PHOTO: Balraj Panesar carries the ball at the 2016 Junior Men’s Pan American Championship in Toronto in May 2016 (By Yan Huckendubler)
When Canada hits the field at the 2016 Junior World Cup this Thursday in India (7:00pm local, 5:30am PT, 8:30am ET), it will do so as the youngest team in the tournament.
Nearly the entire Canadian roster is playing in its first Junior World Cup, and many players will be competing in their first international tournaments.
The relative inexperience of the majority of the team makes the presence of defender Brandon Pereira and midfielder Balraj Panesar all the more important for Canada.
Pereira and Panesar competed in the 2013 Junior World Cup and are set to compete in their second such tournament this year.
And with their experience from the the last tournament comes added responsibility in this year’s edition of Junior hockey’s biggest competition.
“Last time I was one of the younger kids,” says Pereira. “This time around I’ll try and be a good leader and bring my experience and hopefully my leadership will be shown throughout the tournament on and off the field.”
Pereira remembers being helped along in his first Junior World Cup and hopes to do the same for his teammates this year, whether that’s off the field where he can be a mentor, or on the field where he can lead the way through his experience playing at this level.
“The main thing is the speed of the game and how there is not really much time for you to make a decision because of how fast it is,” he says. “Even though we’ll be making mistakes, we can’t worry about those because of how fast the game is. We have to be going to the next play.”
Panesar has similar advice for his Canadian teammates.
“You can’t overthink it,” he says. “It is your first big tournament, but at the same time it should be the first tournament of many.”
Many of the players the Canadian roster in India will be eligible to compete in the next Junior World Cup, which means they will have an opportunity to develop as Juniors over the next four years.
But for Pereira and Panesar, it will likely be their last Junior tournament before they try and make the Senior National Team a permanent home. And to do that, they know making the biggest impact at the World Cup gives them the best chance.
And while having an impact India would help Pereira and Panesar in their personal pursuits, it would also go a long way in making Canada’s tournament a success.
“Obviously as one of the Senior guys on the Junior team, you try to help out some of the younger guys,” adds Panesar. “This is the last chance as a Junior so you hope to make the best of it before you move on to the senior level hopefully.”
Canada opens to the 2016 Junior World Cup on Thursday against host India at 7:00pm local time (5:30am PT/8:30am ET).