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Hickey is one of four players on Canada's National Junior team who won a World Junior Championship gold medal a year ago in the Czech Republic.
This time out, Hickey is captain of Canada's entry in the 2009 World Junior Championship and the Canadians are in tough to win a fifth straight title and tie the country's record for consecutive gold medals won between 1993 and 1997.
"There is definitely pressure," says Hickey, a defenseman who was the Kings' first pick, fourth overall, in the 2007 NHL Draft. "You go for a walk and everyone is saying good luck and win the gold.
"Even when you are overseas, you know the whole country is behind you and even though they are thousands of miles away you can feel that support."
The World Junior Hockey Championship is an annual event featuring the top players on the hockey map under the age of 20. It is a 10-team pressure-packed tournament that runs from Dec. 26 to the gold medal game on Jan. 5.
There is no real downside to playing in the tournament. Hockey people feel it is important for any elite athlete to be able to compete against the best athletes in their age group.
For the players who proudly wear their country’s colors, a trip to the World Juniors means so many new experiences. They're united with so many people they've never met before, or even had celebrated battles in league play, and they are usually a long ways from home in a foreign land at a time usually reserved for family.
Hockey is simply much better when played by teams of fairly equal value and the games at the World Juniors are quick and play swung like pendulum. One minute a team is on the attack and the next it is in full retreat. The drama is increased by how much the prize means to those playing and the countries they represent.
This being Canada, gold is the only medal that counts.
In Hickey's case, the only prize is the gold medal.
"Coming to something like this will make you a better player. You get so much out of it,'' says Hickey, who will return to the Seattle Thunderbirds of the Western Hockey League when the tournament is over. "There is so much pressure on our team and if you can just make this team and show you can handle it, that is great for the next level."
Hickey has been in the Hockey Canada pipeline that leads to the elite National Junior Team for almost a handful of years. The gold medal he won at '08 World Junior Championships compliments the gold Canada won a world under-18 tournament in Slovakia in 2006.
Hickey's road to the 2009 World Junior Tournament started last summer when he attended a Canadian junior team training camp. Then in mid-December, he was invited to the final selection camp, and was named captain the day the team was announced.
He joined an elite group of players who wore the C on their Canadian jersey, including Mike Richards of the Philadelphia Flyers, Karl Alzner of the Washington Capitals and Kristopher Letang of the Pittsburgh Penguins, along with former NHL stars Eric Lindros, Theo Fleury and Eric Desjardins to name a few.
"That means so much to me," says Hickey about being captain. "There are so many leaders on this team but it is a tremendous responsibility."
"There are so many things you can take from playing in this tournament," he continued. "Building yourself as a person and all the obstacles to this tournament, making the team, the pressure, it makes you a better person and player. And hopefully you can triumph in the end. Win or lose, you gain a lot from it."
The Canadians are definite medal contenders and they've become the measuring stick for teams like Germany, Kazakhstan and Latvia.
One thing for certain is that any game a team plays against Canada will be their biggest game of the tournament.
But Hickey knows the worst thing he could do is look past Canada's next game, whoever the opponent may be.
"We are looking at our next game and we are not looking past that," he said. "When you are Canada, whatever team is playing you, that is the biggest game of the tournament and that is their mindset. You go play your best against Canada and see what you can do.
"It is a long tournament. It is about building and it does not matter who you play or whether you are winning or losing. When you are building up, you want to win a gold medal and you want to be playing your best hockey at the end. Hopefully we are playing our best hockey at the end in the medal round."
By Alan Adams | Special to LAKings.com