|Jared Cowen couldn't be happier about the opportunity to play for Team Canada at the IIHF 2010 World Junior Hockey Championship in his home province of Saskatchewan.
is heading home for the holidays.
But this will be unlike any other family gathering he's enjoyed during the Christmas season. The Ottawa Senators' top pick (ninth overall) in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft was named today to Team Canada's roster for the 2010 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship.
The announcement was made earlier today in Regina but Canada's games in the tournament will be played at the Credit Union Centre in Saskatoon, the city Cowen now calls home. He was born in tiny Allan, Sask., but his family moved to Saskatchewan's largest city when he was 14.
"It’s a pretty special thing," the 18-year-old Cowen said in an interview from Regina, where Team Canada held its final selection camp over the last four days. "We’re pretty lucky to have it here and by chance, when it happens (in Saskatchewan) is when I make the team. It’s pretty cool. I’ll get to be close to my family and friends during the Christmas break.
"It’ll probably be the longest I’ve been at home in December since I can remember. It’s different but a good different."
The world junior opportunity is one that Cowen relished from the moment the Senators returned him to the Spokane Chiefs of the Western Hockey League near the end of September.
"I think even when I was still in Ottawa, that was my mindset," said Cowen. "If I was going to play in Ottawa (for the Senators), that would have been great, but if not, then I definitely wanted to play in the world juniors. It was a goal of mine."
Still, given the competitive nature of the selection camp in Regina – Canada's defence corps includes three returnees (Ryan Ellis, Alex Pietrangelo and Colten Teubert) from the 2009 gold-medal-winning team in Ottawa – making the squad was no sure thing.
"It’s a pretty special thing. We’re pretty lucky to have it here and by chance, when it happens (in Saskatchewan) is when I make the team. It’s pretty cool. I’ll get to be close to my family and friends during the Christmas break. It’ll probably be the longest I’ve been at home in December since I can remember. It’s different but a good different." - Jared Cowen
"I felt pretty relieved," Cowen said of finally getting the news that he'd made the final cut to 22 players. "Every year is really competitive. I did what was expected of me and I'm happy with how I played in camp."
Making this team is also further evidence that the 6-foot-5 blueliner is well on his way to a full recovery from major reconstructive surgery on his right knee in February. Cowen rates the knee at "about 80 per cent now."
"We play so many games (in Spokane) that you can't do as much rehab as you do in the summer," said Cowen, the Chiefs' captain, who has collected five goals and 17 points in 27 games in Spokane so far this season. "But hopefully, next summer I can really improve on it."
Canada will be aiming for a record sixth straight gold medal when it opens play in the 2010 WJC on Dec. 26 against Latvia. Sure, there will be pressure to keep the streak going, but Cowen said that's simply part of life for anyone wearing the red maple leaf at the world juniors.
"They had the same pressure last year and the year before that," he said. "Team Canada has more pressure (on it) than any other team in the tournament, just because it's Canada. But you can't let that bother you too much."