Game On: Summer Junior Worlds are still a dream come true for Team Canada

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The timing is bad. The atmosphere is weird. Crowds are small. Players are rusty. The Russians are missing. There are many no-shows. And a dark cloud of scandal is never far from the conversation.

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But, despite all that is wrong with a World Junior Hockey Championship summer catch-up tournament in August, there is a team full of Canadian players who are only focused on doing the right thing.

With the host nation set to kick off their gold medal quest on Wednesday by opening the tournament against Latvia (4 p.m.), it makes no sense that this 12-day event is anything other than the culmination of their young career.

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“It means so much to me,” said Canadian captain Mason McTavish. “Obviously, I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t want to. What I like to do is play hockey and compete. The World Junior Tournament is one of the best tournaments in the world. Being here and captaining this team makes me so humbled. I’m really looking forward to Wednesday.

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“I think we’re all excited,” added forward Logan Stankoven. “It’s a new start, a new tournament. I eagerly await the first. It’s every kid’s dream to play at the World Juniors.

Any idea that this catch-up session is somehow interfering with their summer training regimen, or their rest and recovery time, is not a problem for the players. Yes, nine Canadian players who were on the team in December decided not to return so they could focus on preparing for NHL camps, but they were replaced in the blink of an eye by youngsters who would have paid their way to come here.

“Just a lot of excitement,” summer addition Zack Ostapchuk said after Canada’s final pre-tournament practice. “It will be the first time I put on the Canada jersey, so it will be a really special moment for me. And finally getting out when the puck drops will be a lot of fun for our group.

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“I live in St. Albert, which isn’t too far up the road, so there will be a lot of family and friends here, so it’s going to be really good for me to have support in the crowd. I know they support me.

Whether or not anyone’s back needs covering remains to be seen, but the timing of this event, following Hockey Canada’s horrific sexual assault scandals, cannot be ignored.

However, this is not a problem for today’s team. Their job is to conduct themselves right here and now, not to answer for what others did years ago. What would have happened in 2003 and 2018 is not something they are willing to spend time on.

“Everyone is pretty focused,” McTavish said. “They are the best junior class in the country, so they are used to dealing with outside noise. They’re doing a great job of keeping it as quiet as possible and focused on winning the World Junior Championship.

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The outside world can think what they want and can rightly demand more answers and a better response from Hockey Canada, but the guys in the room promise they won’t wilt over what’s happening from the other side of the plexiglass. .

“The folks at Hockey Canada, the staff above have done a really good job of making sure and letting us know that they’re taking care of anything that happens off the ice,” the goaltender said. Dylan Garrand. “And our job is to focus on what’s happening on the ice and on our group. … So it’s been good and I wouldn’t say there’s any extra pressure for us. We only focus on hockey.

If there’s any extra spotlight or pressure on this team, well, that comes with the territory when you wear a Maple Leaf in battle. That’s why they all signed up, because they want to embrace it, not run away from it.

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“I don’t think it matters who the player is or what the team is, hockey is a big thing in Canada, it brings people together,” Stankoven said. “The spotlight is on us no matter what. You want to be a great role model for young children growing up. When you’re under that microscope, you want to make sure you’re doing the right things.

“A big part of that is how you’re brought up. I think my parents did a good job raising me.

The fact that they’re missing nine of their best players doesn’t change the fact that the only acceptable outcome for this unique challenge is gold. Nothing else.

“I think it’s the same, honestly,” Garand said. “Our goal in every tournament is to win a gold medal. So for us, we just focus on hockey and do our job and take it one day at a time. And I think we did a good job. so far.

NAMED STARTER

Edmonton Oil Kings goaltender Sebastien Cossa will start Wednesday.

“He’s a top-level goaltender,” said head coach Dave Cameron. “He’s a good person, he won a WHL championship with a good team and he played well in the Memorial Cup. Whenever these guys can leverage their best experience, it will make them better.

Twitter.com/rob_tychkowski

rtychkowski@postmedia.com

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