As the 2003 IIHF World U20 Championship draws closer, Halifax, one of the host cities, is buzzing with excitement. The Halifax Metro Centre is growing busier, and signs are popping up all over the city to welcome the World Junior players. Hockey fans in Halifax, and around the world are waiting in anticipation for the tournament to begin on December 26th. Their excitement can only be rivaled by that of the several young men who are in the city for Team Canada’s final Selection Camp.
For many of the players, this year’s World Junior’s will be their second or third shot at a gold medal, however there are a few who have never worn the Canadian maple leaf in international competition. Erik Christensen, Corey Locke, Matt Stajan and Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau are four of the Canadian hopefuls who are looking forward to possibly representing their country for the first time in their young careers.
"I haven’t stopped smiling since the day I found out I was coming," beams Locke. The 18 year old forward from Newmarket Ontario is a member of the Ottawa 67’s of the OHL. "It was kind of a surprise for me; I wasn’t involved in the summer evaluation camp. Brandon Bell, a teammate in Ottawa, called me about two weeks ago and asked if I had received a call yet. When I told him no, he said that I was named to come to the selection camp. It was great to hear it from a teammate."
Matt Stajan explains a similar situation. "My uncle called me first, and then not too much later the rest of the family found out and started calling. It’s an honor to be here with 35 of the best players in Canada." After feeling a little nervous before the first practice, Stajan, a native of Mississauga Ontario and a member of the OHL’s Belleville Bulls, felt as though his nerves were settling down a bit. "It’s such an honor to wear your country’s flag. When you put that jersey on you know that you can’t give anything but your best."
Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau has a lot to be excited about. Not only is he looking forward to possibly having the chance to play with his cousin Pierre-Marc Bouchard again, but he’s also thrilled to be living out a dream.
"When I was six or sever years old I started to watch the World Junior’s on television at Christmas time." Now, a 19 year old player with the Chicoutimi Sagueneens of the QMJHL, Parenteau is putting all of his effort into his first National Team camp. "We have to work very hard during the practices and games; there is a lot of talent." In his hometown of Edmonton Alberta, Erik
Christensen’s family and friends are cheering him on. So are his teammates in Kamloops British Columbia. He’ll turn 19 on December 17th and is hoping to receive an early gift; to be named to the National Junior Team for the first time. "My agent called me at eight o’clock in the morning and woke me up to tell me I had made the roster for the selection camp. I really don’t think it has hit me yet."
Team Canada will announce its final roster for the 2003 World Junior’s on December 16th. After being a little bit nervous in the beginning, all four of the first time players feel as though they’ve settled down a bit. "It was good to break the ice with the other players at our first practice yesterday," explains Christensen.
The World Junior Hockey Championship has always played a part in Christmas time traditions for these young men. As Matt Stajan puts it "opening presents and watching the World Junior’s was just what we did." These talented and determined young men are hoping that those traditions may change slightly this year. They’re all hoping that they will realize their dreams of representing their country and proudly wearing the Canadian flag on their chest. They are hoping that they won’t be opening Christmas presents watching the tournament, they want to be playing in it.