Defenceman Sam Jardine believes it happened at the World Junior A Challenge.
The 18-year-old from Lacombe, Alta., thinks he first caught the eye of the Chicago Blackhawks while playing for Canada West in the tournament last year in Penticton, B.C.
That look had the Blackhawks tracking the Camrose Kodiak through the Alberta Junior Hockey League playoffs and RBC Cup national championship. Chicago drafted Jardine in the sixth round (169th overall) of the NHL draft in June.
The annual international tournament showcasing Canada's top Junior A players, as well as players from other countries, opens doors in hockey, Jardine says.
“It might have been where I got noticed for the first time and they were maybe able to keep notes on me through playoffs and RBC Cup,” Jardine said. “It promotes young players in Canada, no doubt about it, and gives kids an opportunity to play in front of pro-level scouts.
“I thought I had a pretty good tournament and I was able to carry that momentum into the rest of the season. I was fortunate enough to get a look from Chicago and they had the confidence to take me.”
The 2011 World Junior A Challenge opens Monday in Langley, B.C., featuring Sweden, Russia, the United States, Czech Republic and two teams from Canada – Canada East and Canada West.
The teams are made up of players born between 19.
Canada East faces the Czechs and three-time defending champion U.S. takes on Sweden to open the tournament. Canada West starts Tuesday against the Swedes and the Czechs take on Russia that day.
Notable players who have appeared in this tournament include Phoenix Coyotes forward Kyle Turris, Florida Panthers defenceman Dmitri Kulikov, Winnipeg Jets centre Alexander Burmistrov and Columbus Blue Jackets defenceman John Moore. First-round draft picks include Joe Colborne (Boston), Jaden Schwartz (St. Louis) and Nikita Filatov (Columbus).
Canada's players are the same age as those in the Quebec, Ontario and Western major junior hockey leagues. The main difference is NCAA schools view the QMJHL, OHL and WHL as professional and those players aren't eligible for NCAA scholarships.
Players in the Canadian Junior Hockey League are. Jardine has committed to play for Ohio State in 2012-13.
The six-foot-one, 190-pound defender is back at the World Junior A Challenge to lead Canada West to what he hopes is a better result in Langley.
Canada East fell 6-4 to the Americans in the gold-medal game as the U.S. triumphed for the third straight year.
Canada West didn't reach the final in Penticton for the first time in the five-year history of the tournament. Winners of the first two in 20, it lost to Switzerland in the bronze-medal game last year.
“That's a little frustrating,” Jardine admitted. “Just because you could sense the passion of the fans and you kind of got the sense you had let them down.
“It's something I've had in the back of my mind since that tournament ended, that this year is time for some redemption because finishing fourth place was just unacceptable.”
But the experience otherwise was a landmark in Jardine's career because he both donned a Canadian jersey and faced international competition for the first time in his hockey career.
“You think you're just competing with people from Canada to get to the next level, to get a college scholarship or to get to the NHL, but it's pretty eye-opening,” he said. “You've got another 10,000 people in Sweden, Switzerland and Russia trying to do exactly what you're trying to do.”
Okotoks defenceman Rhett Holland, Vernon defenceman Luke Juha and Penticton forward Travis St. Denis join Jardine as tournament veterans on Canada West, which draws players from Thunder Bay and west.
Canada East's players are drawn from Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada. Cornwall forwards Tylor Spink and Tyson Spink as well as Oakville defender Phil Hampton are returning players from last year's tournament silver medallist.
The gold medal game Nov. 13 will be shown on TSN and RDS (check local listings).
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