It's been more than a decade since Jay Bouwmeester could tune into all the world junior games he wanted.
"Yeah, down in the States, it's pretty hard to come by on TV," grinned the Flames defenceman, who had spent his entire NHL career playing for the Florida Panthers prior to this season.
"The last couple of years, we were up in Canada on road trips, Vancouver or Calgary or Edmonton, so I've seen a few of the games. Usually that would be in January, too, so they were the playoff games or the final."
Since the Flames will be in Alberta until Jan. 4, Bouwmeester will have a chance to really follow the tourney that meant so much to his career.
Since he never made the playoffs in his three seasons of junior with the Medicine Hat Tigers -- he's never skated in post-season play at the NHL level, either -- Bouwmeester's best action at that level came during trips overseas.
"You're ultimate goal is to play in the NHL and win Stanley Cups and all that, but along the way there are things you want to be a part of and accomplish, and that was one of them," said Bouwmeester. "I think anybody who plays junior hockey, any Canadian, wants to be part of it because it's such a big deal.
"It gave me confidence. The first camp I went to, I was 16 and didn't know what to expect or how I'd fit in. After being on the ice, I realized I could play with those guys and belonged.
"I gained confidence from that."
When Bouwmeester played at the 2000 tournament, he was the youngest player to ever skate for Canada at the world junior event. He was also just the fourth 16-year-old to do so. The others were Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and Jason Spezza.
"At the start, I didn't play much, but throughout the tournament played more and more and had more ice time, so it makes you feel good about yourself," Bouwmeester said. "I tried to take that back to my team and kept trying to do better and better."
Bouwmeester is one of 13 current Flames to have represented their countries at the prestigious event, He's a rarity in having played three times, and could have skated in another had he not made the jump to the NHL at the age of 19.
Unlike many of his teammates who have been to the tourney, especially the Canadians, Bouwmeester doesn't have a golden memory.
Canada won bronze at the 2000 tournament in Skelleftea, Sweden, and the 2001 event in Moscow. Bouwmeester's team reached the final in 2002 but lost 5-4 to Russia.
"That was the most disappointing. In the final, we blew it. We were up early and ended up losing," recalled Bouwmeester, who was named a tournament all-star in 2002.
"When you get knocked out of a tournament like that, everyone's disappointed. To play in those bronze-medal games aren't fun because both teams don't want to be there.
"At the same time, though, you have to show some pride because something's better than nothing.
"It was the stretch when people were wondering what was wrong with hockey in Canada."
For most of the Flames players, they've returned home to glory at least once.
Dion Phaneuf, Cory Sarich, Dustin Boyd, Nigel Dawes, Jarome Iginla and Daymond Langkow all won gold for Canada.
Olli Jokinen was a conquering hero when Finland won the 1998 tournament it hosted in Hameenlinna.
"I remember our first game against Canada, I think it was the 25th and the building was half-empty in the first period," Jokinen said. "I don't know where everyone was, but they showed up for the second period when we beat Canada 3-2,. Before the tournament, all the media were saying we'd be lucky if we stayed in Pool A.
"They didn't give us a chance and we won every game, so it made it special."
He was named top forward and tied for the scoring lead.
"For your career, that's the biggest thing at the time -- just to play and be part of it,"he said. "It makes it even more special when you win, and we were able to do that."
LASHING BACK TO WORLDS
MIIKKA KIPRUSOFF FINLAND
JAY BOUWMEESTER CANADA
2002: Silver (named to all-star team)
STAFFAN KRONWALL SWEDEN
DION PHANEUF CANADA
2004: Silver (named to all-star team)
2005: Gold (named all-star and top defenceman)
1996: Gold (named all-star and top forward)
1998: Gold (named all-star and top forward)
ERIC NYSTROM USA