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2018 World Juniors Betting Odds and Medal Round Preview

Europe(21-20) @ North America(20-21)

  • Where: Key Bank Center and Harborcenter. Buffalo, NY
  • When: January 2, 2018 11:00 am EST
  • Moneyline: USA (+150), Canada (+175), Sweden (+350), Finland (+750), Russia (+900), Czech Republic (+2800)

The international ice hockey scene is a holy mess.

Gary Bettman’s iron-fisted ban of not only NHL stars but the AHL and other minor leagues from participating in the 2018 Winter Olympics was bad enough. Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League, easily the world’s 2nd-strongest pro shinny organization, is considering a ban of its own after the IOC forced Russian athletes to compete under a neutral flag thanks to the recent doping scandal.

If the KHL sends its players, the Men’s Olympic tournament is likely to be a cake-walk for the Russians. If not, we’re looking at a dull PyeongChang tourney filled with lower-tier talent from European leagues and the North American amateur ranks.

Take heart. The “U20” or World Junior Championships, easily the most popular non-Olympic international tournament among North American bettors, is not plagued by poor commissioners, sleazy doctors or global politics. The United States won gold in 2017 and will be defending its crown in Buffalo over the holidays. Canada is also a solid favorite to reach the championship tilt on January 5th.

Finally, the Bovada futures board has several profoundly-strong hockey nations getting very long odds, including 9/1 for Russia to win and a jaw-dropping 28/1 on the Czech Republic to stand atop the podium.

Is a long-shot bet warranted given the odds? Or are the North Americans still the ticket despite modest payoff on the winner? Let’s look at the format, the competitors and a few smart bets as the tourney gets underway.

We’ll also be updating our predictions before the medal round kicks off, so be sure to check this page once the round-robin is completed on New Year’s Eve.

Ten Teams, Few Possibilities

Skaters at the World-U20 are fast and talented, but lacking in seasoning. A dearth of cohesion between forwards and defensemen can lead to wide swaths of open ice. That means an underdog is less likely to bump-and-grind its way to a 3rd-period deadlock with a favorite.

By and large, the most skillful teams will score in bunches on weaker opponents. Contenders have a cleaner path to the medals.

Group A is a good example. Canada, Finland and the USA are paired with Slovakia and Denmark, an intriguing quintet for an international tourney. Denmark is improving steadily as a program, and the Slovaks are proud if no longer elite. But that won’t matter much, because the 3 traditional powers are likely to clobber both upstarts. Slovakia didn’t score a goal against Canada or Russia in 2017 round-robin play, and Denmark made noise in the preliminaries only to get crushed by the Russians later on.

Group B may be more of a scramble with Sweden, Russia, Switzerland and the Czechs sharing a slate with Belarus. But 4 of 5 teams reach elimination play, and the Belorussian juniors never seem to match even the modest stature of their World Championship team. Barring a miracle, we already know who’s advancing.

Snipers rule (but it’s the goalies, fool)

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Joseph Woll is a strong, consistent goalkeeper who will backstop Team USA in their quest to repeat. Jake Oettinger of Boston University has slumped in the NCAA ranks but still provides an excellent 2nd option.

Casey Mittelstadt is a Buffalo Sabres prospect who will anchor the attack – and he comes with the added bonus of wild fan support in his soon-to-be city of residence. But the key to the USA’s chances could be the play of Quinn Hughes, a speedy transition-game defenseman who can flourish in a tournament like this one.

Canada is talented but unsettled in goal. Carter Hart played for last year’s silver medal team and is expected to start, but GK Colton Point is having a tremendous season at Colgate and could be the savior if needed. Canadian coaches are excited about their defense corps in ’17, but cut sniper Nick Suzuki after an exhibition tour. That could be a bad move given the landscape of the WJC, reminiscent of the Maple Leaf’s ill-fated roster moves going into the 1998 Olympics in Japan.

Sweden is being touted as a potential gold-medal team thanks to NHL-level goaltenders, New Jersey Devils prospect Jesper Boqvist at forward, and a potential appearance from American Hockey League star Alex Nylander. But odds-makers know that Tri-Kroner’s “torpedo” system (2 forwards, 2 rovers and a lone back-liner) is more difficult for a young team to execute without giving up odd-man rushes. Last year, the Swedes blew away Denmark in the Q-final only to be out-scored 7-3 in the 2 games to follow.

Czech-ing the boxes

What about the dark horses? Russia is being written-off as a team without leadership, with a roster full of 17 and 18 year-olds. Young Andrei Svechnikov is a fine power forward but not physically mature enough to crash the net for an entire tournament. GK Vladislav Sukhachyov has talent and some experience. Never fear, the Russians will play well and blow away any weak opponents. But fatigue will set in at some point. They’ll do well to repeat for bronze.

A better gamble could be the Czech Republic. The Czechs have a green defense corps that is responsible for their (+2800) futures odds. But as Mike Keenan used to say, the best defensive player is the guy with the most points because he has the puck all the time. Filip Zadina is a burgeoning sniper, Martin Nečas is a classic play-making center, and the team has hired an intriguing, intense new head coach in Filip Pesan. He’ll throw in some brand new wrinkles on special teams, a extremely crucial facet of the IIHF game.

If they played this tournament 28 times, could the Czechs win it more than once? You betcha.

Winning bucks in Buffalo

Among the favorites, we’re liking the Americans to out-last the Maple Leaf again thanks to deep goaltending and the presence of Hughes – who could conceivably dominate the tournament.

But the best current bet on the futures board is the Czech Republic. With Belarus in their pool, the Czechs can take it easy on young legs and wait to strike in the Round of 8. They only have to win 2 games to reach the gold medal fight and Pesan knows that. And a $10 winning wager pays off for $280.

Be safe betting on Team USA, or be excited about a 1-unit “jackpot” wager on Team CZE.

Kurt BoyerThis article was written by Kurt Boyer

A freelance sportswriter from Missouri, Kurt has covered court, gridiron, rink and ring for 10+ years. He muses about High School football on social media as The Gridiron Geek.

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