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Strome makes Team Canada's final cut

by Dyan LeBourdais / New York Islanders
Announced early Wednesday afternoon, Islanders first round pick Ryan Strome made Team Canada’s final cut for the 2012 IIHF World Junior Championships. Though the 2012 WJC will be Strome's first appearance in the international tournament, making the team has always been something he’d aspired to participate.

“I think it’s the same for every kid, but (playing for Team Canada is) definitely huge in my household with my two younger brothers,” Strome said. “We’ve always looked up to (the World Junior Championships) and it’s a big honor for me…  It should be fun to do and to be able to play in front of the home crowd too, in Canada, is pretty special. I’m really looking forward to the opportunity.”

Islanders Head Coach Jack Capuano was happy to hear the news.

Ryan Strome moves the puck against the Boston Bruins during a rookie exhibition game at Nassau Coliseum on Sept. 12, 2011. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
“He’s a talented player,” Capuano said. “It’s great for him and the organization that he’s going to get an opportunity to play against the best. It’s (going to be a) great experience for him.”

To take part in the tournament, which will be held Dec. 26, 2011 through Jan. 5, 2012, Strome will take a short hiatus from his junior club, the Niagara IceDogs of the Ontario Hockey League. Team Canada will play at Rexall Place in Edmonton until the final rounds, which will be held at Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary.

Islanders alternate captain and third-year pro John Tavares took part in the World Junior Championships when he was Strome’s age. Looking back on the experience, Tavares said it was something he always dreamed of playing.

“It’s just a great tournament to play in,” Tavares said. “Your experiences there are something that you’ll always remember. It means a lot to Canadians, it’s a big tradition back home. As a kid, that’s something you always dream of and want to play for. It’s big, as a hockey player, the whole experience. Representing your country is pretty special. I’m sure he’ll do great and enjoy it.”

The Isles alternate captain said he knows Strome is destined to succeed, with his work ethic and drive.

“He was here to start the season just to absorb as much as he could, to figure out what it takes to play at this level and be a successful pro,” Tavares said. “He was great as asking questions and wanting to learn. That was something I noticed about him. It’s great to have an open mind like that and he pushes himself. I know he’s going to expect big things out of himself going forward.”

Prior to the start of the 2011-12 season, Strome signed a three-year entry-level contract (Oct. 4) and remained with the Islanders through Oct. 13, when he was returned to Niagara. Though he never got into game action, practicing with the Isles and watching two games from the perch, 18-year-old Strome gained valuable experience.

“I learned how to prepare myself on and off the ice and what it takes to play at a high level,” Strome said of his time on Long Island. “I have to make sure that my body is in the right shape and keep it in that shape for an entire season, as well as what it takes to be a professional, how hard the guys work and the work ethic it takes to be where I want to be. It was good for me to be around those guys and see how hard they work.”

Despite returning to the IceDogs eight games into the season, Strome is third on the team in scoring. However, his 16 goals are tied for the team lead. In 24 games this season, the Mississauga, Ontario native has recorded 33 points (16 goals, 17 assists) and a +11 rating.

“It took me a little while to get going, but I’ve been playing a lot better as of late,” Strome said. “I feel a lot better in both ends of the ice and I feel like a complete new player and complete new person out there. I’m more mature, more confident and I’m having a lot of fun.”

Strome will continue to work hard throughout his season with Niagara, but once the World Juniors get under way, the Isles fifth overall pick will have one goal in mind.

“My goal is to win the gold medal,” Strome said. “That’s the mindset of Canada and we don’t want to settle for anything less. So my goal is to bring home a gold medal. That’s what I’m striving towards.”

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