John Tavares has some advice for Mathew Barzal and Anthony Beauvillier as they embark on their first World Junior Hockey Championships, starting Saturday in Helsinki, Finland.
“Enjoy it, embrace it and give it everything you have,” Tavares said. “There can be a lot of distractions. Make sure you focus on playing and not on anything else.”
Coming from a two-time gold medal winner, that’s good advice.
Barzal and Beauvillier will represent Team Canada at the annual meeting of the world’s best under-20 players starting on Saturday vs. Team USA (1 p.m. NHL Network). Both Barzal and Beauvillier made Team Canada on their first tries, a testament to how skilled the 18-year-old, first-round draft picks are.
“They were great players here at camp, they both opened a lot of eyes for the guys on our team,” Ryan Strome said. “Beauvillier had a really good camp, he works hard, [but makes it seem] effortless. Barzal has unbelievable skill. Both of those guys should be good on the big ice over there and from what my brother said they were both really good at the camp.”
Strome, who won bronze with Team Canada at the 2012 World Juniors, was referencing the intel gathered from his brother Dylan, who also made the team. Ryan has been able to offer the lessons learned through his own experiences.
“Just live in the moment,” Strome said. “It happens so quick and it’s such a high-pressure stage and there’s so many eyes on you. Just live in the moment and play your hardest. It might be your only chance to play for your country ever again. Enjoy it. It’s an emotional ride, but just try to stay even keel.”
There’s a lot of pressure on Team Canada, as the country has a gold-or-bust mentality. Barzal and Beauvillier grew up in an era where Canada won five straight Golds (2005-09) including the two years (2008-09) that Tavares and Thomas Hickey were on the team. (Fun fact: Hickey captained Team Canada in 2009.) They seem to know what they are getting themselves into.
“Anything less than a gold medal with Team Canada at the World Juniors is a disappointment,” Barzal told NewYorkIslanders.com in early December. “So that’s obviously the goal.”
Strome said it’s an honor to play for your country and that the World Juniors are a special experience for any hockey player. Tavares had a similar point-of-view.
“Winning and being a part of that tournament is something I’ll never forget,” Tavares said.
WORLD JUNIOR MEMORIES:
"Definitely both gold medals were special, but they were different.
We won one in Czech Republic and the other we won in Canada on home soil. We were big favorites both times and there was a lot expected of us. Both times we had to overcome some pretty big adversity, that’s the correlation between the two. We lost a round-robin game in the Czech Republic, gave up the lead in the last minute of the gold medal game and had to win it in OT. In Ottawa we tied the semi-final game with three seconds left, a lot of people thought we there was a good chance we were going to use. We had some things go our way, some key plays made and both were special because of what we had to overcome."
"Obviously we didn’t win which was pretty disappointing, but winning bronze was still pretty exciting. A couple of big games against the Americans – we beat them both years on New Year’s Eve – stand out. That’s a really big game in Canada, playing the Americans, and those are really exciting wins. It’s always good to score a goal for your country."
Islanders’ prospect Linus Soderstrom was one of three goaltenders named to Team Sweden. Soderstrom was Sweden’s starting netminder a year ago, posting a 5-2 record with a 2.31 goals against average and a .916 save percentage. Sweden finished fourth in the tournament, falling 4-2 to Slovakia in the bronze medal game.