It's becoming a U.S. Christmas tradition . . . a London Knight on their national junior hockey team.
Knights forward Pat Kane will be headed to Sweden over Christmas to play for the Americans in the world junior championship. The last two years it was the Knights' Rob Schremp who was picked to the team when the tournament was in North Dakota and Vancouver.
The U.S. roster was announced between periods of a National Hockey League game last night. Unlike Canada's junior team, which holds a tryout camp just before leaving for the tournament, the United States names its team from play through the first half of the season and from a late summer training camp.
Forward Sam Gagner and goalie Steve Mason of the Knights will attend Canada's camp. If they make it they will face Kane and the U.S. on Dec. 27.
Kane said he was surprised to get a chance to play for the junior national team so soon.
"I didn't think I would make it this year," said Kane, who is in his NHL draft year. Traditionally, world junior teams favour older players.
"I had a good camp over the summer and so far the year has started out well. It's pretty exciting to be representing my country again."
Kane, a Buffalo native, was drafted three years ago by the Knights, but opted to remain in the U.S. development program. He had plenty of options this season, including going the NCAA scholarship route.
The Knights pursued him hard and finally convinced him to make the jump in the summer.
One of the concerns some U.S. players have when it comes to leaving the development program is whether it will be a mark against them by those making the decisions for the junior team.
"This is a highlight for me," Kane said. "I wasn't worried about that because I spent two years in their program. Just being loyal to them and not leaving after one year or leaving halfway through my 17 (year old) year . . . I was loyal to them. They understood that after two years maybe it was time for me to move on."
It would have been difficult for the selectors to ignore Kane. He and Gagner have formed a deadly duo in their first season in the OHL. Kane, a slick playmaker and deadly around the net, is tied for the league scoring lead with Gagner with 60 points, including 21 goals.
With the Boston Bruins not releasing Phil Kessel to play in the tournament, Kane likely will take on a more significant role.
"I got some hints (that he had a good chance of making the team)," Kane said. "When I told the coach I was going to come here instead of the staying in the USA program, they told me to be ready for December. When I went to Ann Arbor a couple of weeks ago (a national development site), they asked me if I was ready for the world juniors. It was just a few hints like that. It makes you feel good, but you never know. It's good to hear that it's final."
Kane is going to know Sweden well by the time he's done with hockey. He was there in April when he helped the U.S. to the under-18 championship, including scoring the overtime winner in a semifinal against the Czech Republic.
"It worked out pretty good for me and the team. I hope we can do the same thing this time," he said.