The pressure cooker
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It is watched intently with every game televised, no matter the time. Players are celebrated or castigated, depending on their performances and the outcomes of the games.
"It's a huge TV holiday in Canada," explains Hughes, who grew up in Montreal. "For many Canadians, the World Juniors give a sense of the virility of Canadian hockey. They always look to the World Junior tournament as a statement of Canada's place in hockey."
Things are not quite as intense in the United States, where the World Junior Championships maintain a much lower profile, especially when they are contested in Europe.
Kevyn Adams played for Team USA in 1994 and he remembers all too well marveling at the pressure other teams endured. The Americans struggled the year Adams played, but only had to deal with the unmet expectations the team put on itself. Other teams were not as lucky.
"It's a different world for those teams," says Adams. "Every game is on TV and people are so into everything that happens. The exposure and pressure wasn't nearly the same for us. Those guys were judged on everything they did. It was hard for them, for sure."
Often, the host country tries to make things as difficult as possible for visiting rivals, adding to the pressures team can encounter.
Ken Hitchcock remembers when he took his team to Russia to play in a WJC, they received phone calls at their hotel throughout the night and had trouble procuring food.
Andy Hilbert, a Boston Bruins prospect who played in multiple tournaments for Team USA, remembers showing up to practice in Russia, only to find that the ice surface had been taken up, leaving the Americans no place to practice.
Sweden needed no help to throw off opposing teams during the 2000 tournament. The tournament was played with an oppressive, all-consuming darkness hanging over the proceedings. The short, to non-existent days of winter to the far north was a new experience for most players from other countries.
That kind of improvisation is often necessary to put aside the distractions and concentrate on the task at hand, which in the case of the World Junior Championships is playing the best hockey of your young life.
Perhaps Hilbert put it best:
"You know you are playing against the best players in the world from your age group and you want to be one of those players. The tournament itself is a tough tournament to win. It's not just the hockey, which is tough enough in itself, but it is all the other things you have to overcome."
In other words, the World Junior Championships most often provides the perfect introduction into the world of big-time hockey each participant believes is his future.