They have cheered for the Swiss, marvelled at the Russians and were treated to a barn burner of a game this past Saturday, when Sweden secured the top spot in Pool A with a brilliant come-from-behind overtime victory in the final match of the world junior round robin.
What Calgary fans haven’t seen yet is an appearance by Canada, the home team, which played its preliminary-round games up the road in Edmonton. All that changes Tuesday night in the tournament’s semi-finals here, when Canada faces the winner of the Russia-Czech Republic quarter-final game Monday and has a chance to advance to the gold-medal game for the 11th year in a row.
And as much as the players enjoyed their welcome in Edmonton, defenceman Brandon Gormley said they are looking forward to the venue change.
“It’s going to be great here,” predicted Gormley, the linchpin of Canada’s seven-man defence corps. “The fans haven’t seen us yet here in a real game. We’re looking forward to having them cheer us on.”
Gormley’s history makes him a particularly interesting subject for all the die-hard Calgary fans who remember how he was chosen 13th overall in the 2010 entry draft by the Phoenix Coyotes with a pick acquired from the Flames in an ill-fated deal that brought Olli Jokinen to town for the first time in March of 2009. The Jokinen trade, which cost the Flames the services of Matthew Lombardi, Brandon Prust and that first-round pick, was universally panned. Calgary eventually cut its losses and shipped Jokinen to the New York Rangers less than a year later for Ales Kotalik and Chris Higgins. Jokinen eventually returned to the Flames as a free agent and is playing much better the second time around.
However, for an NHL team such as the Flames, who desperately need an infusion of young, high-end talent, the thought that Gormley has the potential to play 15 quiet, effective NHL seasons for a different organization might be a bit galling.
But at this stage of the proceedings, with little margin for error, all that is put aside. Gormley is wearing the home colours and he and his defence partners will ultimately make or break Canada’s chances to win a gold medal.
Nothing about team defence is ever sexy. None of the seven defenceman has previously played in the tournament and two, Scott Harrington and Nathan Beaulieu, were injured in Canada’s 3-2 win over the United States last Saturday – Harrington on a hit from J.T. Miller, Beaulieu when he took a puck in the face. Both are expected to play Tuesday.
Canada coach Don Hay has described Gormley as the “glue” that keeps the defence together. The 19-year-old is from Murray River, PEI, and his primary hockey-playing influence is Brad Richards, who hails from nearby Murray Harbour.
Richards left home at 14 to play at the Athol Murray College of Notre Dame in Wilcox, Sask. A dozen years later, Gormley followed in his footsteps, attending the school at the same time as Jaden Schwartz, Canada’s captain. Jordan Eberle, a former world junior hero, is also an alumnus of Notre Dame, where the value and importance of playing for Canada internationally is ingrained at an early age.
Hay believes that this deep into the tournament, after the players have been together for more than three weeks, it should have become less a collection of individuals and more of a team. Gormley sees the value in that, too.
“I think the boys have done a really good job of that,” he said, “and that’s how it’s got to be. You’ve gotta play for each other.”
As for how close he came to joining the Flames, Gormley knows the history, and is happy enough to be a Coyotes prospect.
“I’ve been down to Phoenix for two camps, for playoffs last year and for two summer camps,” Gormley said. “Calgary would be a great place to play as well. Any Canadian city would be a lot of fun, especially for a Canadian boy. But I’m happy where I am in Phoenix. They’ve got a great team there. Hopefully, I can crack that lineup soon.”