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For World Junior Players, It's Business as Usual in an Unusual Situation

The August World Junior Championship won't get the love and fanfare it typically does, but for the participants, it's still the same event, and they're going to put everything on the line for gold like they would have done any other year.
2022 World Juniors

EDMONTON - Go look at your calendar for a second.

Did you spend last night around the fire opening Christmas presents with your loved ones? Did you burn a turkey? How did your plot to kill your inlaws go?

Wait a second. No. None of that happened. We're about to play the world's best junior hockey tournament in the middle of August, with little to no fanfare and controversy surrounding the host nation.

Welcome to the 2022 World Junior Championship, part two. The redo, electric boogaloo.

There's nothing normal about the tournament we usually spend weeks gushing over. It's a great opportunity to see the next talent early before they reach the NHL, made even more special by taking place in the middle of the holidays. People are happy, families are together and it's a perfect opportunity to get aquainted with the next crop of hockey talent.

For fans, it won't feel the same. Canada vs. Latvia doesn't have the same ring on August 10 as it does on December 26. The new equivalent of the New Year's Eve classic is now Monday, August 15.

It's. Just. Not. The. Same.

But it's a nice way to get out of the crazy heatwave we're all going through right now. And while the issues stemming around Hockey Canada can't, and won't, be ignored, it's an opportunity to cheer on the next crop of hockey stars, regardless of who you cheer for.

It's definitely different from the outside and won't get the same love and attention it's used to. But for the participants, it's still hockey, it's still what they love to do, and it's still the World Junior Championship. It doesn't matter to the players if they're winning in the heat of summer, nor did it matter to the United States when they beat Canada in front of an empty building in 2021.

This is what they're meant to do. To them, hockey is hockey. And a gold medal on the line is enough to stay motivated.

For many, this is a chance to fulfill the dream of winning the championship that was taken away from them in December to COVID-19. For others who didn't make their respective teams back then, this is a chance to prove why they're among the best junior players in the world.

Or at least, that's how they portray their feelings about it.

"It's the same challenge in the winter," Canadian forward Joshua Roy said. "We want to win the gold medal and we're going to do everything for it."

For Canadian captain Mason McTavish, his appearance was surprising. Shane Wright, Cole Perfetti and Owen Power were three major stars of the original 2022 team that elected to focus on the upcoming NHL season and skip the tournament. McTavish, a strong candidate to make the Anaheim Ducks out of training camp, played just about everywhere last year, including with the Ducks, in the AHL with San Diego, Peterborough and Hamilton in the OHL -- including a Memorial Cup appearance with the Bulldogs -- and internationally with Canada's World Junior and Olympic teams. He could have easily elected to focus on training camp.

But he felt like he had unfinished business.

"It's been a dream of mine to play in one of these, let alone even win one. That's our goal, is to win this thing."

Some players noted one of the biggest challenges was getting into playing shape. It's not uncommon for some European national teams to keep active during the summer, but for many players, the summer is about training, doing drills and keeping active. Getting into playing shape is a different story.

"The only difference is coming from training, instead of coming from games with your club," 2023 draft phenom Connor Bedard said about the difference of playing now compared to playing in December. "Other than that, it feels the same, kind of the aura around the tournament feels the same and I think our whole team is really pumped and excited to get back into games."

And perhaps this could give the potential NHLers a headstart on the competition heading to training camp. Instead of just focusing on drills and such, they're playing game action before anyone else. Could that help springboard the players like McTavish into a permanent NHL gig? We could know quite soon.

Some might put an asterisk on this event. It doesn't have true best-on-best vibes with most of the contenders missing top talent. The promotion hasn't been the same. You'll have a hard time getting some hockey fans to give a hoot in the dog days of summer. But for the diehards, this is still exciting hockey in an unusual time, and it's something we can all embrace.

The players sure have.

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