In a basketball state like Indiana, the holiday break usually revolves around the NBA and its games played on Christmas Day. Growing up with three brothers and all of us playing travel hockey, the holiday break centered around our hockey schedules. When we weren’t playing hockey, we had our eyes glued to the tv to watch the World Junior Championship.
My brothers and I would sit down and watch the top NHL prospects put on their country’s sweaters and play for not just pride but bragging rights within their respective locker rooms. But the bragging rights weren’t just for the players in the tournament. Watching the World Juniors gives hockey fans a sense of pride as the future of hockey fights for the gold medal.
“When I was [playing] in the U.S. we were watching in all the locker rooms,” said Indy Fuel’s Jan Mandat who played for the Czech Republic in the 2014-15 World Junior Championship. “When the Czech’s played Canada or the U.S it was huge. The guys were chirping all over the place. Usually, in the World Juniors, Canada and U.S. have the best teams. When they play the Czech’s we can only surprise [them] but sometimes it happens and then I made sure the guys heard about it quite a lot.”
This season, the Fuel locker room features players from five different countries including, Jan Mandat who played for the Czech Republic and Pavel Vorobei who played for Belarus in the World Juniors. The diversity in the locker room makes this year’s tournament mean even more for players on the Fuel roster.
“It’s on a world stage,” said Riley McKay. “All of the countries are participating in it and I think for us, especially our team, we’ve got guys from all over. We’ve got a guy from Czech, we’ve got a Russian, and we’ve got a guy from France. I think there will be a few bragging rights and maybe some guys will be making some friendly wagers on it. It’s definitely an exciting time of year.”
For Canadians and Europeans, the tournament is on a similar level to the NCAA March Madness tournament in the United States. Fans stop everything they’re doing to watch their favorite teams but in this instance, their country. For a player like Spencer Watson, every year his friends and family threw World Junior parties that matched what Americans do for March Madness.
“We don’t really have (March Madness) in Canada,” said Watson. “Hockey is one of our main sports so any time you can cheer for Canada and have a tournament like that, especially around Christmas time when everyone’s off and you’re able to watch every game, it’s pretty cool.”
The World Junior Championship has deep ties to the Indianapolis hockey community as well. Current NHL superstars such as John Carlson and Troy Terry, who once suited up for the USHL’s Indiana Ice, also suited up for the United States in the World Juniors.
Two seasons after playing for the Ice, Carlson served as the alternate captain for the United States in the 2009-10 World Junior Championship in Saskatchewan. As a 20-year-old defenseman that had split the first half of his season between the American Hockey League’s Hershey Bears and NHL’s Washington Capitals, Carlson ended up solidifying his spot in the NHL after he scored the game-winning goal in the gold medal match.
Although Terry only suited up in one game for the Indiana Ice before joining the United States National Team Development Program, his junior career started in the Circle City. After playing a season and a half for the University of Denver, Terry earned a spot on the 2016-17 United States World Junior squad. Skating in seven games during the tournament, Terry earned a point per game as well as scored the game-winning goal in a shootout to win gold for the United States.
As diehard sports fans, we can all remember where we were when our favorite teams won a championship or our favorite players broke a record. For hockey players at every level, the World Juniors is an event that people remember where they were or who they were with when they were watching.
“I grew up knowing Troy Terry pretty well,” said Brent Gates. “I think the shootout where he went a crazy number of times and kept going five-hole. That moment and that game was pretty cool. It was also (Bob) Motzgo who was coaching that year. He was also coaching me at Minnesota. He was an unbelievable guy so that was a super fun year to watch for me.”
“I remember when Jordan Eberle scored with like four seconds left to tie Russia (in the 2009 semi-finals,)” Watson said. “I remember a bunch of us we were playing on our outdoor rink and we came in for the last five minutes to watch the ending. When they scored, we all went nuts.”
With hopes of having more Fuel players make it to the top levels of their sport and join the ranks of Indy greats, remember to watch the future players in the college or junior ranks because the excitement is unmatched. And who knows, you might see them wearing your favorite team’s colors someday.
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