CANADA – Jacob Bernard-Docker and the Junior National Team are going for gold.
The Canmore-native and 19-year-old defenceman is in the Czech Republic preparing with his teammates for the upcoming 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship from Dec. 26 to Jan. 5. Canada’s first game is Dec. 26 at 11 a.m. MT against the United States.
“It’s a new experience for me at a big competition that will have all of Canada watching,” Bernard-Docker said.
NEWS | Five returnees among group travelling to Europe ahead of 2020 #WorldJuniors.— Hockey Canada (@HockeyCanada) December 13, 2019
While many prepare to sift through Boxing Day deals and countdown the New Year, this time of year parallels a holiday tradition for Canadians intent on a World Juniors fix.
It was no different for Bernard-Docker, once a peewee Bow Valley Timberwolves player watching the annual tournament play out in front of him, to eventually being scouted for the team himself.
The six-foot-one righty said being selected to Junior National Team is a childhood dream come true and he knows millions of Canadians will be watching.
“[The World Juniors is] something I watched as a kid growing up, I wouldn’t miss a game,” said Bernard-Docker, the Ottawa Senators 26th overall draft pick in 2018. “It’s a huge honour for me to be on the team.”
Canada won gold at the 2018 World Juniors, but the perennial gold medal contender had a disastrous outing on home soil last year in Victoria and Vancouver, finishing sixth.
Bernard-Docker was invited to last year’s selection camp, but didn't make the roster. He said being cut stung for months after.
“I think I was definitely carrying that into the offseason,” Bernard-Docker said, who has three goals and 14 points in 15 games in his second year with the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks. “It definitely helped in my training and mindset coming into this year.
“Last year, [the five returning players] remember that feeling [of losing] … the goal for Canada is to always win gold.”
Of the 24 Canucks to make the roster after selection camp (Dec. 9-12) in Oakville, Ontario, Bernard-Docker and defenceman Ty Smith from Lloydminster are the only two Albertans.
In total, three goalies, seven defencemen and 14 forwards were picked, including forward Alexis Lafrenière, the projected number one pick of the 2020 NHL Draft.
“As with every year, there are difficult decisions to trim down our roster, but ultimately we believe this group will give us our best shot at a gold medal,” said Shawn Bullock, director of men’s national teams with Hockey Canada, in a press release. “We will continue the process of building our team, and we look forward to an exciting World Juniors.”
Bernard-Docker said he’s been paired on the blueline a lot with Kevin Bahl, a six-foot-seven lefty from the Ottawa 67’s of the OHL, who was recently sent to the New Jersey Devils as apart of the Taylor Hall trade. This season with the 67’s, Bahl has five goals and 20 points in 28 games.
“He’s really good and skates extremely well for his size,” Bernard-Docker said of Bahl, who was drafted 55th overall in 2018 by the Arizona Coyotes.
In the tournament that will host Canada’s biggest rivals – Russia and the U.S. – Bernard-Docker isn’t feeling the weight of the history. There are nerves, he said, but the former Okotoks Oiler is just excited for it all, including wearing the Maple Leaf.
“I think just representing my country is an honour in itself,” he said. “Obviously, we want to try to win a gold medal, but I want to enjoy every second of it and take in as much a as I can.”