Many would consider playing for their country a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but Carberry's Carson Bjarnason has now done it twice.
The 17-year-old goaltender is now a Bronze Medallist after helping Team Canada finish in third place at the Ice Hockey U18 World Championships in Switzerland. Even though they didn't come away with their ultimate goal of a gold medal, Bjarnason says it was an experience unlike any other.
"It was unbelievable, to say the least. Hockey Canada always treats their players top-notch. Everything is professional there. It was a business trip but we had our time to have some fun. We got to tour around a little bit," Bjarnason explains. "Anytime you get to put on that jersey, you know you're playing with some of the best, and you're expecting more out of yourself than you would be playing somewhere else. Being able to play up to those expectations and being able to represent my country was huge for me."
The first game of the tournament is one many of the Canadians would like to have back as they lost 8-0 to the defending champions, Sweden. Bjarnason got the start in this one and notes even though he didn't play up to his standards, he's glad that happened.
"It's easier to learn from a win because you're happy but what you need is failure. You need to get knocked down and be able to respond properly," says Bjarnason. "As a team, we knew we weren't good enough. We had only been practicing for a couple of days together. Being able to bounce back the next three or four games was huge."
Bjarnason responded to the 8-0 loss in the best way he could, recording a shutout of his own. Canada flipped the score of the first game to defeat Germany 8-0.
"It's a quick turnaround. These tournaments are short, and you're supposed to enjoy them but you're also supposed to play like there's no tomorrow," Bjarnason continues. "I expected Germany's best. I feel that any team that plays against Canada, they're giving their best and even more. That's a gold medal game for them. If they beat us, that's huge. I expected their best and didn't downplay them. Coach Truitt having trust in me to bounce back properly was huge."
Team Canada and Team Sweden went head-to-head again in the semi-finals, and while the game was tied after the first period, Canada went on to lose 7-2. Bjarnason took a hit to the head in the second frame and did not return to the game. From that point on, Sweden scored five unanswered goals.
Bjarnason, unfortunately, wasn't cleared to play in the bronze medal game but says watching his teammates take down Slovakia in overtime was very gratifying.
"It was awesome. It was a close game, maybe closer than we wanted but that makes it all more fun. Slovakia was a good team. They gave us a good run in our third game. Great team and great goaltending over there," Bjarnason explains. "Woody (Matthew Wood), Celebrini (Macklin Celebrini), and I were a tight-knit trio out there. The whole tournament, we hung out a lot. So, it was nice to see them both do well. They had unbelievable tournaments (Wood had a goal and three assists). Celi being able to get that goal (overtime winner), was massive."
Bjarnason had a 3.51 goals-against-average and a shutout during his time in Switzerland. The Carberry product will now shift his focus to the NHL Entry Draft, as he is ranked by many as the top goalie prospect in all of North America.