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Flames keeping close tabs on WJC

Flames players reminisce about their tournament experiences and talk about this year's semi-final match-ups

by Aaron Vickers @AAVickers / CalgaryFlames.com

CALGARY, AB -- It's getting heated at the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship.

In the Calgary Flames locker room, too. 

With Sweden facing Canada and the United States squaring off against Russia in semi-final action at the World Juniors, all bets are off with who will come home with the gold.

Except among those who still have a dog in the fight.

"You always like to do friendly bets with some of the guys in the locker room," said Johnny Gaudreau, a Team USA alumnus who helped his country to gold at the 2013 tournament in Ufa, Russia. 

"That's what makes it fun when you're watching it."

The Americans have Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk (2016) in its corner.

Sweden is backed by Backlund (2008, 2009), and Dougie (2012, 2013) and Freddie Hamilton (2012) represent Canada's contingent. 

Jyrki Jokipakka (2011) has also represented Finland in 2011, and Michael Frolik (2005-2008) and Ladislav Smid (2004-2006) have suited up for the Czech Republic in past events.

"I think it's just the whole journey that you go on … starting the year as a kid just having that dream of playing in the tournament and going through all the selection camps and stuff (is memorable)," Dougie Hamilton said.

"Seeing the rinks and the hotels we stayed at … all the memories come from those. 

"To see all that stuff now is pretty cool." 

Backlund, who has a pair of silver medals from the tournament, didn't disagree.

"I had so much fun at both tournaments," he said.

"Every time you score the whole team went crazy. The other day we had some family visiting and they said, 'They get so excited when they score.'

"That's the feeling you get at the World Juniors.

"It's just so intense. It's for sure one of the top memories of my life."

Ditto, said Gaudreau.

"It's a fun tournament to be a part of," Gaudreau said. "When you get to play in that tournament it's always fun to look back on, especially when you have friends and you know players that are playing on the team you used to play for that are playing for it and they're in your shoes.

"The guys give each other a hard time every once in a while but it's a lot of fun to take part in it and watch."

That's the fun side.

The business side looms in the semis. 

There's pride on the line.

And a dinner. 

Or two.  

Backlund likes his chances, if he can find a taker. 

"I don't think [Sweden] really been tested so far," he said. "It'll be a big test for them tomorrow. Hopefully they come out with a win. It's going to be a big challenge. 

"It's been a little quiet this year though ... I'm more talking to the American guys and [Brian Burke] and [Craig Conroy] a little bit. They're very proud Americans.

"They think they have the best team."

But so does Backlund.

"He loves Sweden so much," Gaudreau said. "Oh my god.

"We'll see what happens the rest of the tournament."  

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