FIVE WHL PLAYERS GET THE CALL FOR CANADADec 20, 2012 - 00:00 MST
Written By: Watts, Jesse
It’s a feeling they won’t soon forget.
Putting on that Team Canada jersey, knowing they will have the eyes of the entire country fixated on them as they aim to bring home Gold on one of the biggest stages, sends shivers down the spine and puts an irremovable grin on their faces.
For the six WHL players, including Rebels' graduate Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who were named to Canada’s 23-man national junior team roster for the 2013 World Junior Championship, the feeling is overwhelming as they fulfill what is likely a dream they’ve shared as long as they can remember.
“Just walking into that dressing room, seeing my jersey in the stall with my name on the back of it…it’s too much to take in right now,” said defenceman Tyler Wotherspoon of the Portland Winterhawks, who is one of three WHL rearguards selected to the team.
Wotherspoon, a Calgary Flames prospect who is in his fourth WHL campaign, certainly isn’t alone in feeling overwhelmed. Though many of the players selected to the team are used to being among the best of their age groups, to be one of just 23 players chosen for the team is an honor that holds special significance.
As young players growing up, most have memories of gathering around the TV on Boxing Day to watch Team Canada embark on its quest for World Junior Gold. Having watched future NHL stars such as Sidney Crosby, Jordan Eberle, Shea Weber and John Tavares help lead Canada to World Junior glory, they’ve envisioned themselves wearing the Red and White and creating their own piece of junior hockey history.
“A total dream come true,” said Morgan Rielly of the Moose Jaw Warriors. “As a kid growing up, you watch the World Juniors on TV and see that excitement.
“Now, to be able to put that jersey on, knowing you’re on the team, is just an amazing feeling,” added the Toronto Maple Leafs’ first-round pick.
Having gone through the rigors of a highly competitive selection camp and the stress of the final selection process, players can now turn their focus to the real task at hand: Win Gold.
After winning Gold for five consecutive tournaments from 2005-09, Team Canada has lost its place at the top of the junior hockey world. Settling for Silver in 2010 and 2011, Canada took the Bronze medal in last year’s event, held in Alberta.
This year, with the tournament being played in Russia, the players know they will be in tough to reclaim their place at the top of the podium. Yet, with the NHL lockout affording Hockey Canada the luxury of icing several players who would otherwise be likely playing in the NHL, the team feels they have a terrific opportunity to come away with the big prize.
“From the first line to the fourth line, this team has a lot of skill and talent,” said Kamloops Blazers winger JC Lipon, who will be wearing the Team Canada jersey for the first time in his hockey career. ”It’s a pretty stacked team this year, and I think we all understand what the expectations are.”
Rielly, one of the CHL’s most exciting defencemen, is impressed with the level of talent on this year’s team, and sees an excellent opportunity to come home from Russia with a Gold medal. Yet, he also know the task won’t be easy, and that it will take a lot of hard work and commitment in order to see it through.
“There are some high-end prospects on this team, and we are pretty confident with the group we have here,” said the product of West Vancouver, B.C. “We want to win Gold, but we understand that we will have to play hard every night and make the most of this chance.”
Also making the Team Canada cut from the WHL are Portland Winterhawks’ winger Ty Rattie and Edmonton Oil Kings’ defenceman Griffin Reinhart. Former Red Deer Rebels star Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who played last season for the Edmonton Oilers, is also on the squad while Canada’s assistant coach, Don Nachbaur, also coaches the Spokane Chiefs.
Canada begins its quest for Gold at the 2013 World Junior Championship on December 26th versus Germany.
For more on the 2013 IIHF World Junior Championship, visit www.hockeycanada.ca