LEKSAND, Sweden -- When Karl Alzner arrived at Canada's selection camp earlier this month, he was not sure how he would fit in.
But thanks to a camaraderie that seemed to become instant when Canada's roster for the 2007 world junior championship was named Dec. 15, Alzner's outlook changed dramatically.
Let Alzner, a native of Burnaby, B.C., who is a defenceman with the Calgary Hitmen of the WHL, tell you.
When the players chose names for their Secret Santa gift exchange, Alzner picked veteran Steve Downie.
"We were shopping in Stockholm and I bought a plain T-shirt," Alzner said. "I wrote, 'Hi, my name is Shteve' on the front of it, trying to play on his lisp. It went over well and guys loved it. It was pretty good. Steve didn't know what to do at first."
Downie wound up having a laugh with the rest of the team.
Alzner's comfort in cutting up a returning player such as Downie was a perfect example of the way the players came together.
Part of the bonding experience in Finland during a pre-tournament camp involved plunging into a freezing lake and making a beeline for the sauna.
So when the Canadians skate onto the ice at Ejendals Arena today to take on the surprise of the tournament, Germany, know that the off-ice activities have played a major role in how they perform.
Canada has its own chef, Andrew Gass of Calgary, at their hotel.
The players have access to the Internet and Canadian TV channels.
Small things such as Gass preparing grilled cheese sandwiches for snacks one night go a long way.
"I think it's huge, the things we do away from the rink," said defenceman Ryan Parent of Sioux Lookout, Ont. "A team is not just a group of players on the ice. You have to build it. Now, you can't tell the difference between the (11) guys who were here last year and the (11) who were not. There is nothing separating us."
Now about the upstart Germans -- in eight games against Germany since 1992, Canada is 8-0 and has outscored the country 43-11.