MONTREAL – Charles Hudon went into the Canada-Russia Challenge with the singular goal of helping his team win. Not only did he succeed, but he also managed to turn some heads in the process.
|Hudon finished the tournament with a goal and two assists in four games for Team Canada. (Matthew Murnaghan / Hockey Canada Images) |
While they may only have been exhibition games, all the members of Team Canada’s Under 20 squad knew that the eyes of a nation would be fixed firmly on them as the prepared to take on the Russians in the tournament commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Summit Series between Canada and the former Soviet Union. Used to being a key member of the Chicoutimi Saguenéens’ offense, the Canadiens’ 2012 fifth-round draft-pick found himself tasked with even more responsibility by his new national team coaches – a challenge he was more than ready to meet.
“I’m very happy with my performance and I think I did even better than I expected to at the beginning,” confided Hudon, the day after Canada’s dramatic overtime victory in the tournament’s final game. “I didn’t have quite the same role that I was used to with the Saguenéens, but I did everything I could to fulfill the mandate I was given over the course of those four games. I concentrated on my role and tried not to change my style of play.
“I’m extremely proud,” he added. “This is a big moment in my career. The experience I had with Team Canada was just incredible.”
Down two-games-to-one, the Canadians had no choice but to win the tournament’s fourth and final game in regulation time if they hoped to have any chance at taking home the title. Hudon and his teammates knew that from the second the puck dropped for the opening face off, their margin for error was non-existent.
“We weren’t nervous going into that final game, we all went in very confident,” underlined Hudon, who finished the tournament with a goal and two assists. “After our loss on Monday, we had a bunch of meetings with [Team Canada coach] Steve Spott. He prepared us well. There was definitely a little bit of added pressure, playing in front of all our fans in Halifax, but we tried not to focus on that. We were playing for ourselves and no one else.”
Looking for ways to inspire and prepare their team for the challenge ahead, the directors of Hockey Canada put out a call to an original member of the 1972 squad who took on the Soviet Union as Canada’s starting goalie in the Summit Series. A goaltender who was already well known among the Montreal faithful for his knack for coming up big when it counted most.
“Ken Dryden came in and spoke with us before the final game. It meant a lot for us to be able to talk with him. It was also a strange experience to meet him in person after having just watched him on film in all those Summit Series games beforehand,” shared Hudon, on his time with the Habs’ former all-star netminder.
“He spent about 15 minutes telling us all about his experiences from 1972,” he continued. “He told us that we were on the verge of creating our own memories, and that it was now our turn and we had the chance to write our own history.”
After a week of solid performances, Hudon finished the tournament having left an excellent impression on his coaches – the same coaches who will be behind Team Canada’s bench come December for the World Junior Hockey Championship.
Historically, the team Hudon will be trying to make this winter is largely comprised of 19-year-olds. Having only just turned 18 at the end of June, the Canadiens prospect is well aware that his invitation to Ufa, Russia is far from a sure thing. He’ll be left to do everything in his power between now and then to give those in charge no other choice but to include his talents on their roster.
“I think the way I’ve been playing recently is upping my chances of making the team, but in the end, those decisions aren’t mine to make. [Assistant-coaches] Mario Duhamel and André Tourigny spoke with me before I left Halifax to let me know they were both really happy with how I performed,” said Hudon, who will rejoin his Saguenéens teammates in the coming days.
“If I’m invited to join the team this winter, I’ll be thrilled,” he concluded. “Having the opportunity to get to know the coaches and to have taken part in a tournament with them already should hopefully help, but the final decision is, of course, up to them.”
Hugo Fontaine is a writer for canadiens.com. Translated by Justin Fragapane.
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