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Happy Holidays Sports Fans

By Lori Bennett National Sports Columnist World Juniors IIHF It’s the most wonderful time of the year! A great Canadian tradition is watching the World Junior hockey tournament after the drama of Christmas has died down. This year’s tourney takes place in Gothenburg, Sweden, beginning on Boxing Day and concluding with the Gold Medal Game on Friday, January 5. Team Canada selection camp took place in Oakville, Ontario from December 10-13th with 30 players invited, including four goalies, ten defensemen and 16 forwards. Head Coach Alan Letang, from the Sarnia Sting of the Ontario Hockey League, and his coaching staff from across the country, led the camp and hope to lead Team Canada to a third straight gold medal. In addition to the 30 players invited, Team Canada went into camp hoping to add NHL players who remained eligible to play in the tournament and would be released by their teams to enjoy the developmental opportunity to represent their country. The roster was announced on December 13th, in advance of the team travelling to Sweden on December 14th for a pre-tournament camp that included exhibition games against Denmark, Switzerland and the United States. In addition to cheering for your country, the tournament is an opportunity for hockey fans to get a look at their team’s top prospects and young players that will be drafted the following summer. Macklin Celebrini, who is expected to go first overall in 2024, will be at the tournament and will be a force for Team Canada. Other big draft-eligible names to watch include American Cole Eiserman and Russian Ivan Demidov. Team Canada will have help from your favourite teams. Keep an eye on Owen Beck from the Montreal Canadiens, the only returning player from last year’s team. Toronto Maple Leafs prospects Easton Cowan and Fraser Minten are also expected to have an impact. Boxing Day is when the 2024 IIHF World Junior Championship kicks off with Team Canada facing Finland at 10 a.m. Newfoundland time. It’s a perfect set-up for a Christmas brew — coffee, that is — and some treats in front of the TV. Team Canada’s 2024 WJC Schedule Dec. 26 vs. Finland, 8:30 a.m. ET Dec. 27 vs. Latvia, 1:30 p.m. ET Dec. 29 vs. Sweden, 1:30 p.m. ET Dec. 31 vs. Germany, 1:30 p.m. ET Team USA’s 2024 WJC Schedule Dec. 26 vs. Norway, 11 a.m. ET Dec. 28 vs. Switzerland, 11 a.m. ET Dec. 29 vs. Czechia, 11 a.m. ET Dec. 31 vs. Slovakia, 6 a.m. ET NHL Noise Imagine getting a Christmas present from your favourite NHL team. If the fans could ask for one thing from the teams they cheer on, here’s what I think they might be asking for, from east to west. Fans of the Montreal Canadiens might be tempted to ask for an elite forward to add to their group, or perhaps a speed-up for the rebuild, but at the end of the day they would have to ask for health. For three seasons in a row the Habs have been decimated by injuries. It started in 2021 when they saw the careers of Shea Weber and Carey Price come to an early end, and it has not let up for a second. This was the year they were supposed to take a step forward, but that hope took a hit when centreman Kirby Dach suffered a season-ending injury in Game 2. Since then, a steady stream to sick bay has fans wondering when it will end. Perhaps not even Santa Claus knows. Ottawa Senators fans are probably wishing for the bleeding to stop. After making a pre-Christmas coaching change, relieving D.J. Smith of his duties and replacing him with veteran coach Jacques Martin, Sens fans just want the discombobulated mess they have seen on the ice to settle down. The season may be lost, but perhaps this window can be salvaged. The wish list for Toronto Maple Leafs fans has been the same for years. If there is any way to bring playoff success down the chimney, that’s what Leafs fans would be asking for. Last season the curse in Toronto was broken and a first round series was won, but that’s where it ended. Offseason drama led to a ton of change, and pressure for a new management group to deliver a postseason result that the former group couldn’t. But if Christmas wishes were Christmas dishes, we’d all have potluck for supper. Fans of the Winnipeg Jets are wishing that the management group that believed they should retool rather than rebuild will believe in their group enough to give them some help at the trade deadline. After a summer of change, the Jets look like a playoff team, but in recent seasons their conservative GM has not been very active at the deadline to bring in reinforcements for a playoff run. Perhaps the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future have visited Kevin Cheveldayoff and he will have a new approach this March. Does the wish list ever change for Edmonton Oilers fans? You might be waiting for a goalie joke, but the real wish in Edmonton is for a leadership group that awakens at Christmas to an awareness that the Oilers window is as wide open as its ever going to be, and it’s time to go all in to add support for McDavid and Draisaitl so they can truly contend for a Stanley Cup. The question is whether there is enough belief in all of Alberta to make that happen. In Calgary, fans of the Flames are wishing for their roster to stay healthy and fetch strong returns at the trade deadline so that the next version of their team can be good enough to win. With a crop of unrestricted free agents, Flames GM Craig Conroy will be busy in the first quarter of the new year, and fans are hoping he can do the kind of business that would make Santa’s workshop look like slackers. Fans of the Vancouver Canucks are wishing that the feeling of Christmas they’ve been enjoying so far this season doesn’t end until well into the Spring. After a couple of horrific seasons, the tide has turned in Vancouver and they find themselves firmly in playoff position. With new coach Rick Tocchet, and a management group that seems primed to make deals where they see an opportunity to improve, perhaps Canucks fans can enjoy an extended holiday season. Raptors Racket While we’re at it, we should have a Christmas wish for Toronto Raptors fans. Those who cheer for the Dinos have probably written a letter to Santa that asks for one thing — that the management duo of Ujiri and Webster pick a lane. If they believe this young core has the goods to contend, they need to add an elite talent to lead them there. If they don’t, they need to use this deadline to sell and build a core that can contend. The murky middle of fighting for a spot in the play-in tournament every season is enough to kill anyone’s Christmas spirit. Blue Jays Babble Let’s finish this Christmas edition with a wish for fans of the Toronto Blue Jays. After getting the most un-festive outcome in the Shohei Ohtani affair, Jays fans are wishing for a swift pivot by the management group so they can land a talent or two to support the young core that have only been able to attain brief post-season appearances for two straight years. Success has been just out of reach, but perhaps Father Christmas can gift us with a lefthanded bat, a defensive specialist or a veteran presence to take the kids to the next level. For more of Lori’s sports over the holidays, including coverage of the IIHF, be sure to follow her on X (Twitter) at: @Lori10Habs.

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