Most of Dylan Strome’s family will be in the crowd cheering on Team Canada’s captain as he takes to the ice where he grew up to begin the world junior hockey championship against Russia tonight at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto.
“Grandparents, parents, my little brother, cousins, aunts, uncles, friends,” said Strome. “It’s only about 20 minutes from home. With traffic maybe 45 minutes.”
In total, 20 members of Strome’s family are going to be cheering alongside more than 19,000 other Team Canada fans lining the stands of the Air Canada Centre for the preliminary round play at the world junior hockey championship.
“It’s pretty special playing so close to home,” Strome told CBC News. “I grew up watching games in this rink. Only played in it once. The last game we played here was my first game here.”
We’re going ‘to use home ice to our advantage’
The Mississauga-native is trying to make up for Team Canada’s disappointing finish last year in Helsinki after the team was eliminated to eventual champion Finland in the quarter-finals.
“Obviously it wasn’t the tournament we wanted last year,” he said. “We’re going to have to use home ice to our advantage. It’s going to be helpful for us.
“Toronto is the hockey capital of the world pretty much so it’s exciting to be here.”
‘It’s pretty special playing so close to home.’ – Dylan Strome
It’s a completely different experience playing the world juniors in Canada opposed to any other place in the world, Strome added.
“We didn’t get to see how special the tournament is last year in Helsinki,” he said.
This year’s world junior hockey championship is being held in Toronto and Montreal. The gold medal game will be at the Bell Centre in Montreal.
“It’s pretty cool to see everything, to see how much people care,” said Strome.
‘You’re going to see some pretty crazy crowds’
The Canadians have taken home top three finishes in all 11 world juniors held on home ice since the tournament began in 1977 — including five gold medals.
Their most recent home ice appearance was last year when the team pushed Russia aside for a spot in the World Cup of Hockey final.
“I’m sure you’re going to see some pretty crazy crowds over the next few days,” said Strome. “Every time we score the crowd is going to be buzzing for a good 10 to 15 minutes.”
Canada is in Group B with the Russians, United States, Slovakia and Latvia in this year’s event, and plays all of its preliminary round games in Toronto with Group A playing out of Montreal.
Strome among five returnees
Five players from last year’s roster will return for the Canadians, including captain Dylan Strome.
Strome scored four goals and two assists in five games during the 2016 edition of the tournament. The six-foot-three, 194 pound centre was drafted third overall in the 2015 NHL draft by the Arizona Coyotes.
The 19-year-old played seven games this season with the Coyotes, collecting one assist, before they returned him to the Erie Otters of the Ontario Hockey League.
Also returning to the team are assistant captains Mathew Barzal, a New York Islanders’ prospect, and Thomas Chabot, an Ottawa Senators’ draft pick. Julien Gauthier and Mitchell Stephens also round out the five returnees.
The game kicks off between Canada and Russia tonight at 8 p.m. ET.