Zach Boychuk's favorite team growing up may have been the Calgary Flames, but he is getting used to being a Hurricane. Boychuk, who plays for the Lethbridge Hurricanes of the Western Hockey League, was selected No. 14 by the Carolina Hurricanes in the 2008 Entry Draft.
Carolina narrowly missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season, but the other Hurricanes had a very impressive playoff push, led by Boychuk.
After finishing tied for 22nd in scoring in the WHL during the regular season with 72 points in 61 games, Boychuk led all scorers in the playoffs with 13 goals and was second with 21 points in 18 games as Lethbridge advanced to the WHL finals.
Boychuk's point total dropped from 91 in 2006-07 to 72 points last season, but he concentrated more in his own end of the ice, raising his plus/minus from plus-19 to plus-26.
Boychuk is a highly skilled, 5-foot-10, 175-pound center. He's not the biggest guy on the ice, but he fits nicely in the new NHL, where size isn't as important as skill.
"I think it's a lot of fun to kind of relax, play my game," Boychuk said. "I think speed is usually what I can do best. I try to beat guys wide or beat guys one-on-one. And I like to score."
For inspiration, Boychuk says he looks to some current NHL stars who are just about his size. The face of the NHL, Sidney Crosby, is just 5-foot-11, and Philadelphia Flyers star Daniel Briere stands 5-foot-10.
"I think you watch guys like Sidney Crosby or even Daniel Briere," Boychuk said. "I think I play a similar style to Daniel Briere. I like watching Crosby skate as fast as he can from the defensive zone. He's got so much speed in the neutral zone that he just splits the defense and goes in and scores. So I'd hope to pattern my game toward the type of game he plays."
One of the first times the hockey world got to see Crosby play was as a 17-year-old at the 2004 World Junior Championship; hockey fans also were introduced to Boychuk at the 2008 event.
"It was really exciting," Boychuk said of the World Juniors. "The experience that I had was something I'd never really experienced before. I played for Canada at the Under-18 (World Championship), and for the Super Series. But there wasn't as much support fan-wise as there was when I was over in the Czech Republic for the World Juniors. There was lots of fans over there watching us and I was hearing lots of support from people back in Canada. So it was nice to win the gold medal with a great team that we had."
Playing for your country is an unforgettable experience, but it's particularly special when your team wins the gold medal in overtime of the championship game -- as the Canadians did against Sweden.
"I was on the bench and I think I jumped 10 feet in the air and jumped over the boards," Boychuk said. "Pretty much went into the scrum as quick as I could. I remember Brad Marchand actually missed the scrum and went right over. There was just so much emotion. We went through so much together. Obviously we faced a lot of adversity, losing to Team Sweden in the first game we played them in the round-robin, so we really wanted to win that game. When that goal went in, it was just incredible. And we had a lot of fun celebrating."