But most years it’s extra special for a few players, the ones who are truly playing at home. Last year, Frederik Andersen played for Denmark in the small city in which he grew up, Herning.
In 2017, Stephane da Costa and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare realized a dream, playing the Worlds in Paris, their hometown and a marvelous city that hasn’t hosted since 1951. The same for Mark Streit in Berne in 2009, or Kaspars Daugavins in Riga in 2006.
In 2019, we have several players on the Slovak team who were born in Kosice. Their pro hockey dreams realized, they are here giving back, playing not just in their home country but in their home city.
One such player in Christian Jaros, a 23-year-old defenceman who just finished his first full NHL season, with the Ottawa Senators.
“During the winter, I live where I play hockey, of course, but always in the summertime I come back. This is my home. I live just a couple of kilometres from the arena here,” he started.
Although he lives close by, he’s staying with the team, but it still feels like home for him. “When I played here as a kid, the rink was empty! There weren’t as many people as there are now to watch us. It's pretty amazing. I played minor hockey here and made a lot of friends.”
Like many talented players from smaller hockey countries, Jaros had to leave home at a young age to realize his dreams. In his case, he left for Sweden at age 17 to play in Lulea, forming the building blocks of what would become a fine career so far.
“Leaving was a difficult time, but I had great people around me to support me,” Jaros continued. “There was Peter Celarik. He’s now in the Boston organization but he took care of me in Sweden. If you have good people around you, it helps you to get better as a player and a person. It was a tough time, but a lot of people helped me to make it easier.”
Jaros played on Slovakia’s U20 team in 2015 that won a bronze medal in Toronto with a 4-2 win over Sweden, and that summer he was drafted 139th overall by the Senators. It was a special day in his life.
“To be honest, I was thinking about the NHL when I was ten years old,” he said. “Every player does. No one dreams of playing in the Swedish league. And I don’t mean that to insult the Swedish league, which is a very good league. But when you’re young, you dream of the NHL. That’s still my goal. I’m there now, but I hope I stay a long time.”
This past season, he played only one AHL game before being called up to the NHL’s Senators, where he played the full season. Not an offensive player, he scored his first—and still only goal—in Minnesota on 21 November 2018. Zac Smith won the draw back to the point, and Jaros’s high shot beat Devan Dubnyk.
“I remember my d-partner [Mark] Borowiecki started jumping around,” Jaros said with a smile. “The puck was in the net. It was a great feeling. I was dreaming for that moment for a long time. It was a good year—I established myself in the NHL, and I scored my first goal. I had a lot of great teammates. I have the puck and a picture from the game. It was a great memory.”
But it was one great memory in a long season in Ottawa where ownership meddled and great players were traded. The Senators missed the playoffs, and Jaros saw the opportunity he hoped he’d get.
“It was a long season, so my first hope was that we’d make the playoffs with the Senators, but when that didn’t happen, I wanted to finish the season strong, so it was great to be asked to play for the national team. This is my home. I grew up here, so I have a lot of friends and family here. It’s a great opportunity for us to play well.”