When they talk about the holidays being the most wonderful time of the year, a lot of people in Canada are referring to the annual World Junior Hockey Championships. The event featuring the best players around the world still in their teenage years battling it out for world supremacy and it is television viewing across Canada beginning on Boxing Day. The games are important to every country, but the excitement reaches crazy levels for every north of the border.
The Sharks have several players who have represented Canada on their current roster, including Joe Thornton
, Dany Heatley and Manny Malhotra.
“It’s such a big thing in Canada,” said Heatley. “It’s Boxing Day and everyone is watching the World Juniors. To finally play in it is awesome.”
The pressure is immense on those players who are basically still kids, but those who rise to the occasion can make reputations that will last a hockey lifetime.
“It’s the biggest show in the country for four or five days,” said Heatley. “It’s such a tradition, everyone watches it.”
“The national attention is on the tournament and overnight you can become a household name,” said Malhotra.
When the tournament is in Canada as it is this year as the country hopes for a sixth straight title, the pressure can be unbelievable, but even in Europe it presents challenges just being part of Team Canada.
“When you play oversees, you don’t see the pressure as you would in Canada,” said Malhotra. “When it’s in Canada, it’s on every day.”Joe Thornton
was part of Canada’s drive for five and the thoughts Sharks Executive Vice President and General Manager Doug Wilson walked away with were of a dynamic team player. Thornton was the youngest player on the team, but earned his stripes the hard way.
“We think playing in the World Juniors is a great opportunity to show your capabilities,” said Wilson. “The profile of the event adds to a player’s experience. Joe started on the third or fourth line and earned his way up and had a great tournament.”
Still, the World Junior tournament isn’t everything as San Jose has learned over the years. The Sharks have numerous players like Rob Blake, Joe Pavelski
and Dan Boyle
, who have represented their countries at the highest level, yet who weren’t viewed as elite enough hockey players at a young age.
“I wasn’t even on the radar,” said Dan Boyle
. “I don’t think I was close to the radar.”
There are numerous Sharks players who maybe could easily have been selected, like Marc-Edouard Vlasic
, Pavelski and Devin Setoguchi, but it did not affect their NHL careers.
“There are some who with their numbers probably should have been selected,” said Jed Ortmeyer. “It’s better to be a late bloomer than an early bloomer.”
Ortmeyer is one proud fan of Team USA, but has to acknowledge cheering for the neighbors up north if the Americans have been knocked out.
“Obviously you cheer for your country,” said Ortmeyer. “If your country doesn’t win, then you cheer for the next big thing and it’s probably Canada. I think over the years, you’ve played with so many Canadians and you’ve played in Canadian cities, you get to know them quite a bit.”Thomas Greiss
makes for one of the few voices in the Sharks room who played in the prestigious event who is not Canadian, but the club has such a heavy Canadian flavor that there is not as much trash talk happening this tournament.
“When you are playing each other’s (country), there is a lot of poking and kidding going on,” said Malhotra. “This team is a little different. Usually you have a couple of Russians or Czechs.”
Still, if Sweden, Russia or the United States finds a way to win the tournament, the Canadians in the room can count on hearing from Douglas Murray
, Evgeni Nabokov or Ortmeyer.
HEY NOW, YOU’RE AN ALL-STAR
Two members of the Worcester Sharks have been selected to play in the AHL’s All-Star game for the Canadian side. They are forward Logan Couture
and defenseman Danny Groulx.
Couture, the NHL’s ninth overall pick in 2007, is having a fantastic rookie season, sitting tied for 13th in the league in scoring with 29 points (11+18=29) in just 20 contests. He leads all AHL rookies in points. He made his San Jose debut this year and posted his first career NHL goal and assist during 11 games.
Groulx’s 21 points (3+18=21) in 32 games ranks 10th among AHL blueliners.
The Sharks will host the Washington Capitals Wednesday night at HP Pavilion and tickets can be found at the HP Pavilion Ticket Office and at www.ticketmaster.com. The game will be on CSN California, 98.5 KFOX and sjsharks.com.