Subplots abound as Canada prepares for U.S.
Team Canada defenceman Dougie Hamilton, centre, laughs as he watches a drill during practice at the IIHF World Junior Championships in Ufa, Russia on Saturday, Dec. 29, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
The Canadian Press
Published Saturday, December 29, 2012 9:16AM EST
UFA, Russia -- Ty Rattie is going to keep watching NBA games with his Portland Winterhawks teammate Seth Jones.
The Canadian forward and the American defenceman billet at the same home in Portland, Oregon.
Jones's father, Ronald (Popeye) Jones, is a former NBA player now assistant coach with the Brooklyn Nets.
"Popeye has me decked out in Brooklyn Nets stuff," Rattie says. "I'm not a huge basketball fan, but I want to fit in. I want to get Popeye's approval and keep getting free clothes."
The intersection of junior hockey and NBA basketball is one of numerous subplots when Canada faces the United States at the world junior hockey championship Sunday.
Canada's final Pool B game versus Russia on Monday is anticipated because it pits two players chosen first overall by the Edmonton Oilers in consecutive NHL drafts -- Canada's Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Russia's Nail Yakupov.
But a Canada-U.S. matchup is entertaining because of the multiple player connections and the familiarity between the two countries. Canada is 2-0 in its group, while the U.S. is 1-1 after a narrow 2-1 loss to host Russia.
"It's going to be exciting for multiple reasons," Rattie said. "It being such a huge rivalry is another and guys knowing each other from different teams."
U.S. goaltender John Gibson is Canadian head coach Steve Spott's goalie with the Kitchener Rangers.
"I'm the president of the John Gibson fan club, but I won't be tomorrow night," Spott said.
Gibson is one of 11 Canadian Hockey League players on the U.S. team, coached by former NHL defenceman Phil Housley.
The game will also showcase three players whose names will be called early at the next NHL entry draft.
In addition to Jones, an athletic six-foot-three, 205-pound defenceman, Canadian forwards Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin of the Halifax Mooseheads are top prospects as well.
"It should be fun," says MacKinnon says of facing Jones. "I don't know how much I'm going to play against him."
Jones will likely be pitted against Canada's top line of Nugent-Hopkins, the tournament points leader, and wingers Mark Scheifele and Jonathan Huberdeau.
MacKinnon, 17, plays centre on the fourth line, although Canada's forward lines will be fluid against the Americans because J.C. Lipon and Boone Jenner will serve out suspensions.
MacKinnon has played against Jones before when his Atlantic team faced the United States at the 2011 under-17 world challenge.
"I don't like to talk about it too much," MacKinnon said of his team's 12-1 loss in Winnipeg.
Jones says he's aware he'll be closely monitored by NHL scouts at Ufa Arena, but he's more concerned about defending the Nugent-Hopkins line.
"That line is tremendous," Jones said. "They have a lot of speed and a lot of skill. So you just have to try and take away their time and space as much as possible down low and really push them to make plays."
Jones says he chose hockey over basketball because at age seven, he was in Denver's Pepsi Centre when the Colorado Avalanche won Game 7 of the 2001 Stanley Cup final.
"That in itself just kind of did it for me," Jones said. "The energy in the arena was electric and Ray Bourque's first Stanley Cup was a memorable moment."
The U.S. beat Canada in overtime to take gold at the 2010 world junior championship in Saskatoon. But the Americans fell into the relegation pool in 2012 in Calgary and Edmonton and ended up seventh.
"That's unacceptable and this year we have high hopes," said captain Jake McCabe.
"Canada is going to be one heck of an opponent. They're a talented team and we're a very talented team. We have all the elements to win a gold medal here."
Also, Spott gave Brett Ritchie the day off from practice Saturday. The coach said the second-line winger wasn't injured, but needed the day off "for maintenance."