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Canada's world junior gold-medal winners have lessons to teach younger players

NHL.com @NHL

As Connor McDavid and Max Domi make the leap to the NHL, Hockey Canada's world junior summer camp features just five players who won gold last winter in Toronto.

Defenceman Joe Hicketts and forwards Lawson Crouse, Robby Fabbri, Brayden Point and Jake Virtanen share a bond from winning on home ice. Their focus is now on how they spin that forward to pull together a brand new group.

At this camp, they've fielded questions from the 30-plus newcomers about what it was like to win.

"The biggest thing that they can share is the experience and what it entailed, how hard it was but how rewarding it was," coach Dave Lowry said by phone last week. "For the players that haven't experienced it yet, our expectation is the guys that have gone through the process and won, they share their knowledge."

The knowledge is something the five returnees are taking to heart as they welcome being part of Lowry's leadership group for the world juniors. Point, Hicketts, Fabbri and Crouse were among the alternate captains for exhibition games this week, which is what they hoped for and expected.

"Putting those letters on some of the more experienced guys, even if they weren't captains on their club team, I think they want to start to establish that leadership core for the December camp and pushing into the tournament," Hicketts said by phone Wednesday.

Leadership for the returning gold-medal winners means more than just wearing a letter. And each player has a lesson to impart now and in the coming months.

For Hicketts, it's making the team at long odds after he went undrafted and was not invited to summer camp a year ago. The undersized defenceman earned a contract from the Detroit Red Wings at their development camp and impressed Hockey Canada enough that by December he seemed like a lock for the world juniors.

A lot of players have asked Hicketts about his journey.

"If you would've asked me at this time last year, I would've said there's no chance of making the world juniors," Hicketts said. "I've been telling guys: 'Go back and work your butt off. Everyone's watching every game and you've got to play with every attitude that there's going to be someone ??? whether it's an NHL team, European team or from Hockey Canada ??? watching that game or know someone that's at the game.'"

For Crouse and Virtanen, it's about accepting smaller roles than they were accustomed to in order to make an impact for Canada. First-round picks and big point producers, they were relegated to specialized bottom-six spots in Montreal and Toronto.

"It was easy: I was put into that role for a reason and that was to help win a gold medal," Crouse said. "We went and did that. I was very happy at the end of the day. Any role you play on Team Canada, it's an amazing feeling."

For Fabbri, it's about dealing with adversity. The St. Louis Blues prospect suffered a high-ankle sprain in the quarter-finals and had to watch as his teammates finished the job to win gold.

"That's the way it goes sometimes," Fabbri said. "It's tough mentally. ... You just have to take it in a positive way and just move forward."

For Point, it's about seizing opportunity. Fabbri's injury opened a prime spot for the Tampa Bay Lightning prospect who appeared to be a long shot to make the team at the start of camp.

Point is already leading by example, as he had two goals and three assists Tuesday against the Czech Republic.

The biggest thing Hicketts, Crouse, Fabbri, Point and Virtanen can tell their potential teammates is to be ready to adjust on the fly.

"The coaches are stressing that you have to be a very adaptable player," Crouse said. "You're not always going to play the same situations as you are on your club teams. They're looking for adaptable players that can adjust real easy."

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