It is a dream that fills that heads of many young hockey players growing up across Canada. It is the dream to put on the maple leaf and play for Team Canada at the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championships.
Unfortunately for most, that dream will never happen, but for 21 lucky young men, that dream comes true just before Christmas every year.
Last Thursday, Hockey Canada announced its final roster for the upcoming tournament, surprising some, disappointing others and devestating one player, who has been cut from camp three years in a row.
For the players that have been named to the team, it is a Christmas wish come early. There is nothing quite like putting on the red and white jersey, which has so much tradition and a highly touted reputation of excellence. Now that they have been named to Team Canada, the only thing left now is winning gold.
Canada is going for its fourth gold medal in a row at the WJHC, a feat that has not been accomplished since 1997, when Canada won its fifth straight gold medal at the annual tournament. That 1997 roster included the likes of Joe Thornton and Daniel Briere, who helped guide Canada to an undefeated record and a 2-0 victory over the United States in the championship game.
This year’s team features a number of players who went 7-0-1 for Team Canada at the 2007 Canada/Russia Super Series in August and September, and it is that tournament that may give hockey fans the impression that Canada will dominate this tournament.
That won’t be the case. This year, like every other year, Canada will be the favourite to win gold. That being said, the key in this tournament will be team improvement. Playing on European ice is a lot more difficult than playing on North American ice, which is one of the things that works against both Canada and the U.S. Every game, Canada will have a challenge in terms of trying to play a North American style of hockey on a European or Olympic-sized ice rink. That is where Canada’s vulnerability comes into play.
Canada was able to improve on their play on the bigger ice surface last year in Leksland Sweden as the tournament went on and they will have to do that again this year to be successful.
Despite the challenges that lie ahead, the first challenge is out of the way. The players named to Team Canada for this year’s tournament have passed the first test. The only thing left now is winning gold.