MANNHEIM, Germany – Tyler Myers takes a little extra pride in pulling the Canadian sweater over his head.
The hulking defenceman is part of the national team for the third time at the IIHF World Hockey Championship and feels as good as ever about the difficult decision he made two years ago. Born in Houston and raised in Calgary from the age of 10, Myers had to choose between playing internationally for Canada or the U.S.
Most players in that position opt to go with the country where they have the best chance of being picked for the national team. But Myers looked at it differently.
“It was tough, I was born in the States,” he said Sunday. “I based my decision on, if I hadn’t of moved to Canada, I probably wouldn’t be where I am today. I don’t even think I’d be playing hockey right now.
“I just feel I owe Canada a lot and it feels good to put on the red and white.”
He appears destined for an important role with this Canadian team.
Brent Burns was the only defenceman to see more ice time in Canada’s tournament-opening 5-1 win over Italy on Saturday. The six-foot-eight Myers offers the rare package of size and speed, a skill-set that is arguably even more valuable on the bigger international ice surface.
“You never see that combination of size and (grace) as a skater,” said Canadian coach Craig MacTavish. “He skates like a guy that’s five-foot-six – not six-foot-seven or whatever he is. You know, he covers a lot of ice.”
Canada will have to deal with a tougher opponent when it faces Latvia on Monday (TSN, 2:15 p.m. ET).
Even though the Latvians only have two North American-based pros (including Ottawa Senators prospect Kaspars Daugavins), their roster includes 12 players that are teammates with Dinamo Riga of the KHL. Familiarity is one area where they’ll have an edge over Canada.
“They play together and they find a way to develop that chemistry,” said Canadian captain Ryan Smyth, who was walking gingerly following Sunday’s practice.
The veteran forward rolled his ankle and repeatedly grimaced while sitting out a drill, but ended up returning to the ice for the rest of the skate. Afterwards, he said the injury wasn’t too serious.
MacTavish kept his line pairings intact Sunday and will likely give them at least one more game together before making any changes.
The roster also appears to be set. Even though NHL teams have started getting knocked out of the second round of the playoffs, general manager Mark Messier isn’t burning up the phone lines in an effort to add some help.
“It would have to be a special player and a special situation to do it now,” said Messier.
The Canadian GM told a group of European reporters that his squad will have to overcome its lack of experience to bring home the country’s first world championship gold since 2007.
He’s putting his faith in players like the 20-year-old Myers, who recently completed his rookie season with the Buffalo Sabres and was nominated for the Calder Trophy along with Canadian teammate Matt Duchene. The big defenceman has exceeded his own expectations over the past year.
“It’s gone really well,” said Myers. “I really have to thank the guys in Buffalo?they took me in and made that jump from junior for me really comfortable. I owe them everything.
“It was definitely one of the most exciting years for me.”
He’s come a long way from the kid who started playing his minor hockey in the U.S. sunbelt. In fact, the minor hockey coaches in Calgary didn’t expect very much from a 10-year-old Myers after he arrived in the city.
“When I went in for my first tryout, they thought a kid from Texas wasn’t going to be very good so they started me out in division eight tryouts,” said Myers. “I spent three and a half hours on the ice the first day working my way up. So it was pretty tiring.”
Had Myers chosen to compete internationally for the U.S., there’s a good chance he would have been part of the Olympic team in Vancouver. Instead, he was at home rooting for Canada?only feeling slightly torn because the American goalie was his Sabres teammate Ryan Miller.
The Canadian players can empathize with how difficult the decision must have been for Myers and respect him for it.
“I’m glad I was never put in that position,” said teammate John Tavares. “Playing for Canada, I think he made the right choice. But of course it’s not an easy decision for any kid. …
“I think most Canadians, including myself, are happy Tyler chose to play for us.”