PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC - Jordan Eberle has worn the red and white maple leaf eight of the last nine years with two golds - 2008 U18 World Championship and 2009 World Junior Championship - and a silver medal - 2010 World Junior Championship - to show for it as well as four appearances at the Men's World Championship, in which Canada never made it past the quarterfinals. Here in Czech Republic for the 2015 IIHF World Championship, he's hoping the fifth time's a charm as he and a star-studded Team Canada go for gold.
|Jordan Eberle, centre, joins a Team Canada goal celebration vs. Norway at the World Championships May 14, 2010. Canada handily won the game 12-1. (Photo by Matthew Manor / HHOF-IIHF Images) |
"I played my first World Championship when I was 19 right out of junior and then 20, 21, 22. I didn't play last year and now this is my fifth time," said the soon-to-be-25-year-old who celebrates a birthday on Friday. "The first four times I was here, we didn't get past the quarterfinals. So they were all kind of frustrating, but I think this year we have - on paper anyways - the best team that I've been a part of."
The Edmonton Oilers drafted Eberle 22nd overall in the 2008 NHL Draft, but to the majority of fans he was just another prospect with a boatload of potential until he became a household name at the 2009 IIHF World Junior Championship in Ottawa when he scored with 4.5 seconds left in regulation to tie Russia in the semifinal game and then would score in the shootout to help Canada earn the 6-5 win and the opportunity to play for, and eventually win, gold.
His late-game heroics were on display the following year as well at the 2010 World Junior Championship in Saskatoon. First, to spark a two-goal comeback in the third period and then scoring in the shootout to help defeat USA in the final preliminary game and then once again in the gold medal game, also against the Americans, he scored twice in the final three minutes of regulation to force overtime before losing in the extra session.
Since then, expectations for success and coming through in the clutch have been high both internally and externally, but for Eberle it's more about the process and getting better every day as an individual and as a team, whether that be for the Oilers or Hockey Canada.
"That's so long ago now. Those are obviously very fond memories in my life and at a young age, but it'd be nice to create some new ones," Eberle said. "With the team we have here, we have a great chance to make a run, but the biggest thing is trying to get through the round robin getting better every day. Just keep building every day because when you get to the semifinals , you have to bring your best. It's not like the playoffs where you get a seven game series. You get one game and you have to play well or else you're going home. So, the goal is always to get better every day."
Eberle started the tournament alongside Matt Duchene and, fellow Oiler, Taylor Hall, both of whom he's been linemates with since the 2008 IIHF U18 World Championship.
"He's a very reliable player," explained Hall. "You know what you can expect from him in every game. He's going to be consistent. We've played together so much, we hardly even talk out there. We don't really yell for pucks anymore. We just know where we're going to be and it's been a big advantage coming over here and being able to play together. Being able to use that chemistry to find success here has been nice."
"They put us together right away just because they knew that we had played a lot together in the past and I thought right out of the gate we played well and had a lot of chances. When you're familiar with guys and you have a lot of chemistry, if you can put it together on the ice for Team Canada in a quick tournament, it's big," said Eberle.
In those terms, "big" equals 22 points in five games for the trio, including ten goals, as they are the top three scorers for Canada so far at this tournament.
"Obviously, Eberle and Hall play together throughout the year, so that's a good thing," said Canadian head coach Todd McLellan. "They understand each other's body language and spacial cues, if you will. Throw Matt Duchene in there and he's a good player that fits their game well. I thought they created a number of chances in the offensive zone and held onto the puck and had it a lot and have been fairly responsible defensively. We like what's going on there."
|Eberle celebrates a goal at this year's World Championship (photo by Getty Images) |
Wanting to change things up a bit and get more lines in the offensive mix, McLellan had Sidney Crosby centering Eberle and Hall in their game against France, which resulted in two goals by Eberle, who now has three goals and four assists in the tournament.
"It's definitely a confidence booster when you're playing with guys like Sidney Crosby and Jason Spezza and you're right with them…it gives you confidence that you're one of the best players, but also when you're playing among the best players, it brings out the best in you too," Eberle said. "I think when you play for Team Canada it's a lot different just because every player here can play on the power play or the penalty kill and every player here is one of the best players on their club team. So when you come here you have to be willing to accept whatever role they give you whether that be power play, penalty kill or nothing at all. So, it can be tough to adapt to that, but all the teams I've played for with Canada have developed those roles and been able co-exist amongst each other, which is great. I think we've already been able to do that. I've got a good feeling about this team."
For now, Eberle is focused on helping Team Canada win a medal, preferably a gold one, at this tournament because he's hoping it will be his last opportunity to do so for a long time.
"It's an honor to be here and have the opportunity to continue playing hockey at a high level and I would love to help Canada win another gold medal, because that's what we expect from ourselves, but at the same time….I'd rather be playing in the playoffs and competing for a Stanley Cup. That's the ultimate goal."
Canada takes on Switzerland today at 12pm MT as they look to remain undefeated at the tournament. Watch live on TSN.