CALGARY - When times get tough for Canada at the world junior hockey championship, the team has a free-spirited captain whose sense of humour can lighten the load.
When defenceman Karl Alzner was interviewed by NHL clubs during the draft combine in June, he wore a skinny tie, no belt and ankle socks complete with bed-head hair to get a laugh from general managers.
The 19-year-old from Burnaby, B.C., was named captain of the Canadian junior team Friday prior to its departure for pre-competition camp in Europe.
Canada opens defence of its world junior title Dec. 26 in Pardubice against the host Czech Republic.
Alzner was preparing a few one-liners to break pre-game tension.
"'Maybe a couple movie quotes," he said. "That always cracks guys up a bit. You want to save some of those for just before game time so guys can relax a little bit.
"I've heard some stories of some pretty good leaders in the NHL doing it."
The Washington Capitals drafted Alzner fifth overall in the NHL draft and it wasn't because of his ability to crack them up.
Alzner is a steadying, calming force on the back end because he makes smart decisions and passes to keep his team out of trouble.
"A good level-headed kid who will really give us good leadership," Canadian head coach Craig Hartsburg said.
Alzner and Drew Doughty were Canada's top defensive pairing in the summer's Super Series against the Russian junior team and they'll likely be sent out in the Czech Republic against the opposition's top scorers.
The six-foot-two, 209-pound Alzner is one of two returning players from the Canadian team that won gold at the 2007 world junior championship in Sweden.
The other, Brad Marchand of the Val-d'Or Foreurs, is one of four alternate captains. He's joined by Regina Pats defenceman Logan Pyett and forwards Brandon Sutter of the Red Deer Rebels and Stefan Legein of the Niagara IceDogs.
There can be only two designated alternates for each game, so the four alternates will rotate wearing letters.
This is one of the youngest teams Canada has had in the last 25 years, as only four others during that span had an average age of less than 19.
So Alzner and company have their work cut out for them as Canada pursues a fourth straight gold medal for their country.
"(On) every team the captains are important but the leadership on this team will be very important if they can, in the dressing room, sift through some of the things that are going to happen to us," Hartsburg said.
"In this tournament, with referees and the emotion in the building, or maybe some nights no emotion in the building, it's very important we have a group to help us fight through that stuff.
"They've been through it with the Russian series and Karl was there last year, so we feel comfortable they'll keep us on the right path in the dressing room."
The team photo was taken Friday morning at Father David Bauer Arena prior to their afternoon flight to Salzburg, Austria, where the team is scheduled to play their first exhibition game Dec. 17 against junior side of the club team Red Bull.
Canada is in Slovakia on Dec. 20 to play that country's junior team and completes its warmup Dec. 23 against Finland in Chrudin, Czech Republic.
Alzner joins a list of Canadian team captains that includes Kris Letang of the Pittsburgh Penguins (2007), Kyle Chipchura of the Montreal Canadiens (2006), Michael Richards of the Philadelphia Flyers (2005), Jarret Stoll of the Edmonton Oilers (2002), Florida Panthers defenceman Mike Van Ryan (1999) and retired NHL players Eric Lindros (1992), Theoren Fleury (1988) and Eric Desjardins (1989).
"I'm in great company now and I want to make sure I don't disappoint," Alzner said. "I want to known as not only as a guy who helped out in this tournament, but one of the better leaders and I think I have a great opportunity with the young team to help do that."