When you've been the best player on your team since you were about 10 years old and scouts have been tracking your development almost as long, there are certain things to which you grow accustomed. Big-pressure games, high-level competition, intense training; these are common things for world-class junior hockey stars.
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Getting cut is not.
But even some of the world's top junior-aged players have faced the sting of getting cut when it has come time to try to make their national team for the IIHF World Junior Championship. The top under-20 tournament in the world is often a barometer for determining the top young prospects in the game. And for some of the top-ranked players -- many of whom have just been selected in the NHL Draft -- it means getting cut for the first time in their young lives.
For those players denied the chance to fulfill their dreams of playing at the World Juniors, it's a harsh bit of adversity that can still positively affect their development.
"The biggest [turning point] was being cut from World Juniors. I went there as a 17-year-old and then again this year as an 18-year-old. Getting cut twice is not a good feeling," Minnesota Wild prospect Mathew Dumba told NHL.com. "I know I've always wanted to play on that team. I just look at it as a positive now. It got me to where I am today. It really helped me move on and focus on the big picture rather than just focusing on short-term goals."
Dumba's experience with the Canadian national junior team was an especially bitter pill to swallow. Just a few months after being taken by the Wild with the seventh pick in the 2012 draft, the Red Deer Rebels' defenseman was cut by Team Canada for the second consecutive year. Dumba has one last opportunity to make the team this season. But he admits his disappointing experiences the two previous years yielded a unique opportunity to hone his game.
Shortly after being the final cut on a Canadian team that finished fourth at last year's World Juniors, Dumba got in touch with his family. Spending the holiday watching Team Canada rather than playing ultimately may have helped the young defenseman gain a fresh perspective -- not just on hockey, but on life in general. When he returned to play in the Western Hockey League, that perspective was on full display.
"My family, they were very supportive. I just had a good Christmas with them. That was awesome," Dumba said. "Coming back into Red Deer, I had a good talk with [former NHL player and Rebels owner/general manager/coach] Brent Sutter, just man to man. [He said] that I'm going to be better and have to put in the work and do the little things and be there next year. I learned a lot. I'm thankful that he pushed me and was hard on me."
Dumba isn't the only NHL hopeful who ultimately benefited from one of the most painful moment in his young career.
In his final year of junior hockey, St. Louis Blues prospect Ty Rattie made Canada's team last year. His three goals in six tournament games were a validation of sorts after he didn't make the cut the previous year. Like Dumba, he had just been selected in the draft, in the second round (No. 32) by St. Louis -- and like Dumba, his selection and the breakout season that followed was tempered by the pain of getting cut by Canada. But rather than stay bitter, Rattie finished the 2011-12 WHL season with the league's third-highest point total (121 points in 69 games). The following season, he again finished third in the WHL with 110 points.
"I just look at it as a positive now. It got me to where I am today. It really helped me move on and focus on the big picture rather than just focusing on short-term goals."
-- Minnesota Wild prospect Mathew Dumba on getting cut twice from the Canadian national junior team
As he looks to make the Blues' roster this season, Rattie still sees that painful moment as a turning point in his career.
"When I got cut from World Juniors the year before last, [the tournament] was in Calgary, my hometown, which kind of hurt," Rattie told NHL.com. "I used that as motivation for the last part of the year and going into this year, to prove that I can play on that team. It's just something you can use as fuel for the fire. It's good for a player to go through. That was the first time I got cut. It was a new experience, but it helped me in my development. Looking back on it now, I'm almost glad it happened."
Just like Dumba, the experience forced Rattie to spend his holiday with his family instead of his teammates. And in the years that follow, there will surely be other top-ranked junior players forced to take stock after getting cut prior to the world's top junior hockey tournament. If they make it to the NHL, they'll likely also see it as a turning point in their young careers.
"I got the call and then texted [my dad] telling him I was cut. He said, 'That's going to happen, don't let it affect your game,'" Rattie said. "I came home and had a good Christmas with my family. It was a good Christmas. Obviously you'd rather be playing for Team Canada. But at the same time I got experience this year [at the tournament] and it was an awesome time."