The NHL-eligible members of Canada’s junior hockey team don’t know if the lockout will be over by the time they get home.
But they agree the world junior championship prepared them well for training camps if they were suddenly summoned to by their respective NHL clubs.
“It’s been a really intense tournament,” said captain Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of the Edmonton Oilers. “I think it’s exactly how the start of the season will be.”
Nugent-Hopkins is the lone NHL player on Canada’s team, but forwards Jonathan Huberdeau (Florida), Mark Scheifele (Winnipeg), Ryan Strome (New York Islanders) and Dougie Hamilton (Boston) are among the players likely to be called up if the season commences. They’re all top-10 NHL draft picks from the class of 2011.
“From junior, it’s such a high step to the NHL, but if there is a stepping stone, it is the world juniors,” said Strome, who plays for the Ontario Hockey League’s Niagara IceDogs.
“It’s such a strong tournament here and there’s so many good players you’re playing against,” the Barrie Colts forward said. “There’s a lot of guys that could be in the NHL, will be in the NHL soon. That would be a huge thing to build you up for a training camp.”
In a last-ditch effort to salvage the 2012-13 season, the NHL and players’ association have been bargaining in New York this week.
The Canadian junior players affected have followed the labour drama from Ufa with varying degrees of interest — from not at all to checking for updates on Twitter to reading websites for the latest blow-by-blow in negotiations.
“It’s kind of hard when you’re so removed from everything going on, but I’ve tried to stay up to date a little bit,” Nugent-Hopkins said. “It looks pretty positive, but who knows right?”
Ufa is 11 hours ahead of Eastern time in New York. The Canadians have been asleep when developments in bargaining have happened. It hasn’t been in their faces on mainstream radio or television.
“You just read about it on Twitter sometimes, but if not, you don’t hear anything about it,” Huberdeau said.
Hamilton, Strome’s IceDogs teammate, has taken a wake-me-when-it’s-over attitude.
“Going through the whole process starting in August and hearing ’the season is going to start next week’ and it doesn’t happen, I’m kind of just ‘whenever’ now,” Hamilton said. “When I get an email or phone call saying it’s over and ‘we want you to come to camp’ if that’s the case for me, then I’ll believe it.”
But when the Canadian team boards the plane Sunday for the trip home, some will wonder where they’ll be playing in the next couple of weeks as the NHL lockout nears the point of no return this season.
“The potential to go back home in two or three days here and really I don’t know where I’m going to be, if I’m going to be in Niagara, if I’m going to be traded from Niagara, if I’m going to be in New York, it’s kind of interesting and something I wasn’t expecting,” Strome said.
He believes any post-tournament, post-travel fatigue would be offset by the excitement of going to an NHL camp.
“A lot of time zones, a lot of travel, but the chance to play in the NHL is something that doesn’t come along every day,” Strome said. “I’m still only 19 years old so I can get excited for that.”