While the group of 40 hopefuls in camp for Canada's submission to the World Junior Hockey Championship will soon have the expectations of an entire hockey rabid nation weighing on their young shoulders, it is easy to forget that they were fans of the tournament long before they were invited to participate.
The World Junior tournament has become as synonymous with the holiday season as eggnog and exchanging presents and many of Canada's hopefuls have fond memories of past competitions.
“I always watched this tournament growing up,” said Oshawa Generals defenceman and one of four returning players, Calvin De Haan. “My parents were pretty avid hockey fans and I was always watching on Boxing Day when it starts. It was a family get together for us.”
Considering the relative youth of the players, they can be excused if they don't remember John Slaney's goal back in 1991 as few players would even have been alive when Slaney scored the ‘original' golden goal. The majority of the memories were centered around recent events.
“The John Tavares' goal against the U.S., that was a big highlight,” said Kitchener Rangers defenceman Ryan Murphy. “That was my favourite goal.”
Notre Dame forward Riley Sheahan went back a little further. All the way to 2007.
“The shootout when Jonathan Toews scored those three goals against the States,” Sheahan said. “I used to watch it quite a bit on YouTube. I think that was one of the most exciting hockey moments that I've ever watched.”
However not all the memories were positive ones as Kingston Frontenac's defenceman Erik Gudbranson recalled the disappointment of 2004 in Helsinki.
“Unfortunately the one that sticks out was the one where (Marc Andre) Fleury shot the puck off the U.S. player and put it in the net,” said Gudbranson. “I remember being completely devastated by that.”
For others it was not so much individual moments as the historic legacy that Canada was able to establish between 2005 and 2009 where they dominated the tournament.
“Five gold medals in a row,” said defenceman Ryan Murray. “That's really special there. I watched every single one of them and it was special to watch all those. You look up to every guy that's ever played in one of these. You really respect how hard those guys play. Watching it every single year and watching those guys battle and compete every single year.”
Every one of the 40 players invited to camp is hoping that their favourite moment has yet to occur. That someday a future generation of Canadian hopefuls would mention their name in the same breath as that of Tavares and Sidney Crosby. Their first shot at immortality comes on Boxing Day against Russia.