Helsinki, Finland is a European capital. Grand Forks isn’t even the capital of North Dakota. Naturally, the 2005 World Junior Hockey Championship is going to be a little different from last year’s event for players returning to Canada’s National Junior Team.
According to Jeff Carter, Helsinki may have Grand Forks beat in European flair, but Grand Forks reigns supreme in at least one area – food.
“I think it’s a totally different tournament. Going over to Europe and playing, it’s a totally different lifestyle. There’s no sunlight and we’re not used to the food.”
The advantages to the tournament’s return to North America don’t stop at the dinner plate, however. Grand Forks’ proximity to Canada brings both a similar way of life and the Team Canada faithful.
Nigel Dawes, also a tournament veteran, said the crowd support was something the team didn’t necessarily enjoy in Finland.
“Last year, the first game against Finland and the gold medal game were sold out … pretty much every game this year we have a hometown crowd,” he said. “It just gets the adrenaline going more than it already is.”
For newcomers to the team, such as defenceman Shea Weber, the North American setting doesn’t take away from a completely new experience.
“It’s really all been kind of surprise to me, everything’s kind of new. To finally get a taste of international play, it’s kind of a little bit different.”
Weber felt his first taste of international play has been pleasant thus far, especially playing in Grand Forks’ Ralph Engelstad Arena.
“This is a beautiful facility. I’ve never seen anything like it,” he said, “It’s really top class and it’s enjoyable to be out there playing.”
When it comes to playing host to the tournament, Dawes believes Grand Forks is doing an excellent job. The Winnipeg native is no stranger to the city. He said he spent some time playing in hockey tournaments in Grand Forks when he was younger.
“They (the people of Grand Forks) really embrace the tournament, and it’s really been first class the whole tournament.”
Weber agreed, saying the whole town seems to be involved. “The town is going wild … it’s unbelievable to play here.”
When it comes to what happens on the ice, Team Canada looks to make Grand Forks different from Helsinki in a big way. In the wake of last year’s loss to the United States in the final, winning the gold medal in Grand Forks would be even sweeter.
The team is definitely equipped to bring home the gold at this year’s World Juniors. A number of players have returned, such as Dawes and Carter, giving Team Canada a very familiar look
“There are a lot of similarities obviously with 12 guys coming back,” Carter said, “It’s basically the same team with a few extra new guys, but things are going well.”
Things are going well indeed for Team Canada. Like last year, they earned the first seed in their group after preliminary play.
However, the question of whether Canada can turn silver into gold in Grand Forks will remain unanswered for the time being.