Edmonton, AB - 355 sleepless nights since Canada dropped a gold medal decision to the Russians in last year's tournament, a vital cog in the red and white's championship plans has been lost due to injury.
While the Canadians held a commanding second-period edge that ultimately led to an 8-1 rout over Finland, Devante Smith-Pelly blocked a shot, dropping the 6'0", 211-pound winger to the ice in obvious pain.
The 19-year-old, a second-round pick of the Anaheim Ducks who's played in 26 games this season, was seen leaving Rexall Place on crutches; it was later determined that he had broken a bone in his foot, ending his hopes of capturing World Junior gold on the ice with his teammates.
"It's pretty disappointing," said the Scarborough, ON native. "I'm not going to sit here, pout and be a distraction to the guys, though. I'm here to support them. I'm disappointed, but I'm going to have to move on.
"This was my last chance [to participate and win a gold medal]. It's unfortunate that it had to happen, but I'm here to support the team."
Following a goal by Canada's Mark Stone, Smith-Pelly returned to take a draw in his own end, but it was short-lived as the punishing winger hobbled to the bench in even greater distress; a disheartening sight, considering the passion in which he approaches the game.
"I was pretty excited and adrenaline was pumping through me, so I thought I was better than I was," he explained. "As soon as I put my body weight on it, I knew I was probably done. I've blocked shots before, but as soon as this one hit me, I knew that something was wrong.
"I couldn't even stand on it."
Smith-Pelly became a crowd-pleaser at August's National Junior Team Selection Camp when he patrolled a line with No. 1 overall pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins; he and No. 93 engineered open-ice and goals, leading Team White to a 5-4 win over Team Red at the camp's high-paced intrasquad game at Rexall Place.
"We were down 2-0 at one point, and he's the kind of guy who gets your team into the game," Nugent-Hopkins said of Smith-Pelly. "He goes around and can hammer guys; and he can score, too. He made some really good plays.
"He was a leader and he talked a lot in the dressing room, on the ice and on the bench. He wants to get the guys going. He's a positive guy; it's too bad Canada lost him, but I think some guys will step up and help support that role."
While Smith-Pelly is now relegated to the sidelines, he'll remain with the team and help support the red and white in whatever way he can. Teammate Jonathan Huberdeau made sure that sentiment goes both ways: "We'll play every game for him," he said on his Twitter page.
"Yeah, I did see that," Smith-Pelly said, grinning ear-to-ear with that unbreakable Canadian attitude. "That was nice to know he was thinking of me.
"All the guys have been pretty supportive, but I don't want them to feel bad for me. I want to make sure I'm here for them. I don't really have to say anything, either. They all know what's at stake here."
According to IIHF rules and Hockey Canada, teams are allotted 22 roster positions, meaning that Smith-Pelly cannot be replaced on Canada's roster.