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(Posted 7:30 a.m., Jan. 8)
Local boy captains Team Ontario to U17 gold
By Fred Sherwin
Orléans Online

Chapel Hill resident Eric Gudbranson proudly displays the gold medal he won as a member of Team Ontario at the recent World Under-17 Hockey Championships. Fred Sherwin/Photo


While most of the country’s attention was focused on Ottawa during the recent World Junior Hockey Championships, another major international tournament was taking place in B.C.

The World Under-17 Hockey Championships features some the best U17 players in the world, many of whom have gone on to represent their countries at the World Juniors. In fact, 22 of the players on Team Canada at this year’s World Junior Championships, played at the World Under-17 tournament.

This year’s U17 world championships included teams from Russia, the United States, Slovakia and Finland, as well as teams from every region in the country.

The defending champions were Team Ontario. One of the selections on the team was Chapel Hill resident Eric Gudbranson who was picked fourth overall at the 2008 OHL Priority Draft by the Kingston Frontenacs.

While Gudbranson was thrilled to make the team, he was even more excited when he walked into the dressing room with the rest of his teammates for the first time and saw a “C” on the front of his jersey.

“We walked into the dressing room and our jerseys were all hanging up in front of our stalls and mine had a ‘C’ on it. It kind of caught me off guard a little when I saw it. I felt really happy. It gave me a sense of accomplishment,” says Gudbranson, who returned to Ottawa on Wednesday to celebrate his birthday with his family before heading back to Kingston.

The 6-foot-4, 185 lb. defenceman was chosen to be the team leader by the coaching staff and the director of hockey operations. It was only surprising in that he hadn’t had any experience in big tournaments. In fact, he hadn’t won a championship of any significance since his first year in Novice except for the odd small tournament here and there. With the “C” came additional responsibility which Gudbranson was more than ready for.

“I knew I had to keep the guys in line and make sure they stayed focused on the goal. I also wanted to make sure that they represented Ontario well when we were out in public,” says Gudbranson.

After winning their one and only exhibition game against Finland on Dec. 28, Team Ontario opened the tournament with an 8-1 win over Atlantic Canada the next day. They followed that up with three consecutive wins over Russia, Germany and Pacific Canada to finish first in their pool.

In the semi-finals they were matched up against Western Canada and ended up winning 7-4 with Gudbranson notching a pair of power play goals. Not only were they his first two goals of the tournament, they were his first two goals of the season.

The gold medal game was a rematch between Team Ontario and Team Pacific who had downed the favoured Americans in the other semi-final.
After the first two periods Team Ontario held a slim one goal lead thanks after Team Pacific scored late in the second period.

The third period was all Team Ontario as Gudbranson and the rest of his teammates stepped up their game.

After setting up the team’s third goal which was scored by John McFarland, Gudbranson put an exclamation point on the team’s effort by scoring another power play goal with 1:20 left in the game.

To cap the whole experience he was on the ice during the last minute of the game and kept possession of the puck as the final 10 seconds ticked off the clock.

What followed was complete pandemonium.

“It was absolutely unbelievable and the best part about was that as the kept I got to hold the trophy first. Being able to lift a World Championship trophy over your head, not many people get to do that, so the fact that I was able to do it was just an amazing experience that I’ll never forget,” says Gudbranson whose mother and father and younger brother Alex got to watch the whole thing transpire from the stands.

The only downside about playing in the tournament was the fact that they didn’t have time to watch much of the World Junior Tournament except for bits and pieces here and there and the odd highlight. But not to worry, Gudbranson and several other of the players on Team Ontario are hoping to build on their success at the tournament to earn a spot on the national under-18 team that will be playing in the Ivan Hlinka Tournament in the Czech Republic next August.

A good showing in the Hlinka Tournament would go along way to possibly making the World Junior team, which is Gudbranson’s goal right now.

“Absolutely. I just have to work my tail off and keep improving and hopefully make the under-18 team. If I can make a good impression, hopefully I’ll be able to make the World Junior team. That would be the ultimate,” says Gudbranson.

His more immediate focus will be on helping to turnaround the Kingston Frontenacs' season. The team is currently in last place in the East Division having only won eight games so far this season.

Looking more long term, Gudbranson will be eligible for the NHL Draft in 2010 when he hopes to fulfill the dream of every young hockey player in the country and make the NHL.

(This story was made possible thanks to the generous support of our local business partners.)

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