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WJC2013: Team Canada girds for ’24 hours of darkness’ in Ufa

Steve Spott was on staff with Canada's last WJC gold medallist in 2009 (OHL Images)

Nothing against Ufa, Russia, which no doubt has its pluses, but this world junior championship is going to be a throwback to the days when Team Canada were strangers in strange lands going to play in a tournament that was an afterthought on the European hockey calendar.

That certainly had its appeal.Ask Theo Fleury and the 1988 players who won gold in Moscow during the late stages of the Cold War about what they overcame. It might be tough for Team Canada, whose first three games in Ufa are going to commence at 4:30 Eastern Standard Time.

From Josh Brown

Hockey Canada is pulling out all the stops to make sure the focus remains on the ice. Team chefs are tagging along to prepare familiar food while the outfit has even hired sleep experts and purchased special tanning lamps to help players adjust to the climate in the southern Russian city, near the Kazakhstan border.

"We're probably dealing with 24 hours of darkness," said Spott. "Our bodies are motivated by light. We have a pretty detailed plan on how we will deal with that, with some artificial light during the day." (Waterloo Record)

Hey, all the stops have to be pulled out. This tournament stacks up as one that's much different from any held before on the other side of the Atlantic, what with Russia hosting and now having a renewed interest in taking U20 supremacy. The shift in priorities post-dates even the last two tournaments in Europe in 2007 and 2008, where Canada had dominant teams and just eked out. (The '07 team needed Jonathan Toews' shootout heroics in the semifinal while the '08 squad needed an overtime gold-medal game win over Canada.) The last overseas win was in 1997, practically ancient history.

Of course, your casual, instant gratification desiring sports fan who's looking forward to the tournament, especially in a NHL lockout year, neither knows nor cares about this. Canada's last two 'lockout teams' won, ergo, this one should, even though Spott and head scout Kevin Prendergast are cautioning this is a different world.

From Dave Feschuk:

That [2005] team featured the likes of Sidney Crosby, Mike Richards, Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Dion Phaneuf. It went 6-0, racked up a 41-7 goal differential and capped its dominance with a 6-1 gold-medal wipeout of a Russian team that included Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin. Canada's lineup during the 1994-95 work stoppage, which included Ryan Smyth, Darcy Tucker and Ed Jovanovski, was no minnow, either.

"If you're going to rate (the lockout-year teams) 1-2-3, this would be the third team," said Kevin Prendergast, Hockey Canada's head scout. "That 2005 team was unbelievable. They probably could have beat a lot of American league teams — there's no doubt about it. But this team is going to be excellent."

For Spott, the implied expectation is understood.

"The most common question I've got . . . is, 'Why would you want to put yourself in this position?' It's because this is what we do. For me, it's first and foremost an honour. And it's a challenge I look forward to," said Spott. "If there's anything I would say to Canadian hockey fans, it's that this has become a global sport. It's no longer Canada's divine right to win gold medals at any level.

"The bar has been raised. But it hasn't changed our mindset where it is gold or nothing." (Toronto Star)

Good thing for Canada they have those heat lamps, then.

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at neatesager@yahoo.ca and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.

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