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For the players who proudly wear their country's colors on the international stage, a trip to the World Juniors means so many new experiences. They're united with so many people they've never met before, or even had celebrated battles in league play, and they are usually a long ways from home in a foreign land at a time usually reserved for family.
They all have fond memories.
"It was really important for me because I was playing Connecticut high school hockey and I had not even played against college-aged competition and those were the guys that were mostly on my team," recalls Brian Leetch, who played in 1985, 1986 and 1987. "It was fantastic. It was strange being away from home for the holidays for three years, but it was first time really traveling with a bunch of guys my age."
"I think it is something that at the end of the day, when hockey is over, looking back at my career, I will never forget it," adds Toronto goalie Trevor Kidd, who played in the 1992 tournament in Germany.
"I think you will always remember it. Junior hockey back home is not big and then you come to the world junior and it is really big, and for the Canadian team is huge," says Mikael Renberg of the Maple Leafs. He played for Sweden when his homeland played host to the tournament in 1994.
"Anytime you get to represent your country it is huge honor and when I played, it was the only time there was best-on-best," says Paul Kariya, who played in 1992 and 1993. "There is no Olympic (junior tournament) and the World Championships are not best-and-best and they did not know what (was) going on with the World Cup so it truly best-on-best at its purest form.
"I have awesome memories. There is always pressure when you put the jersey on and it is gold or nothing. It is great when you win and tough when you lose."
Nobody really knew about Toronto Maple Leaf Nik Antropov until he showcased his talents on the World Junior stage for Kazakhstan in 1998 in Finland and 1999 in Winnipeg.
"It was a big experience for me. It was a chance to show the scouts what I had. It was real good fun," says Antropov, who parlayed his World Junior experience into being a first-round NHL draft pick by the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1998.
"I remember his play and he remembers me, but we only beat Canada and Belarus and it was not a great tournament for us," recalls Kovalchuk.
Anaheim coach Mike Babcock guided Canada to a gold medal in 1997 -- which is the last time the Canadians mined gold -- and he says the friendships he developed with the players are as strong today as they were back then.
"I follow Joe Thornton like he is my kid and you follow all the guys that played for you at the tournament and you wish them success," Babcock said. "You have that common bond that you won together and you walk together forever."
Philadelphia Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock can relate to what Babcock was saying. Hitchcock was on the second day of his new job as coach of the Flyers last July defenseman Eric Desjardins dropped by for a visit.