Wahl wants worlds

RANDY SPORTAK, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:19 AM ET

The world junior hockey championships captivates hockey fans from coast to coast in Canada.

But you don't have to be a skater from Victoria through St. John's to be captivated by the event.

Mitch Wahl, the pride of Seal Beach, Calif., can't wait for another crack at the title with the American team at this year's event co-hosted by Saskatoon and Regina.

While the tournament may not have the same buzz south of the border as it does in Canada, Wahl -- whose hometown near Anaheim is known more for surfing than skating -- has just as much excitement about the event as any Canadian.

"I've been through it --I was in Ottawa (for the 2009 world juniors) and played in a Memorial Cup in Kitchener, so I've been in crazy atmospheres," said the Spokane Chiefs centre. "It's fun. The fans are very enthusiastic. It's a great environment."

First, though, Wahl has to be selected for the tournament, which kicks off Boxing Day.

However, by being part of last year's squad, Wahl has more than a good shot.

As it stands, there are only four players eligible to return from last year's club, including Spokane teammate Tyler Johnson.

Therefore, Wahl's experience would be an asset to the team.

"I'm not guaranteed anything, but, hopefully, I've done enough the first half of the season they want me to come to camp and try out for the team," said the centre drafted by the Calgary Flames, 48th overall in 2008.

"Canada's going to put together a good roster, but the U.S. will have a good group of guys, good talent. I think we can put together a team that can definitely contend for the gold."

Last year, the U.S. team went 3-1-0 through the opening round, with their only blemish a 7-4 loss to the gold-medal winning Canadian team. The Canadians scored two empty netters.

However, a stunning 5-3 quarterfinal loss to Slovakia eliminated the talented American squad from medal contention.

They finished fifth with a final victory over the Czech Republic.

"I thought they couldn't put much of a better team together," said Wahl, who collected one goal and three assists in six tournament games. "We had a really talented team but didn't put it all together in the end. We had a really good coaching staff, and we came together as a group but couldn't pull off the key wins.

"We had a close game with the Canadians -- an exciting game -- but that game predicted the future for us.

"We were a favourite to win (against Slovakia) and came up short. That was a big disappointment. We weren't expecting that at all."

Wahl is expecting a better result this time around.

"It's a short tournament, so every game counts and every shift counts. One small mistake, like the Slovakia game, ruined us for the tournament," said the 19-year-old, who has collected 28 points (8-20) in 23 WHL games this season. "You have to take advantage of the opportunity.

"There are some good 1991 prospects and good skill coming from the U.S. program and colleges, as well as the junior leagues.

"We'll have a top-end team, too."

Plus, there could be a little extra battle for the Chiefs forwards expected to be on the American squad.

Spokane captain Jared Cowen is a candidate to patrol the blueline for Canada.

"Last year, Dustin Tokarski was the goalie for Canada, and he was my roommate for three years," Wahl said.

Jung fills in

Edmonton Oil Kings goalie Torrie Jung wasn't expecting to turn pro Saturday, but he did.

When Edmonton Oilers goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin had his back stiffen up, Jung received an emergency call.

"I was just sitting at home, kind of resting, just watching TV," Jung said. "Then my head coach, Steve Pleau, called me and told me the Oilers had a bit of a situation and wanted me to dress.

"At first, I thought he was joking. But it was a pretty sweet experience. I would have liked to have won the game, but nonetheless, the guys treated me really well."

randy.sportak@sunmedia.ca


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