As the 2011 World Junior Hockey Championship gets ready to start, people always ask questions such as Who is the favorite? or Who are you picking to win?
as fans always do before any major event. Some early consensus in the mainstream media is that Team USA is the favorite because they are the defending champions. However, was the United States even the best team last year? To be honest, I dont even think they were one of the top three teams in the tournament, but due to the structure of the competition with it being a short preliminary and a one and done playoff format, there is a wide possibility of options and teams manage to do things they probably wouldnt be able to do in a long series. Heck, Switzerland knocked out Russia last year!
The United States has a good program, and Ive been an advocate of USA Hockeys progression and the new American Development Model theyve implemented, but even with all their returning members from a gold medal squad, I wouldnt say they are the best team even though they are in the upper tier. If I had to go out on a limb and say who I felt the favorite was, Id go with Team Canada based on their combined team skill level being the highest. Canada does suffer though from lack of chemistry, but because it is hard to pinpoint a quantifiable impact thereof, Im inclined to look at pure skill level as a more determining factor. Canada does have their Program of Excellence which lets their players get some time together, but it pales in comparison to programs like the USNTDP and how much the eastern nations put their top players together in international competition.
In terms of the rest of the pack, if I had to rank teams, Id have them like this:
6. Czech Republic
Theres no scientific process to how I did the rankings, its mainly based on my subjective opinion after evaluating the rosters. And as previously mentioned due to how this tournament is built, any sort of pre-tournament rankings dont hold much value as a bounce one way, a fluke shot the other, and your top team is sent packing. I should also mention that while I think Canada is the top team, I dont think they are a significant favorite, but I also dont believe its a 50/50 coin flip between them and the United States.