Eberle carries Canada in times of need
Regina native 'not afraid of the big situation,' says Canadian coach
You could forgive Jordan Eberle if he were starting to get a bit nervous heading into the medal round at the world junior hockey championship in Saskatoon.
After all, he's representing his country in his home province. The NHL team that drafted him — Edmonton — is just five hours up the road and Saskatchewan is home to thousands of Oilers fans.
But nerves aren't much of a problem. In fact, Eberle believes they're part of the solution.
"When you play in pressure situations, the more you do it, the easier it gets," the Canadian centre said. "There's still nerves, but it's just a matter of trying to use the nerves for you, rather than against you."
With five goals and 10 points in four games, Eberle led the tournament in scoring after the round-robin portion with five goals and 10 points. In Thursday's pivotal game against the United States, he scored twice in regulation and once in the shootout in a 5-4 Canadian decision.
Eberle's goal at 10:03 of the third period was the catalyst that ignited Canada's comeback from a two-goal deficit.
"That's what makes hockey fun when you get into situations like that, and you're basically backed against the wall and have got nothing to do."
The 19-year-old Eberle has experienced more than his share of success at the world juniors, racking up 23 points in his career at the tournament, one point shy of Jason Allison for No. 2 on Canada's all-time list.
Late cut by Oilers
But last fall, he was among the final cuts of the Edmonton Oilers and was sent back to his junior squad, the Regina Pats — a last-place team that is quickly falling out of the playoff hunt in the Western Hockey League.
Perhaps that's why he's making the best of his opportunities to play with some of the best juniors in the world, skating on a line with Kelowna's Brandon MacMillan and Brandon's Brayden Schenn.
An assistant captain on this year's Canadian squad, Eberle has shown a knack for bailing out his teammates over his entire career with the national program.
Last year in Ottawa, Canada was trailing the Russians late in the third period of a semifinal, in danger of being relegated to the bronze-medal game. Then, with just three seconds remaining on the clock, Eberle scored one of the most dramatic goals in Canadian history, forcing overtime. The Canadians eventually won, and went on to the take the gold medal.
He has learned a lot from last year's nail-biter and this year's shootout win over the United States.
"I think that adversity will help our team a lot," Eberle said.
The U.S. outplayed and outworked Canada in their New Year's Eve matchup.
The speedy Americans forced Team Canada to cough up the puck on many occasions, leading to several scoring chances.
The U.S. also exposed weaknesses in Canada's defence and its power play.
After several costly errors, frustration was starting to mount on the bench, defenceman Travis Hamonic recalled, until Eberle started to work his magic.
"He can pick a team up from the ground and raise them up by himself," Hamonic said. "Jordan is probably the biggest goal scorer in junior hockey in Canada. And you know that if he's going to get an opportunity, he's going to cash in on it."
Anytime Canada has needed a goal, or a big shift, Eberle has delivered. But he's also proving, off the ice, that he's a likeable teammate too.
"He's a great hockey player, but an even better friend," said Hamonic, who has known Eberle since they were 10 years old. "He's one of those guys in the locker room that you can stick with any guy [on any line] and they're going to gel with him. For some reason people just gravitate to Jordan."
Eberle makes his teammates better with his playmaking abilities, but he also makes them happier with his magnetic personality.
"He plays hockey like he treats a friendship. He's always going to be there for you no matter where it is in the game. He's always going to be there to pick you up," Hamonic said.
When the game is on the line, Canadian head coach Willie Desjardins never hesitates to put Eberle out on the ice.
"He's not afraid of the big situation," Desjardins said. "He's a quality person and a real good player."