He has been widely hailed as hockey’s next great superstar.
But John Tavares will take nothing for granted when it comes to the 2009 IIHF World Junior Championship in Ottawa.
“I’m just trying to prove myself again, to make sure I have a spot on the team,” the 18-year-old phenom from Oakville, ON, said during Canada’s summer development camp held at the University of Ottawa.
Tavares says this even after sharing the Canadian goal-scoring lead at the 2008 World Juniors in the Czech Republic (four, with Kyle Turris) and racking up nine points – second overall among those wearing the red maple leaf – during last summer’s Canada/Russia Super Series. But he hasn’t forgotten he went into the last World Juniors as the 13th forward on a deep, talented Canadian squad.
“If I could be the 13th forward again, it would be another great opportunity,” said Tavares. “I excelled in that situation last year and it was great for me. Whatever situation I’m put in, I’ll be thankful, I’ll be pleased and I’ll work really hard.”
With the IIHF World Junior Championship returning to Canada – the tournament runs December 26 to January 5 at Scotiabank Place and the Ottawa Civic Centre – Tavares is especially enthused about the prospect of suiting up in Canadian colours again.
“It’s unbelievable. Not many guys get this chance,” said the Oshawa Generals forward. “If I can get that opportunity, it’s going to be special, especially in Ontario. It’s close to home for me and it would be special.”
Canada has won the last four World Junior golds and the pressure will be high to add a record-tying fifth straight title in front of the home fans. In Tavares’s mind, though, it’s no different than any other year.
“There’s a lot of pressure to win gold,” he said. “Every year, and rightfully so, we don’t expect anything less than gold. Being at home, the expectations are even higher because we’ve got the home-ice advantage and the home crowd support.
“But I think a lot of guys will take the opportunity and drive with it. Playing at home, you don’t get that chance very often, so it’ll be a lot of fun for the guys who make the team.”
Even after the tournament ends, the pressure will hardly lift from Tavares’ shoulders.
That’s just the way it is when you’re among the frontrunners to be the first overall pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft in Montreal.
“I know there’s a little more importance on this year, maybe more than the others I’ve played,” said Tavares, who set a Canadian Hockey League record by scoring 72 goals for the Generals as a 16-year-old in 2006-07. “But I try to take everything the same, have a good attitude and do my best to improve every day and get where I want to be.”
He’s aware this might be his last crack at playing in the World Juniors and plans to savour it.
“My goal is to get drafted as high as I can and hopefully play in the NHL next season,” said Tavares. “So definitely, I know (the 2009 tournament) might be my last world championship. It’ll be special having it at home.”