The NHL returns to action Sunday, a day that also marks the opening of the 2011 World Junior Championship in Buffalo, NY.
The tournament, which concludes with medal games on January 5, includes many of the best young players in the world suiting up for their countries.
Three Dallas Stars prospects -- G Jack Campbell (USA), D Patrik Nemeth (Sweden) and D John Klingberg (Sweden) -- are among those playing.
So is Flower Mound native Chris Brown (USA), a draft pick of the Phoenix Coyotes. Some top prospects for the 2011 draft -- Sean Couturier (Canada), Adam Larson (Sweden) and Gabriel Landeskog (Sweden) -- are in the tournament as well.
Team USA and Team Canada are the favorites. The Americans have eight players, including Campbell, returning from last season’s squad. Canada’s roster features 15 first-round draft picks.
All eyes on Campbell
Stars goaltending prospect Jack Campbell, the team’s first-round pick (11th overall) in 2010, will be at center stage for Team USA, which will be defending the gold medal it won in Saskatoon last year.
Campbell, who turns 19 next month, is playing this season with the Windsor Spitfires of the Ontario Hockey League. He got off to a slow start but has won 10 of his last 14 games and is now 12-9-0 on the season with a 3.68 goals-against average and a .887 save percentage.
Campbell is 11-1-1 with a 1.17 goals-against average and .954 save percentage for Team USA in IIHF events, including the 2010 World Junior Championship. In that tournament he went 2-1-0 and came on in relief in the gold medal game and stopped 32 of 34 shots in a 6-5 overtime win over Canada.
He also won gold medals with Team USA at the Under-18 World Championship in 2009 and 2010.
“The best word I can use to describe him is a winner,” Team USA head coach Keith Allain told reporters in Buffalo. “He’s found a way to come up big in big games his whole career.”
Nemeth, Klingberg make the grade for Sweden
Two of the three defensemen the Stars selected in the 2010 NHL Draft will play for Sweden at the World Juniors in the tournament. Patrik Nemeth and John Klingberg were both on the final roster that Sweden registered for the tournament Saturday.
Nemeth, a second-round pick (41st overall), was expected to be a strong contender for a spot on the Swedish team when the season began. He’s been playing for AIK in the Swedish Elite League, where he has five assists and a plus-7 rating in 22 games so far this season. Nemeth, a good two-way defender with a physical edge, was a little banged up prior to Sweden’s selection camp earlier this month and he sat out a pre-tournament game against Switzerland for precautionary reasons last week, but he should go. Nemeth won a silver medal with Sweden at the Under-18 World Championship in 2010.
Klingberg, a fifth-round pick (131st overall), wasn’t on the radar for a roster spot at the beginning of the season, but he earned one with his excellent play at various levels of Swedish hockey and with Sweden’s Under-20 team internationally. The skilled, offensive-minded blue liner has played for Frolunda in both the Elite League and at the junior level this season. He’s also played for Boras in the second level of Swedish hockey. Klingberg played six games with Sweden’s Under-20 team this season, registering 3 points (1 goal, 2 assists).
Group A: Finland, Germany, Slovakia, Switzerland, United States
Group B: Canada, Czech Republic, Norway, Russia, Sweden
Sunday’s schedule (Times are Central)
Switzerland vs. Germany, 11:30 a.m.
Canada vs. Russia, 3:00 p.m. (NHL Network-US)
Sweden vs. Norway, 3:00 p.m.
USA vs. Finland, 7:00 p.m. (NHL Network-US)