|Senators prospect Shane Prince is among 40 world junior team hopefuls off to USA Hockey's camp in Lake Placid, N.Y., starting Saturday. He'll be joined by fellow Sens draftee Stefan Noesen (Ottawa Senators Hockey Club).
It's become the great Canadian dream for many an aspiring young hockey talent.
But given their growing level of success on the global stage, the world junior hockey championship also ranks high in the eyes of puck chasers who proudly wear the stars and stripes.
Just ask Shane Prince
, an Ottawa Senators forward prospect who is eagerly anticipating the opportunity to make his mark for Team USA at its annual summer development camp, which begins Saturday in Lake Placid, N.Y.
"It'll be a great opportunity," said Prince, a second-round pick (61st overall) by the Senators in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. "I'd love to play for my country and win a gold and I'm going to do everything I can to make that (world junior) team."
Prince and fellow Senators 2011 draftee Stefan Noesen
(first round, 21st overall) are among the 40 American players invited to the Lake Placid event, which also includes a mini-tournament against world junior hopefuls from Sweden and Finland. Among the Swedish squad are a pair of Sens picks in the 2011 draft — centre Mika Zibanejad
(first round, sixth overall) and defenceman Fredrik Claesson
(fifth round, 126th overall).
The Americans were world junior champs two years ago in Saskatoon and have become a dominant force at the Under-18 level, winning five of the last seven gold medals in that event, including a current run of three straight titles. They'll be considered a prime contender at the 2012 world juniors, which begin Dec. 26 in Edmonton and Calgary.
"It speaks for itself," Prince, a native of Spencerport, N.Y., said of the Americans' growing hockey reputation. "I think we are developing more players and increasing the competition. More people are playing hockey (in the United States) and it's starting to spread a bit. It's nice to see us being able to rise up and compete with other countries."
Growing up just outside of Rochester, N.Y., the 18-year-old Prince experienced plenty of hockey at the highest level. He played six years of minor hockey in the Syracuse Stars AAA program, which faced "the best" in competition on a regular basis.
"We were a top-three team in the nation every year, so we competed against the highest competition in Canada and even some European teams," he said. "It was great to play against all that competition and see what we were up against."
It was also great preparation for the Ontario Hockey League, where Prince has toiled the last three seasons. Originally drafted by the Kitchener Rangers, he was dealt to the Ottawa 67's during the 2009-10 season. He enjoyed a breakout season for the 67's a year ago, totalling 25 goals and 88 points. That caught the attention of the Senators, who happily called his name when he was still on the board late in the second round of the proceedings at the 2011 draft in St. Paul, Minn.
"Shane was a key player in Ottawa's success (last) year," said Pierre Dorion, the Senators' director of player personnel. "He's highly skilled player. We just felt at that point in the draft, we couldn't pass up on that skill level. We feel he will have a high offensive impact down the road."
For his part, Prince is thrilled he'll have the chance to continue his hockey career in a city he and his family have grown so fond of visiting. His father, Dan, is a regular at 67's games, while "my mom (Rita) and sister (Olivia, an elite-level gymnast back home) try to make it up as much as possible."
"I couldn't be happier anywhere else," said Prince. "Playing in Ottawa for the last year and a half for the 67's ... I love the city, I love being here, I love the fans and the hockey. It's great to be able to stay in the city."
All of which made his wait on draft day so worth it in the end.
"I went maybe a little later than expected, but that's okay. I couldn't be happier than where I am right now," he said in echoing a common family sentiment. "I don't think I even heard my name. I had a big crew there and as soon as they heard 'Ottawa 67's,' they just erupted. It was a great feeling. It was all a blur after my name was called. It was definitely an exciting experience and something I've worked for all my life."
While Prince and Noesen aim to make an impression in Lake Placid, two other Senators prospects — forwards Matt Puempel
(2011 first round, 24th overall) and Mark Stone
(2010 sixth round, 178th overall) — are en route to Edmonton for Hockey Canada's summer evaluation camp for world junior team prospects, which begins Wednesday. Forward Jakub Culek
(2010 third round, 76th overall) will be in the mix for the Czech Republic when it holds its world junior camp in advance of the 2012 WJC in Alberta.