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World Juniors Championship makes long awaited return to Buffalo

This year, the New Year's Eve ball drop won’t be the only spectacle to take on Dec. 31 in downtown Buffalo.

For the first time since 2010, and the second time ever, the Queen City will be at the center of the hockey world, as it hosts the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship.

Ten nations will arrive in Western New York for the tournament, which begins on Tuesday and continues until Jan. 5.

The United States and Canada, last year’s gold and silver medalists in the 2017 World Juniors respectively, headline the competition.

Big names like Finland, Sweden, Russia and Slovakia are looking to make noise in Buffalo as well, alongside fellow competitors Belarus, Czech Republic, Switzerland and Denmark.

In terms of the under-20 talent that will be on display during the 11-day event, it doesn’t get better than this.

Top NHL draft prospects, such as Swedish defenseman and projected No. 1 selection Rasmus Dahlin, Russian winger Andrei Svechnikov and Czech winger Filip Zadina are all expected to be in action come tournament time.

The 17-year-old Dahlin has been hailed as the next great Swedish D-man, and has even drawn comparisons to Detroit Red Wing great Nicklas Lidstrom. There will be no shortage of fans wanting to see the young phenom in action.

As for players Sabre fans will be keeping tabs on, it is expected that four, and potentially five, Buffalo prospects will be playing on the big stage.

Last year’s No. 8 overall selection, winger Casey Mittelstadt, is expected to show up and show out for the United States in front of the Buffalo crowd. He currently has five goals and ten assists in 17 games for the University of Minnesota.

2017 second round pick, goalie Ukko-Pekka Luukonen, is expected to get the nod as the starting goalie for Finland.

Should Luukonen be the No. 1 guy for the Finns, it would set up an intriguing match-up for Sabre fans on Dec. 31, as the United States and Mittelstadt take on Finland on the final day of group play.

Also expected to take part are Swedish forward and 2017 second-round pick Marcus Davidsson and 2016 fifth-round pick, defenseman Vojtech Budik of the Czech Republic.

There remains one big question on the minds of Sabre and Swedish fans alike: will Alex Nylander be permitted to play in the 2018 World Juniors?

Nylander, the 2016 first-round selection of the Sabres, tore it up in last year’s tournament, tallying five goals and seven assists in seven games, leading his country in points.

Should Nylander be given the opportunity, there is no doubt the Swedish offense will benefit.

As if seeing some of the best young hockey players the world has to offer isn’t a big enough extravaganza, on Dec. 29, the World Juniors will be brought outdoors for the first time in its history.

New Era Field, the sight of the NHL’s first ever Winter Classic between the Sabres and Penguins, will host one of the biggest rivalries in hockey, as the United States take on Canada.

This match-up could very well determine who comes out on top of group A, so the stakes should be high.

The World Juniors will hopefully not only give the hockey-loving fans of Western New York something to enjoy, but help show off the remarkable additions to KeyBank Center’s surrounding area to the world.

The newly-built HarborCenter is hosting seven games throughout the tournament, and the Buffalo Marriott HarborCenter offers a unique location for the thousands of fans travelling to Buffalo to stay.

Top that off with Canalside’s ice rink and amenities, and it results in a completely different city than what it was the last time it hosted the World Juniors in 2010, and puts Buffalo’s best foot forward on a global scale.

Adam Gorski is a senior at Cardial O’Hara High School.


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