So it is for many who participate in the IIHF World Junior Championship. Years after they’ve taken part in the prestigious event, you’ll find players talking about their time there with Team Canada. It’s a favourite topic of conversation across the National Hockey League when this time of the year rolls around.
“You’re going to have fun and you’re going to make friendships that you’re going to have for a long, long time,” Ottawa Senators centre Jason Spezza
said about his world junior experience, which spanned three tournaments from 2000 to 2002. “It’s almost 10 years now since my first world juniors and still, when we play guys (who were a part of it), you see them and stop and talk in the hallways.
“It’s a pretty special tournament. You spend your Christmas together and it’s pretty big.”
Spezza said “that’s probably the biggest thing I remember, meeting the guys and being around the guys. Some still remain friends to this day. I played junior with Steve Ott (of the Dallas Stars) and roomed with him at world juniors. Jarret Stoll (of the Los Angeles Kings) is a guy who I played with at world juniors and still talk to regularly.”
Spezza and Senators teammate Dany Heatley first “became buddies” at world juniors – they were part of Team Canada bronze-medal entries in 2000 in Skelleftea, Sweden, and 2001 in Moscow (Spezza also won a silver with Canada in 2002 in the Czech Republic).
Heatley knew almost immediately that he’d found an ideal linemate.
“We didn’t score a ton of goals but we definitely had chemistry,” he wrote in his recently released book, Dominant Dany Heatley
. “I was kind of snake-bitten at the (2000) tournament, which was frustrating. I hit so many posts and so did Jason, though the one thing I learned was that I liked playing with him.”
For Spezza, just making the 2000 team as a 16-year-old was a bit of a surprise.
“I didn’t expect to be there,” he said. “I knew going to that (selection) camp that they probably invited my and (defenceman Jay Bouwmeester) just to get some experience. The only way we could really make that team was to have an unbelievable camp.
“Things went really well for us. The puck went in for me and he played real well, so I think we both surprised them.”
Heatley has gone on to represent Canada at the 2006 Torino Olympics and multiple world hockey championships (Spezza was a teammate at the 2008 IIHF worlds in Quebec City and Halifax). He relishes every opportunity he gets to wear the red maple leaf, saying “I can’t tell you how much I love playing for my country.”
"You know the whole country is behind you," added Heatley. "Just growing up, you know the passion that everyone has and it's just a different feeling. When you're playing on your own (NHL) team, you know your city is behind you but when you go into another city, you're the enemy.
"But with Team Canada, it's all about the country, it's all about winning for the (red) maple leaf. It's definitely an awesome feeling playing for Canada."