Hurricanes players reflect on World Junior Championship experience

Peter Koutroumpis, Triangle Sports Network

Peter Koutroumpis, Triangle Sports NetworkTe

RALEIGH, N.C. – Carolina Hurricanes forward Zach Boychuk knows what it feels like to win a gold medal in his home country while playing in the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) World Junior Hockey Championship Tournament.

Boychuk holds two gold medals as a member of Team Canada in his possession – one from 2008 and another from 2009.

The second holds a little more significance, not only that it was Canada’s last triumph in the competition, but that it took place on home soil.

Following Canada’s 5-4 win over Russia on Monday, the first time in six years that the winningest country in the competition reclaimed its spot at the top of the pile, Boychuk could relate to what players like captain Curtis Lazar, Max Domi, and Conner McDavid, among others, felt in winning the tournament at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto.

“It’s great,” Boychcuk said.

“The last time I was in the tournament, we played in Ottawa, and to have that hometown camaraderie, the fans on your side, it’s a pretty cool atmosphere.”

While not every player in the tournament wins gold, let alone silver or bronze, the experience of playing in the marquee junior tournament in the world against current and future NHL prospects is an important accomplishment to have on your playing resume.

Boychuk was a member of those gold medal teams in 2008 (Pardubice, Czech Republic) and 2009 (Ottawa, Canada), and he served as an alternate captain during his final tour with the team.

Though not tallying any points in seven games played during his first WJHC tournament, playing with John Tavares to help Canada earn a fifth consecutive gold resulted in him scoring three goals and adding four assists to his international competition career totals.

He played that second tournament following being picked in the first round (14th overall) by the Hurricanes in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft.

Defenseman Michal Jordan played in the WJC over three years, and was the captain of the Czech Republic team in 2010 (Saskatoon, Canada).

In 18 total games played, he posted three points – a goal and two assists.

For him, the tournament represented the reward for hard work put in while growing up, playing and learning the game, as well as taking the next step towards a pro career.

Following his first year playing in the WJC, he was Carolina’s third pick in 2008 – selected 105th overall in the fourth round.

“It’s a great tournament,” Jordan said.

“You’re playing pretty much 16, 17 years. It’s a big tournament, so you’re kind of getting excited as it’s getting closer. As you find out you’ve made the team, it’s pretty exciting because it’s probably the biggest event you can make in junior hockey.”

Though Jordan’s teams didn’t medal during his time, the experience of playing against the top players in his peer group helped him to develop the maturity and outlook towards the game that he seems to be exhibiting while playing with the Hurricanes this season.

“There’s lots of pressure, but when I was playing, I just tried to enjoy it and not think about that,” Jordan said.

“I tried to make sure we played good as a team and if you are successful as a team, it will bring some more eyes on you. There are more people who recognize you. It’s a stepping stone in your career. You’re good in juniors, but you have to continue to improve every year and make it to the NHL.”

Rookie forward Victor Rask played most recently for Sweden and picked up gold and silver medals respectively in 2012 (Calgary, Canada) and 2013 (Ufa, Russia).

After being selected as the Hurricanes’ second pick (42nd overall) in the second round of the 2011 draft, Rask’s first tournament saw him post an assist in six games, but playing in his second as a more ‘seasoned’ junior, he notched two goals and two assists.

Though it was present, he never felt any added pressure playing in the tournament, even with the high profile that it held in showcasing current and future prospects.

“My first year we were in Calgary and I was playing for the Calgary Hitmen that year, and it was pretty awesome,” Rask said.

“There’s a lot of people there and the atmosphere was good there. I wouldn’t say there’s any different pressure – I always put pressure on myself – but everyone wants to help their team to win, so I don’t think there’s any special pressure because I was drafted.”

No doubt Canada’s dramatic triumph over Russia solidified the stature and outlook for McDavid to become the top pick in the upcoming 2015 NHL Draft, but with only one other player (Lawson Crouse) on the Canadian side eligible to be drafted this year, it might be the Russians who will see many of their players shoot up the draft board.

In helping Russia make its dramatic comeback attempt, players like Dmitri Yudin, Anatoli Golyshev, Alexander Dergachyov probably brought their stock up considerably by posting points in the championship game.

No doubt, a memorable tournament performance will endear a young player to many people watching – fans, scouts, coaches and GM’s alike – even before they ever step on the ice in the NHL.

“Everybody’s watchin’ it,” Boychuk said.

“Everybody wants to see who those next stars are. It’s perfect – it’s after Christmas – everybody’s tuned in. It’s a pretty exciting time, especially in Canada. It’s straight out competition. There are a lot of guys that can light up a young junior team where there’s 16 year-olds and 17-year olds who can put up points, but it’s the guys who really show up in the World Juniors, playing against your peers, the best players your age – 18 and 19 years old – that really shine. You knew right from those tournaments that Stamkos was gonna’ be a star – Giroux, John Tavares. You could tell because they dominated those tournaments. Now, they’re dominating in the NHL.”

Notes: Hurricanes prospect Sergey Tolchinsky tallied a goal and an assist in the gold-medal game and finished the tournament with four goals and an assist while taking home a well-earned silver…Forward Elias Lindholm also played alongside Rask on that silver-medal winning team in 2013…Forward Andrej Nestracil played on the 2010 Czech Republic team with Jordan as well as on the 2011 team. He posted 7 points (1g, 6a) in six games in 2010 tournament, and 3 points (1g, 2a) the following year.