Pressure not a factor for Stoll at WJC

By Jeff Bromley

Contrary to popular opinion, Kootenay ICE forward Jarrett Stoll making the 2001-02 edition of the Canadian World Junior Hockey team wasn’t an automatic. Although one would be hard pressed to find the last junior national team veteran who was cut from the following year’s squad, a fait accompli it wasn’t. Still, Stoll wasn’t making any assumptions that he would be a lock whatsoever and would accept any spot available for him. “I’m excited to go and play any role,” said Stoll before the Yorkton native left for the Jr. Nat’s training camp in North York, Ontario. “There’s not very many guys that get a chance to do this so, I’ll take any role they give me, I’ll pack the bags if they want me to.”

It is sufficed to say that Kootenay’s leading point-getter last season won’t have to do any bag packing over the holidays. For the second time in as many seasons, a member of the Kootenay ICE (present or former) will wear the ‘C’ above the red Maple Leaf as captain of the National Junior team. Head Coach Stan Butler designated Stoll for the job at the Canadian Olympic team announcement on the 15th of December.

Of course as with anything to do with hockey in this country, wearing the Maple Leaf ensign on your chest, never mind the captaincy, carries with it responsibility and pressure. Responsibility to represent your country admirably and the accompanying pressures that goes along with it in the chase for gold. It’s an urgency that seems to be mounting after four years without the shiny yellow medal around their necks.

Undaunted, Stoll takes up the challenge. “I don’t think that you can take it as pressure,” offered the ICE forward. “You’ve just got to use it as motivation. Canada expects the best, so do us players and so do the fans. Use it as motivation and the great support that the fans give us and that’s the way you’ve got to look at it. Just go out there and play hockey and have fun and usually when that happens – with the support we have – that just gives us the motivation I think to go out and win.”

The last four years the Canadian result has produced medals of another color, two bronzes, a silver and a forgettable eighth place finish. The negativity that surrounds a club when they fail to bring home the gold is something that is unwarranted and summations that the Canadian game is deteriorating doesn’t help things. It’s something that Stoll would rather not deal with by winning the gold but also thinks they shouldn’t have to hang their heads because they didn’t. “Yeah, I think so sometimes because I don’t think anything has changed since they won five straight,” said Stoll of the negativity aimed at the team and junior program itself after a result of anything less than gold. “Sometimes you get the breaks sometimes you don’t.”

“I know last year we dominated every team we played and just didn’t score the timely goal when we needed too and lost the wrong game, that was it.”

And the calls that the game in this country is deteriorating? “I don’t think it’s going down (the Canadian game) by any means at all.”

On a team full of stars at the club level, it’s imperative that the cliche of checking the egos at the door is adhered to. That fact isn’t lost on Stoll as probably for the first time in a long while, the high-scoring forward wasn’t on the number one line on last year’s squad. In fact he was just the opposite – a third/fourth line checking role, something almost alien to Stoll – that he faired quite well at. Well enough in coach Butler’s eyes to be named captain. “I don’t think it does at all,” said Stoll on whether it mattered or not where he plays. “I learned two years ago how role players can win championships. We won the league (WHL) two years ago because we had guys like that, who went out there, did their job, didn’t complain and did everything for the team. They scored the timely goal and made the big play when they needed too and that was all they did. So, no, I was totally fine with my role last year and if they give me that role this year I’ll take it in hand completely.”

With his club team’s misfortunes of late back in Cranbrook, Stoll will do his best not to make it a distraction but it still concerns him in his absence. “Yeah, it totally does,” said Stoll. ” Every morning we get told how our teams are doing and how the leagues are doing so, yeah if our team’s not doing well, I’m going to be a little worried and upset.”

His home club will have to manage without Stoll for some time as he isn’t due back with the ICE until the second week of January. Canada’s first game at the World Junior Championship against France begins Christmas Day.