Playing in the National Hockey League and representing your country - for a 19 year old hockey player there are no higher goals.
To do both within a month of each other would be a dream come true, and for three members of Canada=s World Junior Hockey Championship team, that dream has become a reality. Carlo Colaiacovo, Steve Eminger, and Piere-Marc Bouchard are all at training camp here in Halifax, and their presence has Canadian fans excited about the prospects of returning to junior hockey prosperity.
The three got the chance to wet their feet in the NHL this season before answering the call-to-action from Team Canada's Head Coach, Marc Habscheid. We expect leadership from a lot of places on this team, said Habscheid, we can only expect those guys have learned a lot from the experiences they gained at the pro level.
The Canadian Men's team has gone a different route this year in recruiting, based on a formula put together by Wayne Gretzky at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics. A new emphasis is being placed on putting the best players available on the ice, rather than drafting by reputation or position, but, make no mistake about it, Colaiacovo, Eminger, and Bouchard all warrant their pro-billing.
Colaiacovo was a first round draft pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2001, and is also one of four returning players from the 2002 silver-medal squad. His 2003 season began with the Maple Leafs, as he made his way through training camp and earned a spot on the club's opening night roster. He played two games with the Leafs before being sent back to his junior club, the Erie Otters. He has been averaging better than a point a game with the Otters since his return and the experience in the NHL, however brief, has not been lost on him. AI tried to learn so much,Colaiacovo said when asked about playing with the Leafs, and I hope to play a bigger role with the team this year. Hopefully I'll be counted on for leadership skills.Colaiacovo hopes to switch roles from being a pupil to being a teacher, being the oldest player at the Canada's selection camp. He hopes to spread the wisdom he gained at the NHL level to his younger teammates.
Eminger was a late addition to the Canadian camp, and like Colaiacovo, he is no stranger to the IIHF junior tournament. He was a member of the team which lost to the Russians last January and that fact is not lost on him. AI cant wait to see them again,@ he said. Also like Colaiacovo, Eminger earned a spot in the NHL this season with the Washington Capitals. Eminger had been a regular on Washington's blueline before being reassigned to play for Canada. He hopes to bring the dexterity to this tournament that comes with playing in 17 regular season NHL games. Playing alongside a perennial all-star like Sergei Gonchar, and a former World Junior standout Jason Doig, should have Eminger prepared to lead this year's squad.
For Pierre Marc Bouchard the 2003 season has been a dream come true, joining the ranks of an exciting young team, the Minnesota Wild. He has played alongside NHL sniper Marian Gaboric and shown that he has the skill to fit in. In 14 games this season he has recorded five points, in about 13 minutes of ice-time per game. Bouchard=s pro experience will be a welcomed addition to Team Canada, as most international teams are known more for their speed, and his exposure to the professional game should give him an advantage. The smallest player on the team, Bouchard is poised to step into the role created by former national junior team player Brandon Reid, who's demure frame and lightning speed sparked the Canadian squad two years ago when he lead the team in scoring. Ironically, Reid played locally for the Halifax Mooseheads.
The conclusion of the 2003 season may or may not see a return to the NHL for Colaiacovo, Eminger, or Bouchard. But for now, all three possess the poise, maturity, and skill to help lead Canada back to the top of the medal podium on home ice in Halifax, an accomplishment that could be the pinnacle of a dream season.