Matt Stajan was one of the fortunate players to be selected to play for Canada on the 2003 World Junior Championships that was held in Halifax and Sydney, Nova Scotia. Stajan picked up a goal and an assist in the six games that he played. Russia took home their third gold medal after defeating Canada. Canada settled with silver. Finland took home the bronze after taking out the US.
"It was unbelievable," said Stajan. "Just playing on the juniors is huge for every Canadian kid who plays hockey. For it to fall on a year that you're hosting it in your own country and you get to play, it's a whole new level. Just the atmosphere in that city, you can feel it across the country. The support you get is unbelievable."
It was exciting. You look back on it and it went by so fast. You wish you could slow it all down and take it all in. I wouldn't trade that for many things. Obviously if we had won the gold, it would have been even more special but it was definitely an exciting time."
I think it's safe to say that every player who has had the chance to suit up for Team Canada and represent their country would agree that the pressure is very intense. The entire country is behind you and you don't want to let them down. Now imagine playing on home soil in front of a sold out crowd, all wearing red jersey's chanting GO CANADA GO.
"That's one thing that if you're on the Canadian team there is always that pressure no matter what," Stajan said. "But when you hosting it you obviously don't want to let the city down so there definitely was pressure but you feed off of that and the excitement. The building was electric every night right from the drop of the puck. I'm sure they're seeing that in Buffalo this year because it's probably like a home game.
"That's all part of the game and it depends on how you deal with that. It can be a positive just because pressure brings excitement as well."
Where is Canada hockey going? Will we always be as dominant as we have been? Stajan didn't hesitate for a moment before giving his opinion that Canadian hockey will always be amazing and we'll always be playing for gold.
"You just look at the amount of kids that play hockey and how big it is in our country," said Stajan. "It's the best in the world. I think we'll always be right there playing for the gold or in any hockey. That is the mentality of Canadian hockey, its gold medal. You're not successful unless you win a gold medal. I think we'll see that for a long time, forever, just the way our country embraces hockey and how much we want to win."
Stajan's overall thoughts on the tournament and its competition.
"It's great to have other countries right there and showing that they are at the same level. It's no cake walk anymore like it used to be. It's definitely evened out the playing field with the US strong every year and you've got Sweden Finland, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Russia. Sometimes it's tough to even get a medal. It's great for hockey, you just look around the NHL dressing room and see the different countries the guys are from, it's a worldwide sport."
Author: Kristi Hennessy