COPENHAGEN – When you bring up Andre Burakowsky's name around players on Canada's world junior hockey team most crack a small smile. They've heard what the Swedish forward was quoted as saying in the local publication Skanskan. Specifically, Burakowsky said that, on paper, Sweden has a better team than Canada.
"We heard that," said Canadian forward Charles Hudon, a Montreal Canadiens prospect. "It is motivation. I've never seen two papers play on the ice. We're ready for that game and I think they are too."
Canada and Sweden will face off in an exhibition game Sunday in Angelholm, Sweden. You can watch it live on TSN starting at 11am et/8am pt. Canadian players weren't shy when asked whether Burakowsky's words will be on their mind.
"Of course, it does motivate you for sure, but let them think that," said 17-year-old Barrie Colts defenceman Aaron Ekblad, who officially secured a spot on Team Canada when Damon Severson was cut on Friday night. "They have a highly-skilled team and, obviously, we need to respect that and we just have to counter with our work ethic."
Even defenceman Adam Pelech, who is Burakowsky's teammate on the Erie Otters in the Ontario Hockey League, admitted the comments got him going.
"Teams are always looking for things like that to put on the wall for some extra motivation before the game," he said. "Things like that we just try to use as fuel for us."
Pelech isn't the only Otter caught off guard by the Burakovsky quote. Connor McDavid, who picked up a pair of assists in Canada's 4-2 win over Finland on Friday, is Burakowsky's linemate in Erie.
"He can be a little bit cocky," McDavid noted with a chuckle, "but he's entitled to his own opinion."
Burakowsky, a first round pick of the Washington Capitals last June, is having a fantastic rookie season with the Otters. When he left for Sweden's junior camp, he was fourth on the team in scoring with 23 goals and 47 points in just 31 games. The 18-year-old will be making his world junior debut this month.
"We kind of joked about playing each other in Sweden in his hometown of Malmo and maybe in the gold-medal game," McDavid said, "but that's a long way down the road. We still have a lot of work to get there, but it would be pretty nice to have that over him."
"He's a really good guy," said Pelech. "I like him a lot. I haven't talked to him recently, but obviously I heard about the comments and I guess I'll shoot him a message. I'm looking forward to talking to him about that."
Canadian head coach Brent Sutter has repeatedly said he wants his players to focus on themselves and what the team needs to do to be successful. But when informed his players were talking about Burakowsky, Sutter was more than okay with it.
"No, that's good," he said with a wry grin, "keep feeding it all they want, that's good."
Not lost on the Canadian players is the reason why Burakowsky is feeling confident. The Swedes won the silver medal last year and have almost half of that team back plus they'll have home-ice advantage this time around. Meanwhile, Canada has just three players (Jonathan Drouin, Griffin Reinhart and Jake Paterson) returning from the team that finished fourth last year.
"Sweden's a pretty good hockey country, but we're Canada and we're confident in the players we have," said McDavid.