Logan Stankoven knows he and the rest of the Canadian team will be under scrutiny as the World Junior Hockey Championship begins.
Not only will the team play on home soil when they face Latvia in their first game of the tournament on Wednesday, but they will also do so during a period of intense testing of Canadian ice hockey.
Hockey players across the country are used to being under a microscope, Stankoven said.
“I don’t think it matters who the player or the team is – hockey is a big thing in the country of Canada and it kind of brings people together,” he said, noting that he grew up in Kamloops, BC watched everything players did on the Kamloops Blazers.
“So I think the spotlight is always on us no matter what and you want to be a great role model for the younger kids.”
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Hockey Canada was met with criticism as the 10-team tournament got underway in Edmonton on Tuesday.
The national sporting body has come under heavy criticism in recent months for its handling of sexual assault allegations made against members of former world youth teams.
The allegations led to parliamentary inquiries and the federal government has frozen its funding of the organization.
Big-name sponsors – including Telus and Canadian Tire – followed suit, leaving the ice at Rogers Place free of advertising and the surrounding boards without the usual logos.
The players are largely isolated from the events, said goalkeeper Dylan Garand of Team Canada.
“The people at Hockey Canada, the staff mentioned above, have done a really good job of making sure and letting us know that they care about things off the ice. And our job is to focus on the ice and our group,” he said. “So it was good and I wouldn’t say there’s any extra pressure on us. We just focus on hockey.”
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The buzz and excitement that surrounded the inaugural 2022 tournament in Edmonton and Red Deer, Alta., is largely absent.
That iteration was canceled after just four days on December 29, as rising COVID-19 cases among players and officials forced games to be lost.
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The postponement of the August release means some players may need longer to get up to speed, Czech Republic head coach Radim Rulik said.
“There’s definitely a big difference in terms of players’ bodies because they’re obviously in the middle of the season in December,” he said through a translator on Tuesday. “But (I) think as far as the tournament goes, it will go back to normal because young players are very adaptable.”
The World Juniors are a showcase of the best U20 players around the world, but the International Ice Hockey Federation has allowed athletes born in 2002 who are already 20 years old to compete in this summer’s championship.
Despite the realigned eligibility, several big Canadian talents are missing from the tournament, including former captain Kaiden Guhle (a potential Montreal Canadiens pick) and defenseman Owen Power, the Buffalo Sabers’ first overall pick in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft. Forward Shane Wright, who was drafted at the Draft 2022 finished fourth overall by the Seattle Kraken last month is also missing.
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Team Canada is led by Regina Pats forward Connor Bedard and Kent Johnson, who was part of the men’s Olympic team that finished sixth at the Beijing games.
Mason McTavish also wore the Maple Leaf at the Olympics and is the captain of the Canadian crew in Edmonton.
“It means so much to me. Of course I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t want to,” he said. “I love playing hockey and competing. The World Junior Tournament is one of the best tournaments in the world. To be here and to be captain of this team is so humbling for me. I’m really looking forward to Wednesday.”
The postponed 2022 tournament also lacks a major competitive threat, with the International Ice Hockey Federation banning Russia from the competition over the country’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine.
Unlike previous versions of the event, tickets for the 2022 World Junior Championships are still available through Ticketmaster, including around 1,300 for Wednesday’s tilt between Canada and Latvia. More than 1,500 places are still up for grabs for the last game of the 11-day tournament.
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Fewer than 200 people were in the stands for Tuesday’s first game of the tournament, an afternoon tournament between Slovakia and the Czech Republic.
Slovakia (0-1-0) took a 2-0 lead before the end of the first period, but the Czechs (1-0-0) fought back to claim a 5-4 win.
The lack of spectators didn’t bother Slovakia striker Servac Petrovsky.
“I wasn’t surprised because it’s a 12 o’clock game,” he said.
Back in Slovakia it was 8pm when the puck fell, so more people were probably watching on TV, he added.
More places were empty as Finland (1-0-0) clinched a crucial 6-1 win over Latvia (0-0-1) later in the day.
The defending champions from the USA made it easy for themselves when they defeated Germany 5-1 in the final game of the day on Tuesday.
© 2022 The Canadian Press
https://globalnews.ca/news/9049728/2022-team-canada-world-juniors-hockey-championship/ ‘Under a Microscope’: Team Canada prepares for World Juniors