EDMONTON, AB — All eyes will be on the best junior hockey players in the world this week at the IIHF World Junior Championship in Edmonton, Alberta -- and Colorado will be well-represented. Of the 25-man roster for Team USA, two members of the team have had longstanding residence in the Centennial State.
"You grow up watching the tournament and it's awesome to finally see your name on the back of the jersey with the USA on the front. It's something that's always special and something that you can't always take for granted," University of Denver freshman Carter Mazur said.
Elizabeth, Colorado, native Ty Smilanic said all of his hard work was dedicated to two special people: Nancy and Pete.
"The best feeling honestly wasn't necessarily hearing [that he had made the roster], but being able to tell my parents, because hearing how proud they are of you, that's definitely one of the best feelings," he said. "To be able to tell my parents that I accomplished something with their help, something like this, that was definitely the best feeling."
Smilanic is the first-ever Team USA U-20 representative from Quinnipiac University and the highest NHL draft pick out of the school, a third round 74th overall to the Florida Panthers, but there's still only one place he truly calls home.
"To represent Colorado, hockey is definitely on the uprise, but there's still not as many players that are necessarily doing things like this," the former Colorado Thunderbirds player said. "So to have the opportunity to represent so many different things and to represent my family, it's a little nerve-wracking, but it's also an awesome feeling."
While Colorado isn't on his driver's license, Mazur is proud to represent the Pios and the rich history of players who have also donned the Stars and Stripes.
"It's honestly huge, because you look at people who have been through the program and who have played in this tournament and it's just special players, so just to be involved in that kind of conversation, it's just also special, as well," Mazur said. "And then, just coming from Denver, I feel like it's a place that prepares you to be ready for the big stages like this."
As news swept this week about the NHL prohibiting its own players from participating in the 2022 Beijing Olympics, talk spread around the USA junior camp. This could be their year.
"People are kind of talking about it," Mazur said. "It is something that you don't know who they'll take and everything like that, so you just have to be prepared."
Smilanic is not allowing himself to dream too far ahead, but he can't help but think about another local product who shined on the international stage in 2018 in Pyeongchang.
"I remember Troy Terry, also a Colorado kid, went to the Olympics and how much that helped his hockey career," he said. "So it's definitely somewhat on your mind."
But for now, there's only one thing on their minds: back-to-back gold medals for Team USA at the World Junior Championships.
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