Christmas is a time for family, festive gatherings, food, and finding out what Santa left you under the tree.
It’s also that time of year to sit around the television and take in the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship.
That is, unless you’re one of the chosen few who actually get a chance to take part in one of the most prestigious hockey tournaments in the world – people such as Swan River’s Lasse Petersen.
The former Swan Valley Stampeder and son of current Stamps bench boss and general manger Erik Petersen – who was born in Denmark – will rejoin his teammates from Denmark this month as the rising hockey nation continues to cement their position among the other world powers.
Petersen, currently a netminder with the Red Deer Rebels of the WHL, was a member of last year’s team, and is looking forward to his second appearance at the annual Christmas tourney. And for him, there is no bigger stage than the World Juniors.
“The atmosphere is a little different,” said Petersen in a telephone interview. “There’s always that pride you have when you’re representing your team, but when you represent your country, there’s a different pride in that.
“It’s also a little different – you’re not living in a billet home, you’re living in a hotel, so it’s all run pretty professional,” he added. “There’s also more exposure, because it’s such a popular tournament, with a lot of people watching.”
Petersen has moved around a bit to start this season, but he seems to have found the right fit in Red Deer. His start included a brief stop back in Swan River with the Stamps, but through it all, Petersen has been ready to work hard and prepare for the road ahead.
“I was trying to stick to my game, and not worry about where I was playing,” he said. “My main focus was to get as much playing time as I could. If it was in the WHL or the MJHL, I’d be fine with that as well.
“It was just important to work on my preparation and be ready for (my opportunity).”
Petersen has 14 games this year with the Rebels, and feels his game is rounding into shape as the tournament draws near.
“I feel pretty good about my game, I’m working on the little things with my goalie coach in Red Deer, and things are working out pretty well – I’m feeling pretty confident,” he noted.
And he’ll need that confidence as the World Junior Championship has been known as a launching pad for future NHL stars. One need only look back at last year’s tournament which featured current NHL stars such as Patrik Laine (Winnipeg Jets), Austin Matthews (Toronto Maple Leafs) and Jesse Puljujarvi (Edmonton Oilers) to see the level of competition Petersen will face.
“It’s a pretty cool experience – I don’t see there being any fear factor (facing the best junior players), I see it as a chance to play against the best, which is awesome,” said Petersen. “It can make you better, and you can say ‘I played against that guy’. I see it more of an exciting thing than anything else.”
And with such tough opposition, it’s always a tough road for smaller yet improving nations such as Denmark. But Petersen said Denmark enters this event expecting a lot out of themselves.
“Our main goal last year was to make it to the quarter-finals, and we believe we can do that again this year,” he said. “We have a good group of guys, and a bunch of returning players who are just getting better and better.
“I believe we have the players to do it, and I’m pretty sure we can make it to the quarter-finals again.”
The journey begins for Denmark on Dec. 26 when they take on Sweden in Montreal. Other teams in their pool include defending champion Finland, Switzerland and the Czech Republic. The other pool, which will start their action in Toronto, features Canada, the United States, Russia, Slovakia and Latvia.
And with the tournament being held in North America this year, Petersen can expect to have his family in the stands when the puck drops.
“My parents just bought their tickets, and my Grandma might be coming as well,” he said. “I’m looking forward to that.”