Stage is set for McDavid-Eichel showdown
U.S. captain Jack Eichel during warmups at the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship on December 28, 2014 at the Bell Centre. (JOHANY JUTRAS/LE JOURNAL DE MONTRÉAL /QMI AGENCY)
You are 17.
In a moment of sheer emotion some critics insist you don’t show enough of, you punched the glass in a game against Germany Saturday after scoring your first competitive goal since injuring your hand on Nov. 11 only to see it become a national issue.
You have been questioned about the logic -- or lack thereof -- of slamming your mitt against a solid object again. You have been queried about not appearing -- on the outside, at least – to be having fun.
On and on it goes.
How are you liking the world junior so far, Connor McDavid?
“Some of the guys made jokes about it,” McDavid said Monday of the alleged punching issue which, in reality, isn’t one. “It’s not like I suddenly was trying to send a message or anything.
“It was kind of in the moment. You get excited and you kind of do what you do. I saw some fans over there and kind of wanted to celebrate with them.”
You are a teenager. It’s allowed.
But when you are a Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel, the spotlight only intensifies, no matter how innocent your actions might seem, especially here at the 2015 World Junior Championship.
In Eichel’s case, you are 18, barely three months older than McDavid. No matter how hard you try, no matter what you do, you are linked with the phenom from Newmarket, Ont.
You’ve been told that, in any other draft year, you would likely be the No. 1 overall pick. But this isn’t any other draft year. It is also Connor McDavid’s draft year, one in which the Erie Otters star seems to have the inside track on being the top overall selection.
At least that’s what many on the outside keep telling you.
You could bitch. You could whine. You could claim, rightly or wrongly, that the Canadian media has a pro-McDavid bias.
You are a teenager. It’s allowed.
But that is not Jack Eichel’s way. He welcomes the challenge. Bring it on.
“He’s a good player,” Eichel said of McDavid after Team USA’s 3-0 victory over Slovakia at the Bell Centre. “But I’m not too worried about him right now. And I’m sure he’s not too worried about me.”
Come Wednesday afternoon, however, that might be a different story.
In the same building where the late great Jean Beliveau lay in state less than a month earlier, the most highly anticipated hockey game a Canadian national team has played since the gold medal contest in Sochi will take place.
It will feature a pair of teenagers who have become household names in Canada.
Such is the passion for the sport here, both for the deceased legends of the past and for the budding superstars of the future.
And such is the hype that is accompanying the New Year’s Eve tilt between McDavid’s Team Canada and Eichel’s Team USA. This is what the hockey world has been waiting for. McDavid versus Eichel.
For their part, the Americans and Eichel aren’t buying what the headline writers are selling. Let the outside world pimp Jack Vs. Connor all they want. Inside the American dressing room, such white noise is being ignored, replaced by the team’s one-word, two-letter credo.
Said Eichel: “It’s always about the team. Everyone on our team is in good spirits right now. Our team motto has always been ‘Us.’ That’s what we’re worried about: Us. As for me personally, I just try to put the team first to help us win games.
“I’m pretty excited. It’s always fun when you play Canada. It’s always a battle. It’s going to be a tough 60 minutes. They’re not going to hand it to us.
“You grow up watching this game. Bell Centre. New Year’s Eve. It’s going to be a great show.”
One Eichel badly wants to win, McDavid or no McDavid.
“You hate to lose to them. You love to beat them. Obviously (they’re) a rival so it’s going to be a tough game.”
And so, after all the talk, it will be time to walk the walk. On New Year’s Eve, hundreds of thousands of eyeballs in this country will be glued to their televisions, watching a pair of teenagers and their rival teams do battle.
Only in Canada, eh?