The mighty Quinton Howden

PAUL FRIESEN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:01 PM ET

Sheldon Howden doesn’t know if it can get any better, but he’s going to find out.

Monday night, at an arena in Buffalo that may as well be located across the line, it’s so full of Canadian flags, the Oakbank man watched his son score the biggest goal of his hockey life in the tournament he always dreamed of playing in, the World Junior Championship.

The goal by Quinton Howden, Team Canada’s second, helped the unofficial “home” team dispatch the hated Americans, 4-1, in the semifinal and set up a Wednesday night gold-medal showdown with the Russians.

“I hope the kids have half the nerves I’ve got,” dad was saying over the phone from Buffalo, Tuesday. “It’s been unbelievable. Hard to put into words, really. The atmosphere and the hockey is second to none. It’s crazy.”

Such is the lot of the hockey parent, left to sweat it out in the stands while the kid lets it all hang out for his country, on the ice.

Howden, a 6-foot-3 kid with speed to burn, and a member of the Moose Jaw Warriors of the WHL, has come exactly as advertised.

In this space a few weeks back, we talked about how he could fill a scorer’s role or checker’s role. We just didn’t know he’d make such a huge impact doing both in the same game.

“You’ll do anything,” Howden said over a cell phone after Tuesday’s Team Canada practice. “Whatever these coaches want me to do.”

That, more than anything, seems to be this team’s motto.

Brandon Wheat King Brayden Schenn may be feeding at the scorer’s trough, but this bunch as a whole has no trouble getting down in the muck.

After all, that’s where you often find the gold.

“It’s been incredible,” Howden said of Canada’s road through the tournament, which featured a shootout loss to Sweden, followed by a little detour through Switzerland in the quarter-final. “Not many people expected us to do well, with not many guys returning. We knew we had a good character group in the room.

“We set a goal to be in this game. We wanted it a lot more than them, obviously.”

Isn’t that the Canadian way? It’s gold, or bust.

Now that he’s this close, Howden’s actually having a hard time believing it.

Seems when you’ve grown up watching this thing on TV and seen local heroes like Jonathan Toews, Darren Helm and Nigel Dawes win it for Canada, it’s all a little surreal when you finally get there yourself.

“I don’t even think it’s set in that we’re going there,” Howden said. “It’s something I’ve worked for my whole life.”

And something his parents didn’t think was possible, not after the kid broke his leg so badly as a five-year-old that doctors didn’t think he’d skate again.

But they grow up tough in rural Manitoba, and when they work hard and have a dream, well, a medical prognosis won’t necessarily stop them.

So there was Howden, getting drafted by the NHL’s Florida Panthers last summer.

And here he is now, on the verge of joining his boyhood heroes in Canada’s Gold Club.

“It’s really, really hard to imagine where it’s come,” Howden’s dad said. “No, I’ve never expected it. Not even once. It all hit when we found out that he’d made the team. We were in awe. He’s always wanted to play in the World Juniors. It’s been very surreal. Every minute of it.”

Along with Winnipegger Cody Eakin, Howden has become a real contributor on a team full of them.

If they’re feeding off each other, they’re also getting energy from the crowds, which, like the American team itself, have been overwhelmed by the mighty Maple Leaf.

“I don’t think anybody knows it’s a game in the States,” Howden said. “It’s remarkable that many Canadians are coming over the border.”

Among those in attendance for the last game will be several from Manitoba who’ve meant the most to Howden over the years.

“My family and everybody else that’s been behind me my whole life,” he said. “It’s real good to have them here.”

The feeling is mutual.

“I can’t imagine it being any better than Monday night with the U.S.,” his dad said.

Dare to dream, Mr. Howden.

If you have the nerve.


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