| |Ladislav Smid celebrates with teammate Jakub Petruzalek following the Czech Republic's bronze medal victory over the United States in Grand Forks, North Dakota. (Photo courtesty of Getty Images).
With the 2011 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship nearing its conclusion in Buffalo, New York, some current Edmonton Oilers have had the opportunity to reflect on their experiences at the annual post-holiday tournament.
Oilers defenceman Ladislav Smid
was provided with the rare distinction of representing the Czech Republic in three consecutive World Junior tournaments. In 2004, 2005 and 2006, Smid helped lead his club with an active two-way game on the blueline that was highlighted with a combined personal total of seven points in 19 games.
Even greater than the individual accomplishments, however, was the national pride associated with the Czech Republic's bronze medal performance on United States soil.
"In 2005, Grand Forks (North Dakota), we had a really good team," recalled Smid. "We ended up with the bronze medal. We had a great group of guys. We beat the US twice, so that was amazing -- an unbelievable memory."
Whether or not the players were aware, the test against the most difficult international rivals provided an incredible opportunity to establish something special, which included a rising appreciation for the Czech Republic's program.
This was a point not lost on the impressionable Smid, who recalls the success against the United States as one his greatest hockey moments; both for him personally and for a nation that was hungry for World Junior success.
"Any time you can have success as a hockey player, the memories are instantly created. Being able to have so much success against the US, especially when we were weren't really the favourites to win, was so amazing on their soil," explained Smid.
"Winning at home would be incredible, but there's something special about going into another country's building and coming away with the win. We were able to do that twice, so it was pretty amazing."
In what has become an unsurprising ongoing theme, the World Junior Championship has helped lay the groundwork for countless NHL careers. It was a story no different for Smid, who made his Oilers debut in the fall of 2006 following his final tournament appearance earlier that winter.
According to reliable blueliner, the opportunities provided unmatched learning experiences that have already helped him establish a solid NHL career.
"Playing in that tournament is like fast-forwarding your career and your development. With the amount of minutes I was playing and the responsibilities that they had given me, I left the tournaments feeling more confident in all areas."
"At that age and stage in a young player's development, it's the best tournament in the world. It gave me a lot. Lots of experience playing with some big minutes and against some really tough opponents, and lots of guys who played in the tournament -- especially from Canada and the US -- play in the NHL now, so you know you were up against the best."
"Simply put, it was a great experience for me."
While the World Junior Championship has clearly established its name as the pinnacle of U-20 competition, the two-week tournament has helped contribute to more than successful NHL careers.
"It's a lasting thing for sure," Smid said of the friendships created with his teammates. "I talk with them all the time. When I go back to the Czech Republic, we grab dinner or something like that, or text each other. Other guys are in the NHL so it becomes easier to stay in touch, but you definitely create a bond in that kind of tournament. It's pretty special."
When asked if he would be watching the conclusion of the 2011 tournament, the 24-year old rearguard was non-committal given his nation's unfortunate result.
"I'm not sure, but I doubt it. The Czechs are out, so I'm too heartbroken," Smid said with a smile.
Author: Ryan Dittrick | edmontonoilers.com