Saskatoon ready to drop the puck
By Kevin Mitchell, The StarPhoenix
December 26, 2009
A rally for Team Canada was held Thursday at TCU Place
Photograph by: SP Photo by Richard Marjan, The StarPhoenixJunior hockey's version of the United Nations moves into frigid Saskatchewan this week. And we're pretty sure there will be just as much bickering.
If it wasn't this, it might have been the Memorial Cup.
The IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship, which faces off today in both Saskatoon and Regina, overtook a Saskatoon Blades' plan to bid for this spring's Memorial Cup.
They knew they could do just one or the other, and when Hockey Canada handed Saskatchewan a key to the world's best junior players, the Blades had their answer. They took the Canadian and American teams off their table-top game and moved a more eclectic collection of players into the slots.
So, hey, Latvia -- welcome to Saskatchewan. You too, Switzerland.
There are as many aspirations coming into this event as there are languages. Some teams simply want to avoid getting relegated to the B-pool for next year. Other teams want to make the playoff round. Some know they have a realistic shot at a medal, and others -- Sweden, Russia and the U.S.A., to be exact -- want a crack at ending Canada's five-year victory streak.
The Swedes, who lost 5-1 to Canada in last year's title game, look especially tantalizing and may have the talent to topple the hosts.
The Canadians, meanwhile, know anything less than gold would constitute a failure.
This country does not handle losing well, not when it comes to hockey, and especially when it comes to high-profile international hockey.
Silver, goes the Canadian line of hockey thinking, is for losers, and bronze medals might as well go back into the soil from whence they were mined.
That's the kind of pressure facing these teenagers who -- for a week and a half -- carry the weight of a nation's puck hopes on their shoulder pads.
Three of those players hail straight from Saskatchewan and knew early on they wanted to jump into this maelstrom.
"You don't want to get too cocky and say you're going to play in it, but it's still exciting because it's here," Jared Cowen, who grew up in Allan and plays with the Spokane Chiefs, said the day Hockey Canada formally announced the event was coming to Saskatchewan. "Regardless of whether I'm playing in it, my parents will get tickets."
A year and a half later, Cowen's parents won't have to worry about sharing their passes with him. Instead, he'll share his passes with Patrice Cormier, Taylor Hall and friends.
The 6-foot-5 defenceman is wearing a No. 22 Team Canada jersey and proudly patrolling the blue line. Brayden Schenn is the first player born and raised in Saskatoon to crack a Team Canada world junior roster since Danny Arndt in 1975. Regina's Jordan Eberle, one of six returnees, needs no introduction: His goal with 5.4 seconds to play at last year's worlds semi-final against the Russians tied the game at five, and his shootout winner played an instrumental role in netting Canada's fifth straight title.
Then there's Team Canada head coach Willie Desjardins, who was born in Climax and played university hockey in Saskatoon, where he returns for a crack at a world championship.
The whole bunch of them open their world championship defence today at 3 p.m. in what we expect is a very winnable game against Latvia. Slovakia plays the United States at 7 p.m.
In Regina -- where the tougher of the two pools takes up residence -- the Czech Republic plays Sweden and Russia plays Austria.
And just like that, with a puck drop here and a whistle there, Canada's post-Christmas tradition moves into Saskatchewan and settles in for the long haul.
On Jan. 6, we'll let you know how the big party turned out.
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