The Dallas Stars have lost five of their last seven games and understandably there hasn’t been much for the under-achieving team to be happy about this season.
However, reminiscing about their days in junior and having the opportunity to represent their country at the IIHF World Junior Championship as teenagers does give players John Klingberg and Ales Hemsky something to smile about.
“I got the opportunity to play in Buffalo and Calgary,” says Klingberg, referring to his time wearing the Sweden jersey in 2011 and 2012. “It’s a big thing over there it helps with the routines and stuff too.”
During his two tournaments the 22-year-old rookie for the Stars recorded five points in 12 games. The 2011 team finished fourth in Buffalo, but the 2012 had much greater success, which would make it no surprise that it was his time in Calgary that highlighted his World Junior career.
“Obviously when we won the gold,” says Klingberg, simply.
Though this winter will mark three years since the 6-foot-1 blueliner, put on the blue and gold jersey, Klingberg admits that he still tries to make time to watch the tournament when he can.
“Yeah of course, last year was in Sweden and I was playing, so I was trying to watch all the games when I wasn’t playing,” says Klingberg. “It’s growing in Sweden, it’s probably one of the biggest sports events of the year there. Of course I try to keep up with it.”
He also admits that during his earlier career he has found that many players around the league still talk about the tournament and admits he has come to expect some trash talking from his teammates.
“Yeah probably a little a bit,” says Klingberg, about whether guys will be giving each other the business. “I talk to a lot of the young guys about it and guys on other teams about it, obviously it's a big thing in Canada and in the USA for two weeks.”
Unlike Klingberg, who has played just a dozen games in the NHL, Hemsky has played a dozen seasons, but to the first-round pick in 2001, he also feels the tournament is something really memorable.
“It was very special for a young guy like me or anybody else,” says Hemsky. “It’s special to represent your country and just to build your career.”
Hemsky suited up for the Czech Republic at the 2002 installment of the tournament, and though he and his fellow countrymen finished seventh, the fact that the tournament was played in his hometown of Pardubice made it that more special for the 31-year-old.
“It was nice, I think I was 18 or 19 and my first World Juniors was in the Czech Republic and was in my home city,” says Hemsky. “So it was pretty cool spending time with my family and just playing in front of them.”
Hemsky didn’t disappoint playing in front of his loved ones, finishing tied for second in the tournament in scoring with three goals and nine points in seven games.
The Stars right winger, like Klingberg, admits that the tournament still gets a lot of attention from NHLers, which of course has a lot to do with the fact that he has played his entire career, before signing with Dallas this off-season, in Canada.
“I’ve played in Canada for a long time and World Juniors is huge here, everybody watches it on TV all the time,” say Hemsky. “So with the guys in the room, we have a lot of young guys, a lot of guys that played at it. They’re still young so they’re really into it, we all watch it.”
However, the one downfall Hemsky has had with playing in Canada and with the teammates watching and teasing each other is, Canada historically has done so well at the tournament.
“Yeah, the Czech’s didn’t really have good teams, but I think they’re getting better,” says Hemsky. “I can’t even fight with anyone, Canada always wins. It’s a big country; they make a lot of players and they always have a special team so, it’s hard to beat them.”
As the Boxing Day kick-off to the tournament approaches, countries have started to name their camp rosters and so the hype once again is starting to build for the special time of the year. And though fans of the tournament might get excited, Hemsky sums up perfectly why the tournament means so much to the players lucky enough to participate.
“It was the first big tournament where you put that jersey on, your country’s jersey,“ says Hemsky. “That’s why it was so special.”
Follow me on Twitter: @Craig_Hagerman
Photo Courtesy of Bruce Bennet/Getty Images North America
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