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World Juniors: Curtis Lazar believes in Team Canada
Vernon’s Curtis Lazar pulled on Team Canada jersey No. 26 for the first time Sunday in Malmö, Sweden. Somebody named Jonathan Drouin is wearing his normal No. 27.
The Canadians had earlier released Quebec forward Felix Girard, getting down to their final 22-man roster. For Lazar, it was a combination of relief and joy as he realized a major bucket list item.
“It feels great knowing I will be a part of this team in the tournament,” he told The Morning Star. “A while back, I set myself a goal to make this team and to achieve it feels really good. The hard work is just beginning though. Every team is elite and you always need to bring your A game in order to be successful.
“Getting to represent your country is always special as well. We have received tons of support from back home already and it truly motivates us.”
The Edmonton Oil Kings’ centre and Ottawa Senators’ first-round draft pick said Sunday’s 3-0 pre-competition loss to Sweden in the 38th IIHF World Junior Ice Hockey Championships will go down as a lesson learned.
“Sweden has a lot of skill and we knew that coming in. What’s disappointing for us is that we got outworked and outbattled tonight. No one was sharp mentally and it showed. Our goalie, Jake Paterson, kept us in it no doubt. We are lucky this is only exhibition and it is a good reality check for our squad.
“Good teams know how to rebound and we are looking forward to our next game versus the Swiss. Coach (Brent) Sutter has challenged all of us to buy in and ask for some more from ourselves and I believe that we have the right guys to do something special.”
The Canadians did bounce back and stopped the Swiss 4-1 Monday with Drouin (Halifax Mooseheads) scoring twice and Bo Horvat (London Knights) and 16-year-old phenom Connor McDavid (Erie Otters) adding singles. Sam Reinhart (Kootenay Ice) supplied three helpers.
Yannick Rathgeb put Switzerland 1-0 just 52 seconds into an early powerplay. Lazar was in the penalty box for interference. Paterson (Saginaw Spirit) made 23 saves.
On his own play against the Swedes, Lazar said: “I was quite nervous coming in, I threw some nice checks early and got into the game. I made some mistakes adjusting to our new systems but it was a good learning curve for myself. As the game went on I had a couple scoring chances that I need to capitalize on. All in all, it was the first step and I’m looking forward to keep on building each game.”
Lazar, the third Vernon product to ever play for Canada in the tournament (Brad Larsen and Jason Podollan are the others), will celebrate Christmas in Sweden with his parents, Dave and Karen Lazar.
Canada finished 2-1 in exhibition play after opening with a 4-2 victory over Finland on Friday. Lazar and linemate Drouin were scratches so management could evaulate other talent.
Anthony Mantha (Val d’Or Foreurs) Horvat, Mathew Dumba (Minnesota Wild) and Aaron Ekblad (Barrie Colts) scored for Canada. McDavid, who turns 17 on Jan. 13, added two assists.
Canada received good news Monday when the IHF announced Dumba will not be disciplined further for kneeing forward Erik Karlsson during Team Canada’s loss to Sweden. Dumba was given a five-minute major penalty and a game misconduct for the incident.
Any suspension would have been a blow to Canada’s defence, which already has Griffin Reinhart serving a three-game suspension once the World Junior tournament begins on Boxing Day.
Canada opens the Group A play Boxing Day against Germany. Coverage begins on TSN at 4 a.m. Pacific. The Canadians face the Czech Republic Saturday at 8:30 a.m. Pacific. They take on Slovakia Monday and battle the USA New Year’s Eve, both 8:30 a.m. PDT starts.
Sutter told Hockey Canada the recipe for success comes with unselfish play.
“We’ve got to play our team game. We’ve got to play the way we’re capable of playing and everyone has to play up to their potential and their role, because every role is an important one. And obviously we have to score goals, but we also have to be a real good team on both sides of the puck.”