Hitmen eagerly watching Rask take shot at second straight gold medal
That is unless the Swedish star is playing in the middle of the night
Jaynen Rissling is a good teammate and a good friend to Victor Rask.
But setting his alarm for ridiculous hours of the night — or staying up all night, for that matter — to watch his Calgary Hitmen pal at the 2013 IIHF world junior championships?
His friendship only knows so many bounds.
“I’m not that hardcore,” chuckled the 19-year-old Hitmen blueliner, on Thursday before hitting the ice at the Scotiabank Saddledome. “But I’ll look on TSN and see how the other teams did and how Vic did.”
In his defence, Rissling, like most of his teammates, have been focused on their own Western Hockey League schedule and resuming action after the WHL Christmas break.
And, also, thanks to PVR and readily available iPads, Rissling and the Hitmen have been staying connected and up-to-date with Rask, the 19-year-old Carolina Hurricanes prospect and the team’s No. 1 centreman.
Prior to Thursday’s practice, the team had already been caught up on the news — that Rask and Team Sweden had beat Russia 3-2 in overtime earlier in the morning and is now gearing up for Saturday’s gold medal final against the U.S.
“We’ve been texting,” Rissling said. “I saw he got a goal the other day. I texted him and he was pretty happy. I saw he got an assist the other morning and texted him. I made fun of him a bit (Wednesday) for missing in the shootout.
“But I guess he scored the other day, so that’s good for him.”
Truth be told, Rask, who potted the shootout winner in last Friday’s 3-2 round-robin victory against the Swiss and has two goals and two assists in five games so far, is playing a bigger role than he did in the 2012 IIHF tournament in Calgary and Edmonton. But although he played limited minutes last year, he still found himself with a gold medal draped around his neck after a thrilling 1-0 overtime victory in the gold-medal game against the Russians at the Scotiabank Saddledome.
The Hitmen, as a team, definitely caught that one live.
“We got to watch it here, so that was pretty cool,” said Calgary forward Greg Chase. “He didn’t really have a big role last year. This year during the tournament, we’ve been texting back and forth and he said his role is a little bigger and he’s enjoying it.
“Hopefully he can get another gold. And, obviously, it’s not against Canada so he can do whatever he wants. He can win if he wants. If it was against Canada, it might have been a little different.”
By the time the Hitmen had woken up Thursday morning, still groggy from Wednesday’s 10-2 thumping of the Brandon Wheat Kings, they had also found out Canada had lost 5-1 to the U.S. in the other semifinal and is playing Russia in the bronze medal game.
Still, their home bias aside, the fact Sweden is playing for its second gold medal in as many years — after winning the country’s first gold medal in 31 years — is impressive.
“I’m happy for him,” said defenceman Spencer Humphries. “Last year, he came up with the gold. It would be pretty crazy if they could get another gold, especially being Sweden. Canada, U.S., or Russia, they’re the favourites.
“Sweden has been making a name for themselves which is awesome.”
And, at the same time, Rask has also been putting his namebar on the map.
After starting the 2012-13 season with the Carolina Hurricanes’ American Hockey League affiliate Charlotte Checkers, he was sent back to the Hitmen after 10 games. Since his return, he’s netted three goals and nine assists in 11 games. Last season — his first in the WHL and first in North America — he notched 33 goals and 30 assists in 64 games.
“He’s one of my better friends on the team and we’re missing him here a lot,” Chase said. “He’s got a good opportunity to win two golds. Not a lot of people even get the chance to go there. So that’s pretty cool for him.
“We’re all excited for him.”
He’s also the first Hitmen player since Martin Jones and Brandon Kozun (2009) to star at the world juniors and could become the first Hitmen player since Karl Alzner (2007 and 2008) to win back-to-back gold medals.
And it’s almost worth pulling an all-nighter Friday after their home game against the Moose Jaw Warriors to see what happens.
“Just playing in that tournament is a thrill as it is,” agreed Rissling. “Then going for gold two years in a row — the only two years you’ve been in it — has got to be something special.
“Depends on how our game goes Friday, I might stay up and watch it.”
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