BANFF - He’s kind of a giant redwood who has decided he wants to be a maple.
Jamie Oleksiak is a six-foot-six-and-a-half kid who kind of looks like he could be Zdano Chara’s little brother, a young man who played for Team USA in the Ivan Hlinka U-18 tournament and tried out for the American team for last year’s world junior but is here wearing the Maple Leaf forever now.
In some other sports all it takes is one international game. In this one you are a hockey citizen of a nation for good only if you play an IIHF event. And this will be Oleksiak’s first.
And, boy, is the large lad from the Beaches area near downtown Toronto ever glad of that now.
“I’m a Canadian for sure,” said the Saginaw Spirit defenceman after practice at the Team Canada camp Saturday which was followed a few hours later by an on-ice session with a bunch of little kids who had to look up, way up, to see the top of the young man who, if he wasn’t here, would have been on the ice with the Americans in Camrose.
If there was any doubt about deciding which end of his dual citizenship to use, he said it has become crystal clear at camp in the Canadian Rockies.
“Early on, I decided the U.S. was the way to go. But what it came down to in the end was what country did I feel the most part of growing up. It was always Canada.
“My dad is from Buffalo and my mom emigrated from Scotland. But we’ve lived in Toronto and as a kid I was always watching the world juniors and cheering for Canada. I cheered for Canada in the Olympics and for guys like Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger. The day I first put on this jersey it just felt right.”
While he first put on the jersey for the summer camp in Edmonton and put it on again for three games trying out for the team this past week in Calgary, it’s only in Banff it’s felt totally right, he said.
“It’s been exceptional so far,” he said of the experience. It’s been unbelievable. And the players have made me feel so welcome. They’ve been really good.”
Oleksiak’s international playing passport could have been settled last year.
He attended the USA selection camp but was cut and didn’t get the chance to compete in his dad’s hometown in Buffalo.
“The fact the world juniors were in Buffalo, which is kind of my second hometown, appealed to me,” he said.
But this time around Canada came after him aggresively.
“Canada showed a lot more interest this year,” he said. “I guess I must have showed I could be a critical part of their team.”
The invitation to be part of the summer camp in Edmonton played a big part, he suggested.
And it will be no problem at all, he said, playing against the Americans in the New Year’s Eve game in Rexall Place.
“Obviously, that’s going to be a big game, and I know their guys. But I can’t hold back.”
Oleksiak, who was selected by the Dallas Stars with the 14th pick in the first round of the 2011 NHL Entry draft, is a work in progress.
“I’ve made huge strides recently. I’m just starting to fill out my body,” said the guy who currently is listed at 244 pounds but will likely play pro at about 266.
“I was just a normal-sized kid, kind of in the middle of the pack, until I had a growth spurt when I was 14. I really shot up.”
He doesn’t use his body to play an especially physical game yet.
“He’s six-foot-six, but physically he doesn’t use his size to be part of his game yet,” is how coach Don Hay puts it.
“He’s a good solid D-man who is going to be a key guy on our penalty kill,” he said.
That said, he’s making a large leap to his future right now.
“This is a big step for him,” said Hay. “Other than Tanner Pearson, I’d say he’s making the biggest step on the team.”
Pearson is the 19-year-old Barrie Colts forward who went through two drafts without being selected and is the only member of the team who wasn’t invited to the summer camp in Edmonton.
They’re quite possibly the two most interesting studies on the team.