It’s a date that is circled on the calendars of hockey fans across the country. One of the most celebrated traditions in hockey and an annual benchmark to claim the title of best hockey nation in the world, the World Juniors tournament showcases the best young players from across the globe.
Team Canada is set and ready for puck drop on Boxing Day against the United States and features five OMHA graduates – four forwards and a goalie: Quinton Byfield (York-Simcoe Express), Connor McMichael (Ajax-Pickering Raiders), Ty Dellandrea (Central Ontario Wolves), Aidan Dudas (North Central Predators) and Nico Daws (Burlington Eagles).
They are a part of a Team Canada roster hungry to find the podium again after last year’s sixth place finish. Growing up watching the tournament every year became a tradition in many of their households.
“I always remember as a kid the games would start at like 6:30 in the morning. I’d run over to my parents room and I’d watch it in their room when they were still sleeping,” said Daws. “I think I’ve watched every single game since I was a kid, honestly. I love watching that tournament, it’s got to be one of my favourite hockey things to watch.“
“For me, it was every Boxing Day waking up with my family and putting on the World Juniors and supporting our country,” echoed McMichael. “It is a dream come true for me to throw on the maple leaf on Boxing Day.”
While everyone except Daws have international experience representing Canada, the five are making their World Juniors debuts and are ready to create lasting memories of their own. From Jonathan Toews’ shootout heroics to Jordan Eberle’s last-second buzzer-beater magic, it’s time for the next generation to make their mark in the tournament.
“I was a big fan of Carey Price. That’s when I really started to learn was when he played for the World Juniors,” said Daws. “I’ve been a big fan of Price for a long time. It all started when I watched him in the World Juniors.”
Players on Team Canada understand the significance of the tournament to the country. Whether it’s because it occurs over the holidays or it’s another opportunity to claim the game as our own, the impact is not lost.
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“I think it brings everyone together around Christmas time. It’s something the country rallies behind, everybody’s talking about it, how the team’s going to do,” said Dellandrea. “I think Canada takes a lot of pride in wanting to win gold every year. It kind of unites us as a country.”
“I think the tournament really brings families together. Everybody loves to watch hockey and when they get to watch their country play in a tournament like that it’s always really fun to watch and it brings everyone together,” said Daws.
Each player comes into the tournament with a story of their own. Daws leads the Ontario Hockey League in shutouts, goals against average and save percentage. Byfield is in discussion of being the first overall pick in this year’s NHL Draft. Dudas battled an injury during training camp but looked strong in the pre-tournament games. Dellandrea was cut from last year’s team and McMichael is one of the top scorers in the OHL.
With all of that experience comes leadership opportunities. Dellandrea and Dudas are captains on their respective OHL clubs and will carry that over to the tournament.
“The way I lead is mostly on ice and how I play. I think the energy that I bring to every game and every shift is what makes me a leader and I think other players will see that energy and rally behind and hopefully bring that same energy as well,” said Dudas.
It won’t just be the families of the players heading over to the Czech Republic to cheer on Canada. There will be hundreds of die-hard fans packing the rinks in Ostrava and Třinec to cheer on the red and white.
“It’s pretty crazy if you think about it. Just for some hockey games they travel halfway across the world,” said Dudas. “My family will do anything for me and I love them but it’s pretty crazy to know some fans will be doing that. It just shows how much Canada loves hockey and how the fans care for us.”
Good luck Canada!