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Crouse plans to be leader for Canada at World Juniors

by Aaron Vickers

CALGARY -- Lawson Crouse was looking for any opportunity to play for Canada at the 2015 World Junior Championship.

As one of two players in Canada's camp eligible for the 2015 NHL Draft, Crouse, 17 at the time, had one mission: bull his way on to the final roster.

"Going in, I was just there to do whatever I could to make that team," Crouse told "I was there with the attitude that I was going to stick and if not, make it hard for the coaches to send me home. I guess I just went in with a positive attitude and tried to get better each and every day. I'm glad it paid off. It led to the gold medal, which was a surreal experience for myself and something I'll remember for the rest of my life."

The youngest player on Canada's roster, Crouse played a limited role on a team that medaled for the first time since 2012 and captured gold to end a drought dating to 2009. The 6-foot-4, 211-pound power forward mostly was relegated to a fourth-line role, deployed to help wear down the opposition and bring a defensive and physical presence when tapped.

Although the physical game was nothing new to Crouse, the supporting role was much different than the responsibilities he was more familiar holding with Kingston of the Ontario Hockey League.

He understood.

"You've got to be a very adaptable person and player, whether it's on the ice or off the ice," said Crouse, who led Kingston with 29 goals and 51 points in 56 games last season before being drafted in the first round (No. 11) by the Florida Panthers in June. "Some guys are going to be put in different roles. You have to adjust to the roles as best you can. You still have to do what you do well, but you're set in a role for a reason. All the roles are there so you can get to that ultimate goal. Once you get to that ultimate goal of winning a gold medal, it makes everything worth it."

As one of five players eligible to return to defend the WJC championship, Crouse has made it a point to remind potential teammates of that fact during Hockey Canada's national junior team summer development camp.

"You've got to get your mind set that you have to play that role," he said. "You still have to do the things you do well, but you have to contribute in other ways, whether it's being vocal in the room or being a positive guy. For me, it was giving everything I had each and every shift and taking advantage of the shifts that I did get.

"It paid off."

Crouse had one goal and two assists in seven games at the 2015 WJC. He will have an extra year of experience under his belt by the time the 2016 tournament rolls around in late December.

Grouse will be looking to expand his role. Dave Lowry, tapped to coach Canada after serving as an assistant to Benoit Groulx in 2015, is expecting Crouse to seize the opportunity.

"That's what you hope for, right?" Lowry said. "He did an outstanding job of garnering attention through the Subway (Super Series), and it resulted in the opportunity to come to the winter camp. Now, what we hope, is he uses the experience that he gained through last year. He's a year older. He's a year stronger. We'd really like to see him take another step forward for us."

The feeling is mutual.

But Crouse isn't taking anything for granted.

"I've just got to come in with the same attitude. Nothing is a given," he said. "I still have to work my hardest to make this team. Obviously, it's day by day, and I'm trying to get better each time I step on the ice and off the ice I'm trying to get better each day. I'm focusing right now on being a leader in that room and on the ice leading by example.

"That's a role I can take to the next level. If I make that team, that's the role I'm going to try to take."

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