'It was stressful': Mount Pearl's Zach Dean endures training camp, cracks Canada's world junior lineup
Dean has roots in Botwood, calls Mount Pearl home and moved to Toronto to chase his hockey dreams
Representing Team Canada in the annual and highly anticipated IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship tournament is becoming more frequent in recent years for prospects out of Newfoundland and Labrador.
The tournament draws attention from the global hockey community over the holiday season, as 10 countries face off to win a coveted gold medal.
N.L. had eight players represent the province in the tournament on the national team before this year: Dwayne Norris of St. John's in 1990, John Slaney of St. John's in 1991 and again in 1992 along with Chad Penney of Labrador City, Harold Druken of St. John's in 1999, Michael Ryder of Bonavista in 2000, Luke Adam of St. John's in 2010, Dawson Mercer of Bay Roberts in 2020 and in 2021, when he skated alongside Alex Newhook of St. John's.
This year, Zach Dean of Mount Pearl makes himself the ninth N.L. player to hit the international stage in one of the most-watched hockey tournaments of the year.
"Last week there was a lot of practices. We had some heavy schedules, but this week we've been getting into some pre-tournament games so I'm really enjoying it and having lots of fun," Dean said from his hotel room in Moncton, where half the tournament's games are being played. The other half will be played 250 kilometres south in Halifax.
The 19-year-old called the selection process stressful. Ryan Greene of Paradise was also among the final cuts from this year's roster.
"We were just kind of in our hotel rooms, waiting, not sure what was going on. We finally kind of got the idea when you could hear the coaches out in the hallways, knocking on doors and telling us, 'Welcome to Team Canada,'" Dean said.
"It was stressful but it was a relief once I got the knock and they told me I was on the team."
A big move
Dean has deep family and hockey roots in Botwood. His grandfather, Bob Dean, was the first Newfoundlander to win a Canadian junior hockey Memorial Cup with the Hamilton Red Wings in 1962.
And while he calls Mount Pearl home, Dean's family took a big step when he was 15 years old and moved to Toronto so he could better develop his game.
That meant a new school, a new system and new challenges.
"Moving away when I was 15, that was something that I kind of figured I needed to do if I wanted to pursue my hockey career," Dean said.
"That first year in Toronto, that really helped me with my development and I think, right now, I probably wouldn't be where I am if I didn't do that."
Dean, in his fourth year with the Gatineau Olympiques of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, has 35 points in 27 games so far this season.
He was selected in the first round of the 2021 NHL entry draft by the Vegas Golden Knights and later that year signed a three-year entry level contract.
"It's pretty cool what my pop and my dad have done. They support me with all my decisions and they're always there to help me and I love them for that," said Dean.
"This Christmas I don't get to go back [to Botwood] but they'll be supporting me there and some will be coming up to watch."
But this year's tournament has a bit of a different feeling.
Hockey Canada has been under fire for its handling of sexual assault claims made against former Team Canada players.
In October, the organization's CEO and entire board of directors resigned, making way for a complete rebuild from the top level down. A new board was elected just over a week ago.
Dean said players on this year's team have watched presentations and taken online courses for sexual assault and harassment prevention training. It was a requirement set by the provincial governments of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick for every person representing Hockey Canada at the upcoming tournament, along with their signing of an anti-harassment policy.
"There was lots of steps that we had to take and I think it's really good for us. I think Hockey Canada has done a really good job with that," said Dean.
"I think it's really helped us just get a better understanding and I think Hockey Canada knows it's good for us."
Canada opens the tournament against the Czech Republic on Boxing Day, shooting for its 20th gold medal. The puck drops at 8 p.m. NT.
"It's going to be a pretty surreal feeling in Halifax once we get out there for warmup," Dean said.
With files from Ryan Cooke
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