World Junior Championship asks a lot of teenage hockey talent Ironically, Charlie McAvoy had to become a professional hockey player before he felt like a kid at the holidays. “My first Christmas home — I missed the last two,” said the 20-year-old McAvoy, who spent the three-day holiday break with family in Long Beach, N.Y. “I was in Helsinki, then I was in Canada last year. So it was nice to be home for Christmas for the first time in a while, spend time with my family, get to see my grandma, my cousins, some aunts and uncles. It’s always special to get to see my family and really put everything else aside. You don’t have to think about hockey or anything like that. Christmas Day and Christmas Eve, it’s really just about family and enjoying your time at home. It was fun. It was a great trip home for me. Just like everything else that you want to last a while, it goes like that.”. Before this year, McAvoy had international obligations to fulfill. As one of America’s best 20-and-under representatives, McAvoy was called to represent his country at the two previous installments of the World Junior Championship. Last year, McAvoy fulfilled his assignment with the best possible prize: gold. On Jan. 5, 2017, McAvoy and the Americans bested Canada on enemy ice. At Montreal’s Bell Centre, the Americans won the title with a 5-4 shootout win. Troy Terry, who scored three shootout goals against Russia in the semifinals, executed his magic again, netting the only strike of the post-overtime skills contest. “What an awesome tournament,” McAvoy said. “Everyone has a lot of pride in where they’re from. It’s pretty special to make it to the highest level, but you never forget where you came from. It’s a special time of year. It’s my favorite time of year.”. In terms of competition, there are few tournaments that can rival the world juniors. It is a best-on-best event. Aside from a handful of NHL exceptions (Switzerland’s Nico Hischier, Canada’s Nolan Patrick), the 10 federations pull their best 18- and 19-year-olds to the annual get-together. Even a plucky puck-moving defenseman named Bruce Cassidy earned Canada’s call in 1984. Cassidy played for Brian Kilrea, his junior coach. Cassidy and the Canadians did not medal in Sweden, finishing fourth behind the Soviet Union, Finland, and Czechoslovakia. “We didn’t win, unfortunately,” Cassidy said, “but it was a great experience for me at that time. Despite the praise it draws from its participants, world juniors draws a yearly shrug of the shoulders from American hockey consumers. The tournament’s anonymity in the United States stands in stark contrast to the degree of interest among our northern neighbors. Canadians consider the tournament something of a nationalistic birthright, in the same category as the maple leaf, beaver tails, and the Tragically Hip. This is fitting of a nation that has struck gold 16 times since 1977. It’s not always a healthy level of fanaticism. TSN, Canada’s sports powerhouse, covers the tournament with a similar approach of scrutiny, care, and professionalism as it does with the NHL. Sometimes, it’s not fair. Some of the NHL’s biggest stars remember their world junior experiences for the wrong reasons. Tyler Seguin regarded it a personal failure that he failed to make Canada’s entry in 2010, the year he would be drafted second overall. Seguin, just 17 at the time, did not have the maturity to comprehend the depth and breadth of Team Canada’s talent, which included players who were two years older. This year, Canada’s Josh Mahura felt the cut of his country twice. The defenseman was a final cut when Canada submitted its original roster. But Mahura, Anaheim’s third-round pick in 2016, was waved back into competition when Boston University defenseman Dante Fabbro was classified as questionable because of an injury. Upon Fabbro’s final clearance, Mahura was cut again. The timing of world juniors is also not player-friendly. This year’s tournament started in Buffalo on Dec. The puck has traditionally dropped on Boxing Day, which allows Canadians peak viewing opportunities on their national holiday. Fine for TV watchers, but not ideal for players, staff, and their families, who can find themselves occupied from before Christmas until after New Year’s Day. It is one thing for professionals, such as the Detroit Lions, to play on holidays for fans to enjoy at home. It is another thing for amateurs to report for high-stakes international duty when their peers are unwrapping presents in their pajamas. Hockey families are used to sacrifice. Parents understand they are on their own when it comes to travel and lodging for world juniors; neither the IIHF nor the federations are responsible for helping with the costs. It is a thrill for parents to watch their teenage sons compete on the biggest stage. But it is also a big ask for them to commit both time and resources to a sport that has few rivals when it comes to expenses. So it is with a bit of discomfort that the show goes on. In one way, world juniors represents the peak of U-20 international competition. Every player should be proud and honored to be selected. In another, there is a hint of disappointment that they do so when they could otherwise be acting their age and enjoying the holidays at home. So far, interest in the Buffalo tournament hasn’t been robust. Attendance at KeyBank Center was 7,207 for Team USA’s 9-0 rout of Denmark last Tuesday. In America, TV coverage is TSN’s feed via NHL Network. Perhaps it’s not a bad thing to just let kids be kids.