Nathan Paetsch has gone from the seventh defenceman last year to a pivotal blueliner this year.
For many children growing up in Canada, the dream of being able to don a red and white Team Canada jersey just once, drives them to push for greatness. For Nathan Paetsch - once just a little boy from a small town in Saskatchewan - that dream has come true, and not just once, but three times. With his selection to this year's edition of Team Canada for the IIHF World Junior Championship, Paetsch will make it four, and this time with a much larger role to play then on the previous occasions.
Paetsch grew up in LeRoy, Saskatchewan, a small prairie town of approximately 500 people that "owes a lot to the hog industry" according to Mayor Ervin McGrath, and features unserviced plots of land for only a dollar. Nathan excelled at hockey, and moreover as a natural athlete, competing both in badminton and track and field on a provincial level. Hockey, however, has been where he has enjoyed his greatest success, culminating with a 75 points in 74 games performance in his final year of midget hockey. Paetsch was thrilled later that year when Moose Jaw Warriors of the WHL selected him in the midget draft, meaning that he would continue to play his hockey in his home province. "It's awesome just living in Saskatchewan. I love the small town atmosphere, growing up in LeRoy and now playing in Moose Jaw which is one of the smallest cities in the WHL, it's been just great for me."
While at Moose Jaw, Nathan displayed himself as an offensive threat as well as a defensively responsible player, averaging nearly a point a game through three and a half seasons. This did not go unnoticed, as the Washington Capitols selected him in the second round of the 2001 draft, 58th overall.
In 2000, he had his first opportunity to wear the maple leaf on his chest, as he was selected as a member of the Western Canada entry in the World Under 17 challenge. Later that same year, he was selected to Team Canada for the Four Nations Under 18 Tournament held in Slovakia, where he would taste international success, as the team won the gold. For Nathan, wearing your country's colors is something that should be respected. "There's something special about wearing this maple leaf on your chest, it's a great feeling every time you put it on. There's a lot of pride that comes along with the jersey, and you're playing for a lot of people, not just your team."
Last year the 6'1" 195lb blueliner was selected to join the IIHF World Junior team as the seventh defenceman. This meant limited action for Paetsch, but an important role nonetheless. "I was spotted in for action here and there, and in the game that Dan Hamhuis went down in, I was called on for more. Just to be named with those other six defencemen, who are all just incredible hockey players, was quite an honor, and one I'll remember for all of my life.
This year Nathan has maintained his high level of play, and after an excellent camp he has been selected to Team Canada for the 2003 IIHF World Junior Championships to take place in Halifax. With this year's tournament comes a much more involved role for Paetsch, as he has risen from Canada's seventh blueliner, to one of its top three. "I hope to step up and play an increased role for the team this year. I bring experience this time around, being one of the older guys, and one of the guys who have been there, and knows how the tournament is run."
Not only does this tournament bring a different role for the Moose Jaw defenceman, it also brings with it a different atmosphere, as the majority of Nathan's international experience having been just that, international, taking place throughout Europe. This time though, the team has the luxury of being at home, one that Paetsch himself looks forward to. "You want to win on your home soil. It's always a big deal to win it, even in another country, but at home it is even more special. I expect it to be nuts inside the Metro Centre. I'm so excited to see that, and really I don't know how to prepare myself for it. I'm sure it's going to be wild here once the first game starts though."
Nathan Paetsch should feel right at home over the next few days as Team Canada embarks on an exhibition tour across Nova Scotia, including numerous small towns.