Junior alumni excited

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 10:36 AM ET

Tony Amonte's birth certificate says he is American.

You'd think he's a Canadian, though, when he talks about his excitement over the world junior hockey championship that begins today in Vancouver, where his Calgary Flames play their second game in four nights against their Northern Division rival Canucks (8 p.m., PPV).

Like so many from coast-to-coast north of the border, Amonte is excited about the tournament and plans to join in the Christmastime ritual of watching as much action as possible.

"Down in the States, you never get to see it, so it'll be interesting to watch," Amonte said. "And I've heard the Americans have a strong team.

"I'm really excited to watch the games. I haven't seen a junior game in years."

A total of 15 Flames partook in world junior tournaments before turning pro, with a combined nine medals (five golds and four silvers) in their pockets.

Amonte's interest in the world juniors isn't just as a fan.

Long ago, he played at two tournaments.

At the 1989 event in Anchorage, Alaska, he and a U.S. squad that included Mike Modano, Bill Guerin, John LeClair and Jeremy Roenick placed 5th.

The next year in Finland, Amonte was the leading scorer on a team that finished seventh.

"Alaska was fun. It was an awesome tournament. It was sold out every game and my first real experience with international play, so getting out there and seeing the Russians you were hearing about was great," he said. "Their team had (Sergei) Fedorov, (Alexander) Mogilny and (Pavel) Bure and it was ridiculous how much better they were than myself. It sure showed how far you needed to go to get to that level.

"My second year, we just didn't have a strong club. We finished seventh of eight and were lucky not to get relegated."

Kristian Huselius has noticed the attention, too, and it's ignited his fire over the event, which he was part of twice in the late 1990s.

"It'll be great being in Canada. If I was in Sweden, I wouldn't see any of it," said the newest Flame. "It's the next generation, so it's fun. It's good for them to get used to it, all the media."

With this year's tournament being in Vancouver, there'll be no shortage of coverage.

No shortage of scrutiny, either.

Andrew Ference experienced something similar back in the 1999 event in Winnipeg and said despite fears it may be too much for youths to bear, that attention causes no negatives.

"I think at that age, it's pure motivation," said Ference, who had current Flames defenceman Robyn Regehr as a teammate that year. "You're 17, 18, 19 years old and I don't think you understand what pressure is yet. It's more, 'These guys are loud and are cheering for us.' There's so much support, getting faxes and letters from fans and former coaches and teammates.

"That constant flow of support is the biggest feeling."

Besides, like those toiling for Canada at this year's tournament, Ference points out the boost of a hometown crowd can't be matched.

"Winnipeg was awesome. I'd never played outside of Canada in the Under-17s, Under-18s or the world juniors. Always in Canada, we always stayed home and I'm kinda glad we did," he said. "We always got the good crowds, in Winnipeg especially. We had the white-outs and 10-minute standing ovations. It was the first introduction to the big times.

"I'd won the Memorial Cup the year before, and that was big for junior, but this was at another level. It was that next step to actually feeling like a pro and feeling like you're involved in something extremely special."

Dion Phaneuf was involved in a team considered extra special.

Due to the lockout that wiped out the 2004-05 season, Canada sent a loaded squad. As a unit, the Canadians ran roughshod over the opposition.

"It was a very special team," Phaneuf said. "We had a lot of experience, a lot of older guys that were great to play with.

"It was the experience of a lifetime."


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