CALGARY – Morgan Rielly vividly remembers Kris Letang flashing across his television screen back in 2007. Then the Team Canada captain, Letang hadn't yet evolved into an offensive dynamo and superstar for the Pittsburgh Penguins, but was instead leading the Canadians toward their third straight gold medal in Sweden.
"I think that tournament is when he became one of my favourite players," Rielly said, only hours after he was named to the 2013 squad, headed to Russia later this month. "I think I'll always remember that."
The Leafs top prospect and fifth overall selection in the draft last June, Rielly gets his first shot at World Junior gold with a lockout-loaded Canadian roster. Currently humming along with 28 points in 33 games as a Moose Jaw Warrior, the 18-year-old is slated to play a prominent role in Ufa, likely on a top pairing alongside Dougie Hamilton, the Niagara Ice Dogs defender and Bruins blue-chipper.
While his selection to the Canadian roster was by no means surprising, the reality still produced the expected feelings of excitement. Rielly achieved one lifelong goal in Pittsburgh earlier this year when he entered the NHL scene at the draft, adding another distinguished achievement to his resume this winter.
"This is right up there with the draft," said Rielly, adorned in a sharp, gold and black team-issued jacket. "This is unbelievable."
Murphy's long wait
Taylor Swift was briefly blaring in the hotel room of Ryan Murphy early Thursday afternoon.
Cut twice before in past attempts to make Team Canada's World Junior team, Murphy was sweating out the final hours before the 2013 announcement, doing anything to distract his mind from the uncertainty of what lay ahead.
"I was planning on just listening to music and play[ing] some Tiger Woods on my iPad," Murphy said with a smile, "but I couldn't even get past the first hole I was so nervous. And then suddenly I was thinking to myself, maybe the music's too loud that I can't hear the door-knock or something like that. I was really paranoid. I didn't know what was going to happen, but I'm really happy right now."
One of the more uplifting stories ending the three-day long selection camp, Murphy was finally named to the Canadian squad – news delivered by Steve Spott, the Canadian head coach and Murphy's bench boss in Kitchener – the third time indeed the charm.
"It was unbelievable," Murphy said. "Just waiting for a call or waiting for a knock on your door, you can't even explain the feeling that you have just waiting in your bed. I was refreshing my Twitter every two seconds, I had my parents texting me, I had some buddies on Skype keeping me up to date. When the final cut was made, it was all smiles for me."
Just hours before he was named to the 2013 squad, Nathan MacKinnon was asked what he'd learned from the brief selection camp.
"I look around and see how guys handle themselves on and off the ice," the Halifax Mooseheads star observed. "Having a roommate like [Ryan] Nugent-Hopkins is pretty cool as well. He only played one game [this week], but you could see right away what kind of player he was and how awesome he is as a person as well."
Unlike Nugent-Hopkins though, MacKinnon cracked Team Canada as a 17-year-old, age becoming entirely irrelevant as the week rolled on, his explosive gifts just too difficult to ignore.
"I wanted to make this team and that was my goal, but at the same time I was going to leave my best effort on the ice," he noted. "I'm glad it worked out well."
While intent on making the squad as a rare draft-eligible player, the potential first overall pick in the 2013 NHL draft was nonetheless surprised when word trickled in that both he and his teammate in Halifax, Jonathan Drouin, had cracked the roster.
"I didn't really believe it," he said. "It hasn't really sunk in yet either, you're part of this elite company, you grow up watching this tournament. Being apart of it is definitely very special."