A year after taking center stage in Buffalo, the World Junior Championship is set to begin Wednesday in Vancouver and Victoria, British Columbia.
The Sabres are represented by four prospects: defenseman Mattias Samuelsson (United States), goalie Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen (Finland), defenseman Oskari Laaksonen (Finland) and center Matej Pekar (Czech Republic).
NHL Network will air the entire tournament, beginning with four games Wednesday, starting at 4 p.m. for the Czech Republic vs. Switzerland in the preliminary round. The 10 teams are divided into two groups of five with the top four teams in each group advancing to the quarterfinals.
Team USA plays its first game Wednesday against Slovakia at 6:30. Team Canada opens vs. Denmark; the NHL Network will join that game in progress at 9 p.m.
Last year at KeyBank Center, Team Canada beat Rasmus Dahlin and Sweden in the gold medal game, 3-1. Team USA and Casey Mittelstadt won bronze with a 9-3 win against the Czech Republic.
The Americans return five players who were on last year's team and a total of nine players who helped Team USA win gold with the Under-18 Men's National Team.
Coach Mike Hastings said the five returnees will lead the team, but Mikey Anderson has been named captain and Quinn Hughes and Josh Norris have been named alternate captains. Anderson, from Minnesota-Duluth, brings up the "C" from his brother, Joey, who was captain of last year's team at the World Juniors.
Hughes is a sophomore at Michigan and was selected seventh overall by Vancouver in June. Norris, also a Michigan player, was drafted 19th overall by the San Jose Sharks in 2017 and has since had his rights traded to the Ottawa Senators.
Samuelsson, an 18-year-old freshman at Western Michigan University, is expected to help the U.S. blue liners. He was drafted 32nd overall by the Sabres in June and is among 11 products of the U.S. National Development Program on the 23-man roster.
“It’s unbelievable putting on that jersey,” Samuelsson said this week.
Luukkonen, a 19-year-old drafted in the second round in 2017, is in his first season in North America playing for Sudbury of the Ontario Hockey League this season after signing his entry level contract. Laaksonen, a third-round pick in the 2017 draft, is playing for Ilves of the Finnish Elite League and recently signed a two-year extension to remain in Finland.
Pekar, an 18-year-old drafted in the fourth round in June, is playing for Barrie Colts of the OHL after opting against playing in college.
Group A: Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Switzerland and Russia.
Group B: Finland, Kazakhstan, Slovakia, Sweden and United States.
Wednesday, Dec. 26
Czech Republic vs. Switzerland, 4 p.m.
USA vs. Slovakia, 6:30
Canada vs. Denmark, 9 (joined in progress)
Finland vs. Sweden, 10:30
Thursday, Dec. 27
Russia vs. Denmark, 4 p.m.
Switzerland vs. Canada, 8
Finland vs. Kazakhstan, 10:30
Friday, Dec. 28
Slovakia vs. Sweden, 8 a.m. (tape delay)
Czech Republic vs. Russia, 8 p.m.
Sweden vs. USA, 10: 30
Saturday, Dec. 29
Denmark vs. Switzerland, 4 p.m.
Canada vs. Czech Republic, 8
Sweden vs. USA, 10:30
Sunday, Dec. 30
Slovakia vs. Finland, 2 p.m. (tape delay)
Switzerland vs. Russia, 8
Kazakhstan vs. Slovakia, 10:30
Monday, Dec. 31
Denmark vs. Czech Republic, 4 p.m.
Russia vs. Canada, 8
USA vs. Finland, 10:30
Tuesday, Jan. 1
Sweden vs. Kazakhstan, 6 a.m. (tape delay)
Wednesday, Jan. 2
Quarterfinals, times and matchups TBD
Friday, Jan. 4
Semifinals, 4 p.m. and 8, teams TBD
Saturday, Jan. 5
Bronze medal game, 4 p.m.
Gold medal game, 8