CHICAGO – Some hardcore pro hockey fans still ask: “Why should I bother to follow the World Juniors?” Well, look no further than Chicago Blackhawk star Patrick Kane.
The 20-year-old American right wing, who won the 2008 Calder Trophy as the NHL’s Rookie of the Year with 72 points, has already established himself as an elite player, vying for a spot among the league’s top ten scorers. Yet it wasn’t long ago at all that Kane was lighting it up at the 2007 World U20 Championship in Sweden. He contributed nine points in nine games as the USA earned bronze.
In fact, if no one was checking birth certificates, this #1 overall NHL draft pick could probably suit up for the Americans again, as he stands just 178 cm and 77 kg. And having represented his country on the international stage on three separate occasions (including the World U18’s in 2006 and the 2008 World Championship), hey, he probably would, if he didn’t have commitments in the Windy City.
So if Patrick Kane cares, maybe you should too. The U20 tournament has been the launching pad for the careers of the vast majority of today’s new NHL stars.
“I’ll definitely follow the tournament in Ottawa pretty closely,” Kane told IIHF.com recently. “It’s cool when you have friends on the American team and can keep an eye on them, see how they’re doing. It’s a fun tournament. I enjoyed playing in it, and it’s fun to see how much coverage it gets now.”
Kane expects to swap text messages with the likes of James vanRiemsdyk, last year’s tournament scoring leader, and Colin Wilson, as well as other Americans close to his age.
“I think we’ve got a pretty good team this year,” he said. “Hopefully we can pull out a gold medal for the USA.”
Prior to winning the OHL scoring crown in 2007 with 145 points for the London Knights, Kane spent two seasons tearing up the Junior A-level North American Hockey League. He had 172 points in 121 games as a member of the US National Team Development Program, which consolidates many of the nation’s most talented juniors on one team in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
“It’s awesome,” said Kane. “It’s one of the best programs in hockey. I think anyone who has a chance to go into that program definitely should do it. I’d recommend it 100 percent. It taught me a lot, and I owe a lot to the national team program.”
Kane, whose native Buffalo will host the 2011 World U20 Championship, hopes to have more great experiences in IIHF tournaments in the future. He can’t help cringing a bit when asked to recall his most memorable moment so far.
“I guess you could always bring up the [semi-final] shootout [loss] against Canada in 2007,” admitted Kane, who was stymied twice by goalie Carey Price in the game-winning shots competition. “It wasn’t a favourite moment of mine, but it definitely was memorable. Still, when you look back at it, I think I raised my NHL draft stock a lot at that tournament. It was a good place to get me going.”