime to advance to the gold-medal game against Canada. Saturday, Pengrowth Saddledome, TSN2, 10 p.m.