The 44 players representing Canada at the 2015 World Junior A Challenge come from one corner of the country to the other, from Nanaimo, B.C. (Carter
Turnbull) to Lewisporte, N.L. (Lucas Batt).
But for two, Canada East teammates Sam Dunn and Ben Sokay, getting the chance to represent their country hits a lot closer to home – 25 kilometres or less,
to be exact.
Dunn and Sokay will have the home crowd advantage this week, playing just minutes from where they grew up; Dunn is from Bewdley, Ont., north of Cobourg,
while Sokay is a native of Port Hope, just 15 minutes west on the 401.
It’s a home-ice advantage, to be sure.
“Everyone I know has told me they’re coming, so I feel the hype,” Sokay says. “Just to have [the Team Canada] logo on the front of your jersey, with your
name on the back, it’s a huge honour. And it’s not only for me, but for my family too.”
For Dunn, it’s double the excitement; not only is the defenceman a local, he’s in his second season patrolling the blue-line with the Cobourg Cougars, so
he’s sure to have a few extra fans once Canada East reaches the Cobourg Community Centre (the easterners are playing their preliminary round games in
“Playing in my home arena means I know a lot more people in the stands than some of the other guys that are from other places,” he says. “It definitely
brings a little excitement that I get to represent [Team Canada].”
And while it’s a no-brainer that the Canadian entries will get the most attention, and the most support, in Cobourg and Whitby, there are sure to a few
extra cheers from the Dunn and Sokay contingents, simply because they’ll likely be the biggest.
For Dunn, a lot of his school friends and Cougars fans have already confirmed they’ll be in attendance when Canada East gets to Cobourg, but it’s one
special person in particular that he’ll be playing for first and foremost – his grandmother.
“She loves it. And she’s really excited too,” he says of his most loyal fan. “Wearing this jersey means you’re representing not only your family but your
friends, your town, and of course the whole country. It’s a pretty special feeling.”
But with the special feeling comes unique pressure – at least, you’d think so. Both players say representing their country so close to home presents an
emotional boost, not a hindrance, thanks to the additional support.
On the ice, though, there’s not much of an advantage; they’ll be matched up against some of the best young players in the world, and regardless of who’s in
the stands they’ll still need to play their game.
“Other than the fact that I know how the ice feels a little more than some of the other guys because I play here all the time, I don’t think there’s that
much of an advantage,” says Dunn.
“Everyone in this room is an excellent hockey player so you need to go out and play your game, no matter where you play,” adds Sokay.
A quick look around Cobourg and Whitby reveals just how much the communities are behind the World Junior A Challenge, the Canadian teams, and the local
players – Sokay has a personalized sign of support outside the Foodland in Cobourg. So the hype is real.
Dunn and Sokay expect bigger and louder crowds during the World Junior A Challenge than they are used to, simply because of the magnitude of the event, and
the team they’re playing for; after all, international hockey doesn’t come to Cobourg and Whitby all that often.
“The energy level [the crowds] are going to bring will bring the energy up for the team for sure,” Dunn says.
And when Canada East finally makes it way to Cobourg, Dunn will have the chance to play in his own rink, in front of his own fans, suiting up in his own
dressing room, and maybe even sitting in his own stall.
Add in a chance at a home-ice gold to top it all off? Talk about the comforts of playing at home.