Now in its 35th year, the World Junior Championship has provided a springboard to players looking to solidify their status as players capable of coming up big in pressure moments.
Many of today's NHL stars have proven themselves on this international platform, including Sidney Crosby, Mike Richards and Jarome Iginla for Canada; Patrick Kane, Zach Parise and Bobby Ryan for the United States; Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin and Ilya Kovalchuk of Russia; Nicklas Lidstrom, Henrik Zetterberg and the Sedin twins for Sweden; Martin Havlat, Milan Hejduk and Tomas Kaberle for the Czech Republic; Teemu Selanne and the Koivu brothers for Finland; and Marian Hossa, Marian Gaborik and Jaroslav Halak for Slovakia.
Someone else will join this list when the 2011 WJC is held Dec. 26 through Jan. 5 at HSBC Arena in Buffalo, N.Y., and Niagara University's Dwyer Arena in Lewiston, N.Y.
There's an excitement building not only throughout the Buffalo region, but throughout NHL circles, as well. Here's what people are saying about the World Junior Championship:
Florida Panthers coach Peter DeBoer -- DeBoer was an assistant to coach Brent Sutter on Canada's 2005 gold medalists.
"The World Junior Championship was always a staple of Christmas. I can remember growing up watching World Junior tournaments as a kid. It's growing in the (United) States and you're getting a lot more people watching because of the TV coverage and how well the U.S. junior program has developed their kids and the success they're having. It's a great tournament. I think next to the Stanley Cup Final, it's one of the best hockey events that there is."
NHL Network analyst Dave Starman -- "I think it's become more popular (in the U.S.) for a couple of reasons. First, there's been two gold medals in seven years, and the other reason is the NHL Network is making the games available and Team USA is made up of a number of collegians who fans in the U.S. can identify with. Those who watch a ton of college hockey know that probably three-quarters of that team will eventually go on to play in the NHL at some point. Between those two aspects and the nationalism, I think those things combine to make it special. Last year took on epic proportions with the Canadians and how the U.S. won the gold medal with the Olympics two months later."
Philadelphia Flyers forward Danny Briere -- Before starting his NHL career, Briere won a gold medal for Canada in 1997.
"Knowing the fans there (in Buffalo) and how much they love hockey and how supportive they are of the Sabres and hockey in general, I think it's a great hockey city to get the opportunity to watch some good young players coming up."
Al Murray, Tampa Bay Lightning Director of amateur scouting -- Prior to joining the Lightning, Murray spent three years as head scout for Hockey Canada, picking the players who made up Canada WJC teams.
"It's a must-see as part of the Christmas holidays in Canada, just like March Madness is in the States. I have to give a lot of credit to TSN for turning (the WJC) into that. When they grabbed hold of it before they had NHL hockey and put all their resources into televising it and promoting it and making people aware of who the players are and how close those players are to the NHL. Seeing the stars of tomorrow, people in Canada really grabbed onto that and it's a cultural thing that really bonds the whole country. It brings the whole county together for that whole period and when it comes to an area of the country, people just flock to it, they support it, promote it, and the players feel a huge responsibility. There's pressure, but our guys are well schooled by the time they get to that level. They accept that pressure and relish it and look at it as an opportunity to represent the country and win another world championship. They don't view it as something that's overwhelming; they view it as a great opportunity to be a part of a special event for our country. I think they've really bought into it and it's something that's special if you're a Canadian."
Team Canada forward Sean Couturier -- The Drummondville Voltigeurs center is Team Canada's only 2011 Entry Draft-eligible player for the 2011 WJC.
"For sure making this team was one of my priorities at the start of the season. I've been thinking about it a while and now I can get there and show the staff what I'm able to do. Hopefully, I'll give it everything I got once I'm there."
Boston Bruins forward Patrice Bergeron -- Bergeron was MVP of the 2005 tournament in Grand Forks, N.D., and helped Canada win a gold medal. It was the last time the tournament was held in the U.S.
"I learned a lot in that two-week span with guys like Richie (Mike Richards) and Cartsy (Jeff Carter). I learned how to rise up to the occasion. In those tournaments, you have to make sure you're ready for every game since every game is important. You dealt with pressure, and in the end we came away with a lot of great memories."
Dave Ogrean, USA Hockey executive director -- "The World Junior Championship is really an important measuring stick for our progress as a federation and the report card on our player-development program. We've had some excellent fortune in recent years and some of that maybe because the event was in North America. This year, we go in to defend our gold medal with an exceptional team, a veteran team, and a coach used to winning. We ought not forget, too, that this is more than a two-team tournament. We're also very excited for the city of Buffalo … the economic impact for the Niagara region will exceed $100 million; it will be one of the largest events that they have ever held."
Follow Mike Morreale at the WJC on Twitter at: @mike_morreale