Winnipeg Jets forward Blake Wheeler is playing for Team USA at the World Cup of Hockey 2016. The 30-year-old has agreed to keep a diary throughout the tournament, which begins in Toronto on Sept. 17 and runs through Oct. 1.
In his first installment, Wheeler talks about the first day of practice Monday at Nationwide Arena and looks ahead to the first pretournament game Friday against Team Canada.
COLUMBUS -- Fall is a great time of year. As a kid growing up in Minnesota, it meant the start of football season and, of course, the start of hockey season. As an NHL player and a member of Team USA for the World Cup of Hockey 2016, it means more excitement than nerves.
We got together as a team in July and again when we arrived in Columbus on Sunday, so we knew each other already. It was more reconvening than meeting when we went to the rink for our first practice Monday. I was familiar with my linemates, Zach Parise and Derek Stepan, two Minnesota guys I see around the Twin Cities area in the summer. I played with Stepan at the World Championship. It's pretty easy to figure out a way to make it work with guys like that.
But it's exciting just being in the room with this caliber of player, so many players who have accomplished or achieved a lot in the NHL. It's kind of cool to pick their brains a little bit and follow them around and see what they're doing, what makes them great players. It's such an honor. These teams are so selective, and for your name to be chosen is always a huge thrill. You're always grateful for the opportunity and want to make the most of it.
The key this week is just getting through that first game, just kind of getting that out of the way, getting back into game mode. You can't really simulate what a game's going to be like in the summer. You can't really simulate taking those bumps and getting up and down the ice. Just getting after it and getting past that first one is always a good feeling.
It doesn't hurt that we're playing Team Canada. I mean, they're obviously the standard, right? Any time you get to measure yourself up against the best, I think that's a good place to start.