Like any Canadian hockey player, Stars defenseman Brenden Dillon has always dreamed of suiting up for Team Canada in international play. But he’s never had the chance… until now.
Dillon has made his way on Tuesday to Stockholm, Sweden, to play for Canada at the 2013 World Championships, which get underway Friday. Sixteen teams will play in both Stockholm and Helsinki, Finland, vying for gold, silver and bronze medals.
“I am very excited. Hockey Canada and Team Canada are pretty major back home,” Dillon said. “I always watch the games, the Shea Webers and watching Benny (Jamie Benn) last year. It should be fun. I am very excited.”
The 22-year-old Dillon has made it to the NHL as an undrafted late bloomer. There were never those opportunities to play for Canada when he was in his late teens.
“First time, no World Juniors, (no) Under-18’s. It’s pretty surreal to really think about,” he said. “Just that thought of playing for Team Canada and wearing that jersey and to compete for your country is awesome.”
Dillon, who was signed by the Stars as a free agent out of the Western Hockey League in March 2011, is coming off an outstanding rookie season. He ranked fourth among all NHL rookie defensemen in average ice time (21:22) and led all rookie defensemen in hits (133) and blocked shots (74).
The invitation to play for Team Canada is just another sign of how far he has come in such a short time.
“If somebody had told me that I would be playing for Team Canada at the World Championships a year ago, I would have laughed,” Dillon said. “I’ve had a lot of good people help me. The coaching staff and Joe Nieuwendyk, they’ve done so much for me in my time as a pro. And the guys that I played with this year, they make it so easy. I played with ‘Robi’ (Stephane Robidas) and ‘Goose’ (Alex Goligoski) for a majority of the year. Those guys are awesome. It’s not just the guys on the backend. Ray Whitney has done so much for me.”
Those who have been around Dillon aren’t surprised and are excited for him.
“I think that is going to be fabulous,” said Stars coach Glen Gulutzan. “To see a kid of that character to get a chance to do that, to earn a chance to do that , not get but earn a chance to do that, is a pretty neat thing.”
“He deserves it. He’s played very well and it’s going to be good for him,” said Stars defenseman Stephane Robidas, who also will be playing for Team Canada. “He’s going to be on the radar for Team Canada. Once you play for Canada at the World Championship, then for Olympics and that stuff, it’s always a positive.”
This will be Robidas’ third time suiting up for Canada at the World Championship. He also played in 2001 and 2006.
“It’s a great opportunity for me,” he said. “I’ve played in two of those. The last few years I have been asked, I couldn’t make it because of injuries or surgeries that I had to do. This year, I feel very healthy. It’s great to go with Brenden Dillon, it’s always nice to know someone on the team. I know a few guys that I’ve played with before. It’s going to be fun.”
Even though Robidas has played for Canada before, there is still that excitement about wearing the Team Canada jersey.
“It’s huge. I never played in the World Juniors and the first time I got to wear it, it was pretty special,” Robidas said. “Last time I played in the World Championships, I got to play with Sidney Crosby and this one, it’s going to be Steven Stamkos, Claude Giroux, the Staal brothers (Eric and Jordan), Jordan Eberle. It’s always a lot of good players, so it is fun to play with those guys.”
Dillon and Robidas aren’t the only Stars that will represent their countries at this year’s tournament, which will run from May 3-19.
Forward Loui Eriksson will play for Sweden. This will be the fourth World Championships appearance for Eriksson, who has represented Sweden at several tournaments including the Olympics and World Junior Championships.
Defenseman Philip Larsen will suit up for Denmark, his third trip to the World Championships.
Forward Antoine Roussel will represent France for the second time at the tournament.
“It’s going to be a good experience,” Roussel said. “I am excited to keep playing hockey for a little bit.”
Last year France had a surprising and strong showing at the tournament, almost making it to the playoff round.
“That was my first camp with the national team. We had a real good year,” said Roussel, who had one goal and two assists in seven games. “We almost beat Slovakia. We beat Switzerland. We got beat by ‘Bachs’ (Richard Bachman), (Alex) Goligoski and the U.S., 7-2 and we lost to Canada, 7-2, also. We almost made it to the quarterfinals, which is huge for us. We lost the last game (5-4 to Slovakia). That was a tough loss.”
France is in the group that will play in Helsinki, so Roussel won’t face Dillon, Robidas, Eriksson or Larsen in any games unless there is a meeting in the playoff round. Canada, Sweden and Denmark are all in the group that will play its preliminary round games in Stockholm. The playoffs start May 16.
World Championship Notes: Lehtonen declines invitation from Finland
Stars goaltender Kari Lehtonen turned down an invitation to play for Finland. Lehtonen said he wants to take some time off and spend it with his family.
“No, I am not going to be going,” Lehtonen said. “I want to spend some time with my family. I want to take some time off and be a dad. That’s exciting. I can start a little earlier to work out and skate and I should be good to go (next season).”
Center Jamie Benn, who played for Canada at last year’s tournament, played through a wrist injury towards the end of the season and will take time off to let that heal. Defenseman Alex Goligoski, who played for Team USA last year, has a fracture in his foot and needs time to heal as well. Trevor Daley, who could have been an option for Canada, has a neck issue that could require surgery this offseason.
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