At 6-foot-6 and 218 pounds, it is pretty hard to miss Jared Cowen
He certainly was omnipresent during Team Canada's gold-medal victory at this summer's Ivan Hlinka
Tournament, a premier Under-18 international event. There, Cowen was one of the linchpins on a defensive unit that allowed just 10 goals in the four-game run to gold.
But success is nothing new to Cowen. As a 17-year-old rookie with the Spokane Chiefs of the Western Hockey League last season, he played a major role in leading that club to a WHL title and the Memorial Cup.
Helping Cowen has been playing for coach Bill Peters both with Spokane and the Hlinka tournament. Peters used Cowen to shut down the opposition's best offensive players and kill penalties in Spokane, and he was used in a similar capacity during the Hlinka tournament.
"My role was pretty much the same as it is with Spokane," Cowen said. "I played the penalty kill there and I'm playing on the penalty kill here. I just hope I can be a go-to guy."
Cowen, who is considered a sure-fire first-round pick for the 2009 Entry Draft, said having international experience could help him earn a spot on Canada's roster for the 2010 World Junior Championship. He believes the Hlinka tournament allowed the Hockey Canada staff to become more familiar with not only his skills, but his personality.
"This is my first time actually playing on a national team," Cowen said. "It's different from just reading the paper and Web sites. Team Canada is getting to know me on a personal basis. I think it helps a lot from a personal basis in knowing what kind of person you are off the ice and not just on the ice."
The Hlinka is a short tournament, so teams don't have long to adjust. But Cowen said Team Canada bucked the adjustment process because of the number of elite players on the roster.
"It was pretty easy adjusting to these teammates because they are so good," Cowen said. "Everyone comes from Canada. All of the players from the (Ontario Hockey League) and the 'W' speak English, so the only language barrier is with players from the 'Q,' who speak French." And with just three Quebec-born players on the roster -- forward Louis Leblanc
and defensemen Simon Despres
and Hubert Labrie
-- there wasn't much of a language barrier.
Despite playing on the larger international ice surface, Cowen doesn't have to change much for his game.
"There isn't much difference playing on the big ice," Cowen said. "You can't get scared of it and it's no big deal. It's not that much bigger than WHL ice and we can stretch teams out and we can use our skill to our advantage."
Cowen also quickly learned that international play isn't as rough as it is in the WHL, which generally is considered to be the most physical of the three leagues that fall under the Canadian Hockey League umbrella.
"In the WHL it's a mix of players that I play with, but here I was playing with all Canadian players," Cowen said. "We had to prepare differently for each team because European teams are less physical and use different systems."