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Big expectations

by Matt Cudzinowski / canadiens.com

MONTREAL - Max Pacioretty has his sights set on enjoying a productive World Cup of Hockey experience.

After representing the United States internationally on three previous occasions - including most recently at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi - the 27-year-old New Canaan, CT native is looking forward to sporting his country's colors on North American soil for the very first time.

The Canadiens' captain, who is currently in Columbus, OH for a short training camp ahead of three pre-tournament games before things get going for real on September 17th in Toronto, believes that already being familiar with many of his fellow American teammates will certainly play an important part in his success in the weeks to come.

"It's cool because I know everyone there now. That wasn't the case in the past. I think last Olympics [in 2014], a lot of those guys were together from the previous time when they won silver [in Vancouver in 2010], and so it was a little bit different for me. I feel like I had to take a bit of a back seat to everybody since they'd been there for a while," explained Pacioretty, who will be sharing a locker room with 13 players with whom he competed with in Sochi two-and-a-half years ago. "Now that I've kind of grown some relationships with some of the guys, I think I'm going to feel a lot more comfortable."

Pacioretty also trusts that playing on a rink with familiar dimensions at the Air Canada Centre will also help his cause, too. While he did light up the scoresheet for Team USA at the 2012 World Hockey Championship in Finland with a team-leading 12 points (2G, 10A) in eight games, plying his trade on bigger ice surfaces hasn't always been popular with the four-time 30 goal-scorer.

"I've never really felt that good on it, so to be able to play an international event on our ice is something that guys in the league should take pride in, especially the North Americans because this is kind of our ice sheet and the way we grew up playing," shared Pacioretty, who is no stranger to hitting the ice in a raucous building all season long already, of course. "It shouldn't be any different than playing in Montreal. It's going to be a great crowd, you're playing in Canada, and a great rink. In the end, it's still hockey on an ice size I feel comfortable playing on."

Above all else, though, Pacioretty's previous international outings have taught him that a key part of both individual and team success in events like these really comes down to mindset. According to the eight-year NHL veteran, a very specific approach is in order to ultimately carve your path to securing the top prize when all is said and done.

"Every team is so good. If you think too much about it, the tournament is going to be over before you know it," explained Pacioretty, referencing the significant strength of each one of the eight teams involved in the third edition of the event, which hasn't been staged since 2004. "You just need to go into every game playing the right way. As a team, it doesn't matter who your opponent is. It's such a short tournament that you can't focus on that. You're just jumping right into the action, and every team should be unbelievable. It'll be important for us to bond well off the ice so that it'll carry onto the ice, too."

Team USA finds itself competing in Group A along with Team Canada, Team Europe and Team Czech Republic, while Group B features Team North America, Team Finland, Team Russia and Team Sweden. The top two teams in each group advance to the semifinals.

Even though it really is any team's tournament at this point in time, Pacioretty is confident in the group the USA Hockey brass has assembled to accomplish their ultimate goal.

"We know that we have the team to compete, and I know that USA feels like the last two Olympics they could have easily come up with a gold medal, especially two Olympics ago and losing 1-0 to Canada in the semis in Sochi," said Pacioretty, who has been skating on a line with Joe Pavelski and Patrick Kane through the first few days of camp at Nationwide Arena. "I think we're knocking right there on the door."

It goes without saying that Pacioretty is eager to help John Tortorella's contingent break through that door this time around in any way he can. Dissatisfied with his previous showings under similar circumstances, the University of Michigan product would very much like to signal his arrival on the international scene with top talent all around him.

"I've never had success internationally, so it's important to me to try and represent my country the right way. I'm just looking for a better performance than I've had in the past. I'll be looking to do that here," said Pacioretty, who twice lost out in bronze medal games over the years, falling short at both the 2008 World Junior Hockey Championship and again in Sochi. "Being selected to the team was definitely an accomplishment, but now it's time to step up."

And, he'll be able to do just that with the most important people in the world to him cheering from the stands every single time out in Toronto.

"My whole family is going to go. They're going to rent a house and be there for all of the games. It'll be fun to play in front of them," concluded Pacioretty, whose wife, Katia, sons Lorenzo and Maximus, and parents Ana and Raymond, will all be on site at the ACC . "Any reason to get the family together, go to a new city and enjoy each other's company is great. It'll be even better if we can win it."

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