Nineteen-year-old defenceman Libor Zabransky is headed to the Czech Republic, where he will be vying for a spot on the Czech national junior team that will represent their country on home ice at the 2020 World Junior Hockey Championship.
"For me as an older guy, it’s my last year I can make the World Juniors and I’ll do my best," Zabransky said before leaving the Warriors on Wednesday.
This is the fourth time that the Czech Republic has hosted the World Juniors and Zabransky says the country is excited to get things underway and he wants to be a part of it.
"It’s in my home country, it will be huge. It’s sold out every single game," he said. "We’re a hockey country too, so it will be nice."
Zabransky is in his first season with the Warriors and his third season in the Western Hockey League. He has two goals and 11 points in 28 games this season, while also serving as a leader on the backend for a young team in Moose Jaw.
He expects to play the same role with the Czech junior team.
"From the summer camps, I had feedback that I should be one of the leaders, so hopefully that will happen and I’m excited for it," Zabransky said.
"I’ve been captain for three years there, so hopefully it will happen again and it would be nice at home, but it’s a camp before the tournament and I’ll do my best to earn a spot."
Just like Canadians, hockey players all over the world grow up dreaming of playing for their country one day. Zabransky said getting to play for the Czechs, at home, would be an experience he would cherish.
"It’s always nice to put a jersey on and as a kid you dream of it and this will be really special for us," he said.
"It’s the World Juniors, the best tournament for juniors and it’s in my home country, so I’m super excited."
The Czechs last found their way onto the podium at the World Juniors when they won bronze in 2005. Their highest finish since was fourth place in 2018.
Zabransky is confident that they can use their home ice advantage and pick up some big wins at this year’s tournament.
"We have to play smart and skilled, and we have to take advantage of the home ice, it’s bigger ice, so it will be harder for the Canadian team," he said.
"We can take advantage of it and hopefully we can beat some teams, so it will be interesting… We don’t have that many good players like Canada, but we can beat them and be good team."
Playing on the bigger ice surface in Europe is always a challenge and Zabransky says you must play smart.
"It’s bigger ice so you can’t really go and try to hit someone, you have to play smart, you have to play skilled and you have to play with the puck, so that should be our advantage," he said.
The World Juniors start on Boxing Day with the Czech Republic in a group with Canada, the United States and Russia, as well as Germany.
If he makes the team, Zabransky will be gone for the next month, which will leave a big hole in the Warriors’ defensive group, but he said it is a big opportunity for the younger players to step up.
"It’s good for them, I remember my first year in Kelowna when Cal Foote was gone for the world championship, it was my best games in a couple years, so take it as a chance," he said.
The Czech Republic opens the tournament against Russia on Boxing Day in Ostrava. They face Germany on December 28, the United States on December 30 and then they will finish the round robin against Canada on New Year’s Eve.