TAMPA — Hockey in North America is on hiatus for a few days, but the International scene kicks off in Sweden today with the World Junior Championships.
The annual Under-20 tournament features 10 teams vying for a gold medal in what has become a tournament with a worldwide viewership. Watching Team Canada on Boxing Day and following the red and white has been a tradition North of the Border for two decades.
Now, with the recent success of Team USA, which won gold in 2004, 2010 and 2013, the tournament is being shown live with NHL Network showing 18 games, including all games involving teams in the U.S. group as well as all medal-round games.
The United States plays in a preliminary-round group with Canada, the Czech Republic, Germany and Slovakia.
The tournament also has proved to be a training ground for some of the top players in the NHL, including Steven Stamkos, Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby.
The Lightning have four prospects representing their nations this year.
Jonathan Drouin, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2013 draft, is expected to carry a heavy load for Canada after being in a top-six role last year as an 18-year-old. It’s exactly the role Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman expected Drouin to play when Tampa Bay sent the skilled forward back to his junior team in Halifax at the end of training camp.
“Being a part of Canada’s world junior team at the World Championships, that’s important,’’ Yzerman said at the time.
In addition to Drouin, winger Adam Erne, the 33rd overall pick, will represent the U.S. after enjoying a strong camp with the American squad in Lake Placid, N.Y., in August.
Goaltender Andrey Vasilevskiy, the second of Tampa Bay’s two first-round picks in 2012, will represent Russia while taking part in his third World Junior tourney.
Forward Henri Ikonen, a sixth-round pick last summer, will represent Finland.
The two-week long tournament concludes with the gold-medal game on Jan. 5.