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World junior championship: Team Canada-Team USA; a dozen difference-makers

Canada's Dougie Hamilton, Anthony Camara and Malcolm Subban try to stay loose before Sunday's showdown (Nathan …

As children of a common mother, a Canada-U.S. matchup should come with a playbill instead of a program. It has, whether it's the Olympics, world junior championship, a soccer game or the women's hockey worlds — and don't forget that time 'we' beat them in the first World Baseball Classic — become drama far beyond sport.

The form then calls for a sort of dramatic personae, an attempt to figure out who could be the main actors on Sunday (4:30 a.m. ET/1:30 a.m. PT, TSN/RDS in Canada, NHL Network USA) when the neighbouring rivals meet in Group B play in Ufa, Russia. A regulation-time win will move the endlessly critiqued Canucks closer to a bye to the semifinal. Team USA, whose offensive punch is not as close to being 100-proof as Canada's but which has looked closer to peaking through its two games, needs a win to lock up a medal-round berth next week.

[Related: Subplots abound when Canada, U.S.
meet at world junior hockey championship
]

What wins out between Canada's irresistible offence and the immovable American defence and goaltending? How does Canada manage with having 11 players? Here is a glance at some of the players who will play pivotal roles in Sunday's tilt. Someone else will too, of course, since this drama is unscripted.

Playmaker: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Canada; J.T. Miller, United States

With regard to RNH, well, duh!  The Edmonton Oilers centre has scored or set up seven of the 15 Canadian goals. Nugent-Hopkins has been as good as advertised. Now it is on him to show nose for the net, since there is a sneaking suspicion it will take more than perimeter play against the Americans.

Fellow 19-year-old pro Miller is scuffling, with just a single goal through two games. Some sort of shakeup might be needed to get the New York Rangers farmhand going.

From Chris Peters (@chrismpeters) following the U.S. setback vs. Russia:

For the second straight game a lot of the inconsistency up front rested with the line of J.T. Miller, Rocco Grimaldi and John Gaudreau. There’s too much skill in that group to play as they have so far. There were probably about four total shifts where they looked like they’re supposed to. The rest just showed a lack of chemistry and some disjointedness. It looked like each guy was taking a half second too long to make decisions with the puck and that uncertainty usually led to a giveaway. (United States Of Hockey)

Supporting scorer: Ryan Strome, Canada; Alex Galchenyuk, USA

The Ontario Hockey League's top two scorers (pending what the Wallaceburg Whippet, Boston Bruins prospect Seth Griffith, does Saturday for the London Knights) have each started the tournament well. Strome resurrected Canada during its overtaking of Slovakia with a high-slot howitzer that cut into the Slovak lead. Galchenyuk had a mystifying drop in ice time during the U.S. loss to Russia, but his pace and playmaking could pose problems.

For anyone wondering, Galchenyuk's Sarnia Sting nipped Strome's Niagara IceDogs in overtime in their only head-to-head matchup on Oct. 13. Strome had two points, though.

General all-around nuisance: Anthony Camara, Canada; Ryan Hartman, USA

The pest factor is probably going to be higher for Team USA, being the less offensively dynamic club and the more desperate since a loss makes its game a Slovakia a must-win. Hartman, 18, an undersized grinder type who plays that anti-Dale Carnegie game for the Plymouth Whalers, is hardly unknown to the OHL-dominated Team Canada. Can he get Canada off its game?

The Americans have established a gritty checking line in Blake Pietila (New Jersey Devils), Cole Bardreau (undrafted) and Ryan Hartman (projected first-rounder in 2013). Pietila plays at Michigan Tech, while Bardreau plays at Cornell and Hartman is with the Plymouth (Mich.) Whalers of the Ontario Hockey League.

"They are our so-called Grind Line," [Team USA coach Phil] Housley said. "They do a great job of getting to loose pucks. They create a lot of energy for our team. I like the way they compete." (USA Today)

Bruising Barrie Colt and Boston Bruins folk hero-to-be Camara could wear down the U.S. back end. One imagines the Canadian coaches' 'advice' to to Camara following his charging major/game misconduct that Kansas City Royals manager Jim Frey used to give to Hall of Famer George Brett: "Way to hit."

Offensive D-man: Morgan Rielly, Canada; Mike Reilly, USA

Offensive from the defence has often tilted the ice in this rivalry — witness P.K. Subbain 2009 New Year's Eve scorefest or see John Carlson in the 2010 final. (Canada just collectively winced at that reference.)

Rielly settled in well after a shaky first pre-competition game vs. Sweden, contributing three of the seven points accounted for by Canada's mobile but not always hostile defence corps.

Reilly, the Columbus Blue Jackets prospect who partners with Seth Jones, has shown shown offensive savvy early on in the tournament.

Mike Reilly, by the way, is part of the Six Degrees of Seth Jones game. The top prospect's Portland Winterhawks billet mate, Canadian wing Ty Rattie, is in this game. So is his Winterhawks defence partner, Tyler Wotherspoon. Meantime, Jones' D partner has the same name as the Oregon State football coach, Mike Riley — who once coached in the Canadian Football League. Confused yet?

[Sunaya Sapurji's must-read: Rattie, Jones put friendship on hold]

Stay-at-home D-man: Scott Harrington, Canada; Jacob Trouba, USA

The U.S. was vexed by Russia's shot-blocking on Friday. Thanks to playing back-to-back, it might have too tight a window to properly adjust to it. Harrington, Canada's top-pairing partner of Dougie Hamilton, thrives on getting shot blocks without seeming to sell out and leave himself out of position. Harrington has a little history involved here, since he came out of the 2012 Canada-U.S. game with a shoulder injury.

Trouba's tasks include containing his future Winnipeg Jets teammate, first-line right wing Mark Scheifele.

The masked men: Malcolm Subban, Canada; John Gibson, USA

No need to Storify up the snarky tweets about Subban's perceived shakiness. The Belleville Bulls star has stopped 50-of-56 shots across the two Canadian wins. Canada averaging a WJC-worst 10:44 in penalty-kill time has hurt, but it's not an alibi. Small wonder backup Jordan Binnington has a higher approval rating than Prime Minister Stephen Harper, even in Alberta.

From Bruce McCurdy (@brucemccurdy):

Each time [Subban] allowed 3 goals on 28 shots, including a couple of seemingly stoppable drives that found holes. Moreover he has struggled considerably with rebound control and doesn’t appear overly confident in the crease. Certainly he has made some good saves along the way and has bounced back in each game with a strong third period, but the team now faces games on back-to-back days against powerhouses from USA and Russia. Those teams have better shooters than Germany or Slovakia to say the least, and Canada will face them with one goalie with an .893 save percentage and another who has yet to make his tournament debut.

... Canada’s options seem to be Subban or Subban at this point, despite some obvious cracks in his armour. Wazzup with that? (The Cult of Hockey)

The crease is always clearer of snow in the other guys' goal. American netminder John Gibson, the Anaheim Ducks prospect who plays for Spott with the Kitchener Rangers, has looked very good through two games. The 19-year-old gave the U.S. a chance to beat Russia; he couldn't do much about an offence that was reliable as taxi service in Ufa.

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to btnblog@yahoo.ca.

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