REGINA — Players suiting up at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge know one thing before they step on the ice.
There are few moments more special than pulling your national team’s jersey over your equipment, standing at the blue line for the national anthems and representing a region, or country. It’s an honour even the most accomplished players here know is bestowed upon a chosen few, even as they dress for their first international competition.
“It’s been awesome and a true honour,” said Ontario forward John Tavares. “It’s something I will probably never forget in my life. Hopefully one day I will get to represent my country, not only my province.”
Tavares doesn’t want the honour to stop at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge. The 15-year-old Oshawa Generals forward hopes to eventually don Canada’s colours for the Under-18 team and the Under-20 team currently playing in British Columbia. Tavares said the atmosphere of an international event like this one will prepare him for the challenges he will face chasing his ultimate dream.
“The lifestyle at the hotel, the way you eat, the way the game is played, the way you interact with your teammates, the trainers and the travel, all of that affects the way you play (here),” Tavares said.
West captain Brett Leffler, who plays with the WHL Regina Pats, believes the experience will make him a well-rounded hockey player.
“It’s different hockey and different refereeing,” Leffler said. “It’s a little adjustment, but I think it’s about playing with different guys that you haven’t played with before, making new friends. It’s pretty great honour to play for your country.”
Sam Gagner, Ontario’s captain, said competing in an international event gives him exposure to elite-level hockey. The honour of wearing Canada’s jersey is one he doesn’t take lightly, and he is more aware of what that privilege truly means after this week.
“You have to know every game counts. We got off to a slow start and it came back to hurt us. Just knowing that for future tournaments will help,” Gagner said.