A unique aspect of the IIHF World Junior Championship is that the best
players from teams across Canada come together in a new environment to
compete on the international stage.
But for Sebastian Cossa, Dylan Guenther, Kaiden Guhle and Jake Neighbours,
this won’t be the first time that they’ll take the ice as teammates. This
isn’t even their first time playing together at Rogers Place.
The four members of Canada’s National Junior Team all play their junior
hockey with the Edmonton Oil Kings of the Western Hockey League (WHL), who
call the World Juniors venue home (along with the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers).
While this may be the first time playing on an NHL rink for many players,
it’s just another day at the office for these Oil Kings.
“I think it’s kind of a full-circle moment,” says Neighbours. “I grew up in
Airdrie, but I got a lot of family in Edmonton and played a lot of hockey
in Edmonton growing up. Then being with the Oil Kings, I’ve spent the last
four seasons in Edmonton… I think it’s pretty special that [the World
Juniors] is going to be in Alberta.”
With Edmonton a five-hour drive from Cossa’s hometown of Fort McMurray,
Alta., he says it couldn’t have worked out better.
“It’s a pretty familiar building for us,” the goaltender says. “Before our
last game with the Oil Kings, I took a second to look around. There’s maybe
4,000 or 5,000 people there and it’s still pretty empty. But you know, just
thinking [about the fans] the next time I was going to be in here… it was
Not only did the quartet get a home-ice advantage when they earned their
Team Canada roster spots, they also put their names in the record books.
It’s just the fifth time four members of the same team have played together
at the World Juniors, after the Medicine Hat Tigers (1988), Kamloops
Blazers (1996), Windsor Spitfires (2010) and Niagara IceDogs (2012).
“The four of us have each other to lean on and I think that’s really
important,” Neighbours says. “It’s definitely a different type of
relationship with those three… it’s just a completely different aspect when
you play with a guy on your club hockey team.”
“Those three guys really have your back, so I think it helps a lot,” Cossa
With only three players returning, the World Juniors will be a new
experience for most of Team Canada. Returnees are key, and the Oil Kings
quartet has one of them – Guhle, the Team Canada captain who notched two
goals and an assist in seven games last year.
While he’s a Team Canada veteran, Guhle is an Oil Kings rookie – he was
traded to the Oil Kings by the Prince Albert Raiders on Dec. 1, the same
day the selection camp roster was announced.
“I think he’s been a good leader,” Cossa says of what he’s gleaned from the
blue-liner so far. “He’s a guy you can talk to about even the small things
like dress code or in practices, what they did last year.”
“Me, Guenther and Cossa, we’re kind of rookies I guess to the World Juniors
tournament, but having a best friend like Guhle who's been through it is
obviously very helpful,” Neighbours says.
Guhle, who was captain of the Raiders before the trade to Edmonton, is not
the only Oil King with experience wearing the ‘C’. Neighbours serves as
captain of the Oil Kings, which he says is a “huge honour” for him. The
19-year-old will also sport a letter on his jersey during the World Juniors
as an alternate captain alongside Cole Perfetti.
“I’m pretty familiar with most of the faces here, so it makes it easier for
me to try and use my voice and lead by example,” he says. “I just try to
bring that leadership, that comfortability for guys to come talk or someone
who can kind of joke around with when you come to these types of events.”
As the tournament approaches, Cossa and Neighbours are looking forward to
donning the Maple Leaf on their chests, but they are also happy to compete
for gold in a familiar atmosphere.
“It can be a lot of pressure and a lot of different feelings playing for a
different team,” Neighbours says. “I think for the four of us, just having
that comfortability of walking out that same hallway that we do our job at
every single day throughout the season is going to be kind of comforting.
Hopefully it gives a sense of home and kind of relaxes our nerves a little
At the end of the day, all four players are grateful to have familiar faces
by their sides as they embark on this special journey with Team Canada.
“[It’s] the memories that we’re going to make here,” Cossa says. “Even when
we go back to our junior club… [the] four of us will have built an even
better bond and friendship here.”
“If you can muster up the strength and win the gold medal, you build
relationships that never die,” Neighbours adds. “That's something I can do
with three of my friends that I call my best friends already and with guys
who you don't get to see as much throughout the year, but definitely create
a bond that'll last forever.”