Canada not only coun­try ex­pected to have Chlers at world ju­niors

North Bay Nugget - - SPORTS - Kyle Cicerella

I watched world ju­niors last five years and it’s pretty much my dream to go there.” Maxim Ca­jkovic, Slo­vakia

maxim ca­jkovic didn’t know a thing about the Que­bec ma­jor Ju­nior hockey League when he left europe for the 2018-19 sea­son, never mind how the world ju­nior cham­pi­onship is em­braced in canada.

the an­nual tour­na­ment isn’t viewed quite the same back home in Slo­vakia.

“i hear peo­ple in canada watch it more than the ac­tual men’s cham­pi­onship,” said ca­jkovic, a Saint John Sea dogs for­ward from bratislava.

“i talked to my bil­let fam­ily and they told me they watch it ev­ery year, ev­ery game. and i see all the com­mer­cials here so i guess it’s re­ally, re­ally big.”

canada has in­vited 29 cana­dian hockey League skaters to se­lec­tion camp next week, but it isn’t the only coun­try with chl play­ers at the event.

the 17-year-old ca­jkovic is one of many chl im­port play­ers that will be leav­ing his team and head­ing to camp in an ef­fort to crack his na­tional team’s ros­ter for the tour­na­ment that be­gins box­ing day in Van­cou­ver and Vic­to­ria, b.c.

Kaza­khstan is the only coun­try among the 10 par­tic­i­pat­ing teams that won’t have a chl player.

“it would mean al­most ev­ery­thing to me,” said ca­jkovic, who went No. 1 to Saint John in the 2018 chl im­port draft. “i watched world ju­niors last five years and it’s pretty much my dream to go there.”

the on­tario hockey League’s Sud­bury Wolves will be los­ing a big part of their early-sea­son suc­cess with Fin­nish goal­tender ukkopekka Luukko­nen head­ing to the tour­na­ment for the sec­ond year in a row.

he was Fin­land’s starter in the 2018 edi­tion in buf­falo and is look­ing for some redemp­tion after his coun­try was bounced in the quar­ter­fi­nals by the czech re­pub­lic and placed sixth.

“Last year was a hard year for us but there’s a lot of things to learn from,” said the 19-year-old, who was taken No. 3 in the chl im­port draft. “there’s no easy team in the tour­na­ment. you have to be ready for every­one.”

Luukko­nen plans to have his par­ents and girl­friend make the flight over from Fin­land for the tour­na­ment, which is a big deal back home.

“a cou­ple real good years and host­ing in Fin­land, it’s a big thing,” said Luukko­nen. “of course it’s hard for a lot to watch the games when we are in Van­cou­ver, but as hockey it’s a big thing.”

ca­jkovic has never played for Slo­vakia’s un­der-20 squad, but was dom­i­nant at the past u18s, where he fin­ished sec­ond in tour­na­ment scor­ing be­hind amer­i­can and top NHL prospect Jack hughes, who’s ex­pected to be one of the stars at the world ju­niors.

ca­jkovic, a five-foot-11, 179pound right-handed winger, has had a long road to the chl, and is clos­ing in on ful­fill­ing his dream of play­ing in the world ju­niors after years of trav­el­ling around the world look­ing for the best com­pe­ti­tion.

he moved away from home with his mom when he was 12 to the czech re­pub­lic to pur­sue hockey at a higher level, and went on to play two years in Swe­den prior to join­ing the Sea dogs. he has spent the ma­jor­ity of his young ca­reer play­ing with play­ers much older than him.

“hockey (is) pretty much ev­ery­thing for me,” said ca­jkovic. “it was the only thing i ever played com­pet­i­tively. Started at five, play­ing with the un­der-11 guys when i was five.

“i al­ways played with older kids, only sea­son with my age group was the first year in Swe­den.”

Play­ers like Luukko­nen have used the in­ter­na­tional spot­light in the past to gain the at­ten­tion of NHL teams, lead­ing to the Fin­nish net­min­der be­ing taken 54th over­all by the buf­falo Sabres in 2017.

ca­jkovic is hop­ing to do some­thing sim­i­lar in 2019.

“you see the rank­ings and peo­ple talk­ing about it ... it’s pretty tough for my head to think about all that stuff. i try to stop and just fo­cus on what i do with Saint John,” said ca­jkovic.

“a lot of pres­sure, most pres­sure i’ve ever had on me. it’s un­be­liev­able how much pres­sure there is.”

the main rea­son he came to the chl was be­cause he was told it would help his chances of mak­ing it to the NHL.

“i didn’t know much, just that it was the ju­nior NHL, best ju­nior league in the world and i would com­pete with the best play­ers for this age. that was pretty much it. i didn’t know any teams,” said ca­jkovic.

Just like canada, which finds an ex­tra gear when it plays the ri­val amer­i­cans, ca­jkovic says that rep­re­sent­ing Slo­vakia is al­ways ex­tra spe­cial when he lines up across from the czech re­pub­lic.

“czechs are re­ally good and they think they are bet­ter than us and not nice to us, so we just want to beat them,” said ca­jkovic. “ba­si­cally a ri­valry. i don’t think we have any­one else like that.”

Slo­vakia opens its tour­na­ment dec. 26 against the u.s. in Vic­to­ria, where all group b games are be­ing held. canada starts against den­mark in Van­cou­ver, the site of all group a games.


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