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Sens prospects warm to WJC debut

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Consider the ice officially broken for Jim O'Brien.

Even if the Ottawa Senators prospect wasn't exactly unfamiliar with Scotiabank Place before his U.S. team opened the 2009 IIHF World Junior Championship with an 8-2 romp past Germany on Wednesday afternoon.

O'Brien, the Senators' top pick in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, wore the team's colours on home ice for the first time back in September during a pre-season game against the New York Rangers. This season of firsts continued earlier today, when the Minnesota native suited up for his homeland for the first time at a world junior championship.

"It was a lot of fun," O'Brien said after contributing an assist to the Americans' cause in their easy conquest of Germany. "Great fans out there tonight, just a good experience.

"You could just feel the energy in the building. It was really enthusiastic. It was fun."

Two years ago, O'Brien represented the U.S. at the Under-18 worlds. He called it another moment of pride when he learned he'd get the chance to wear the stars and stripes one more time here in Ottawa.

"It was an honour," O'Brien said in recalling the day he learned he'd be part of a U.S. team that is considered one of the top contenders for gold at this WJC. "It's not every day you get to represent your country at a world tournament and it was a real special feeling. I'm just going to go out there and do the best I can."

If there were any pre-game jitters, they didn't last long.

"I think everybody's got a little nerves," said O'Brien, 19. "I think you just kind of work them out in the warmup and the first period."

O'Brien is one of three Senators prospects taking part in the 2009 WJC. The other two play for Sweden, another pre-tournament medal favourite, and were Ottawa picks in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft at Scotiabank Place: Defenceman Erik Karlsson, the Senators' first-rounder, and forward Andre Petersson, who was selected in the fourth round.

Petersson chipped in an assist as Sweden dumped Finland 3-1 in its tournament opener at the Ottawa Civic Centre.

Note: Canada's 8-1 rout of the Czech Republic drew 19,564 to Scotiabank Place, the largest single-game audience in world junior history. With more than 460,000 tickets sold, the 2009 Ottawa WJC has already set an all-time record for total attendance.

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