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The IIHF World Junior Championships started yesterday. It's an annual tournament which bring in the top junior-elibigble players from around the world. This year's tournament is being held in Calgary and Edmonton.
Canada is usually the favorite in the tournament, but primary rivals Russia and the United States won gold in the last two years respectively.
Penguins defenseman Matt Niskanen (above, with Finland's Jesse Joensuu) represented the United States in 2006 when the tournament was held in Vancouver. He shared his memories of the tournament and what it was like being an American playing in rival Canada.
How unique is this tournament?
"It’s kind of a special honor sporting your nation’s colors. It’s a different feel than an NHL (regular season) game or an NHL playoff game. You play with players you don’t normally play with during the regular season but you have that special bond kind of, just from being from the States."
What makes it unique?
"What I remember is how hungry the kids are. Every kid there is so hungry. Everyone is on the verge of cracking an NHL line up that next season or in a couple of years. Players are so hungry to get better and try to make an impression in that tournament. And you do it while representing your country so it’s a pretty intense tournament."
You played in 2006 when the tournament was in Vancouver. What is it like for an American to play that tournament when it's in Canada?
"It’s a hostile environment for sure. It’s probably the biggest stage a lot of those kids have played on to date. It was for me at that point. We played Canada at the old Pacific Coliseum and that place was rocking. It felt like the gold medal at the Olympics. It was an intense game. There’s a lot riding on that tournament."
What memories stand out for you from the tournament you were in?
"The Canada game was really fun. We played really well in that game. That was a heck of a hockey game. Really intense. At that point in my career, that was the most intense hockey game I had been a part of. Then I remember playing against ‘Geno’ (Evgeni Malkin) in the (semifinals). They (Russia) spanked us, 5-1. He was pretty impressive in that game. That kind of stands out too, just how dominant he was, even at that level."
How much do you keep up on the tournament now that your a professional?
"Definitely kind of keep an eye on the tournament, rooting for the U.S. It’s a cool experience for each group of kids that get to go to that tournament."
(Photo: Dave Sandford/Getty Images)
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