Just over three months ago they were the toast of the under-18 hockey world, celebrating a Canadian gold medal at the 2008 IIHF World Under-18 Championship in Kazan, Russia as underage players, 16-year-olds in a tournament dominated by 17-year-olds.
Now Matthew Duchene, Ryan Ellis, Taylor Hall and Brayden Schenn are back for more, looking to add a summer gold medal to their world championship crown.
The four have a rare opportunity, the chance to win a summer U18 title after winning a world championship gold, and will be looked upon to provide leadership as the National Men’s Summer Under-18 Team heads to Slovakia for the 2008 Memorial of Ivan Hlinka tournament, a role the returning players embrace.
“You always want to be a leader, whether it is off or on the ice,” says Schenn, who was named the WHL’s rookie of the year in 2007-08 with the Brandon Wheat Kings. “We’ve been through the grind before, and hopefully we can help some of the new guys through it."
One of the biggest adjustments will be getting used to a new culture, new food and a new time zone – Piestany is six hours ahead of the Eastern time zone (Kazan was eight).
Schenn says he has been taking extra care of his body, eating right and getting more sleep, in preparation of the trip across the Atlantic, something he will pass onto other players as the four-day selection camp progresses.
But Duchene, Ellis, Hall and Schenn know the world championship gold medal does not guarantee them a roster spot when the summer team is announced on Tuesday afternoon.
“We may have the experience of wearing the Canadian jersey,” says Schenn, “but we still have to come into camp and prove ourselves and show what we’re made of again. No one is going to hand us anything just because of one gold medal.”
So is there pressure to make head coach Bill Peters’ final cut? Not according to Ellis.
“Obviously there are expectations, and obviously they are bigger because of the world championship, but I don’t see it as pressure,” the Windsor Spitfires defenseman says. “If I just play my game, play how I always have, I think I’ll be fine.”
With four world champions and a host of other players ready to make a splash on the international stage as it aims for a fourth summer gold medal in five years, Canada should be just fine too.