EDMONTON -- This Winnipeg thing with hockey has become a little ridiculous. We all agree what a magnificent story the Winnipeg Jets return has been to Canada and the rest of the NHL.
But to hammer home the kind the affect the return of the Jets has had on Winnipeg and Manitoba, Mark Stone provided one final chapter before the calendar flips to 2012.
Stone, who hails from Winnipeg, scored three times in Canada's 8-1 outburst against Finland at Rexall Place on Monday.
If Stone appeared slightly more determined than his Canadian junior teammates in the tournament opener, there was a reason.
The world junior championship has been on his mind since he was 6 ½. He admits that he didn't realize the magnitude of the world under-20 tournament when he sat in the seats of the old Winnipeg Arena and watched goalie Roberto Luongo and the Canadian team run out of gas in the gold-medal final against Russia.
But ever since taking in that tournament with his family, including his older brother Michael, now a defenceman in the Phoenix Coyotes system, the younger Stone always had a dream of one day playing in the world junior tournament.
The Brandon Wheat Kings forward was devastated when he didn't land an invite to the Canadian selection camp last year. But he simply wasn't on the radar because he struggled through the 2009-10 season with a concussion and broken thumb.
His time on the sidelines with those ailments limited him to 39 games, although he did manage to score 11 times and run up his point total to 28 that season. The Senators were fortunate to have snatched him in the sixth-round (178th overall) of the 2010 NHL entry draft.
Hard to ignore
Last season, Stone emerged from the pack in Brandon. He finished with 37 goals and 106 points and Hockey Canada couldn't ignore him any longer. He received a spot a the summer development camp and not only developed immediate chemistry with forward Jonathan Huberdeau, but Stone was the best forward at the camp.
"My confidence was high going into that camp and I felt even better after the camp," Stone said.
After a stint in Senators training camp, Stone bolted out of the gate in Brandon. He led the WHL in scoring with 27 goals and 65 points in 33 games when arrived at the Canadian junior team selection camp earlier this month.
He played on a line with Huberdeau and centre Ryan Strome in Canada's opener. The trio accounted for five Canadian goals and 12 points.
"Everybody is capable of scoring on this team," Stone said. "Playing with Huberdeau and Strome is pretty easy."
It was not easy for Stone to sit by and watch Brandon teammates Keith Aulie in 2009 and Brayden Schenn the past two years play for the Canadian junior team, while he was left at home with the Wheaties. But Stone used his teammates success as part of the learning process. He grilled them about their experience when they returned to Brandon.
So seeing Stone check in with the three-goal effort like he did against Finland was no surprise to those who play with him and against him.
"I think it ranks first," said the son of Jackie and Robert Stone, when asked if this was his best game as a teenager.
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