Roommate, linemate, mentor, guardian, friend.
Vernon’s Curtis Lazar is serving as all of the above for Team Canada winger Connor McDavid at the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championships in Montreal and Toronto.
Lazar, who turns 20 in February, is captain and one of seven returnees from last year’s entry which lost 5-1 to Finland in the semifinals in Malmo, Sweden.
McDavid turns 18 in two weeks and is under enormous media scrutiny since he will likely be chosen first in the NHL Entry Draft next summer in Sunrise, Fla.
They are calling the easy-going, always-smiling Lazar and the more serious, intense McDavid Junior hockey’s Odd Couple. Lazar dominates trivia phone app games against McDavid.
“Connor is a great guy; we are really getting along and, yes, he does let his guard down and have a lot of fun with the guys,” Lazar told The Morning Star.
“He has a lot on his plate this season and I’m just trying to get him to relax and enjoy the ride. As far as his skill set, where do you start? He is so explosive and it seems like he is floating not to mention he has awesome vision and he has the ability to shake off any defender trying to cover him. He certainly is a special player.”
Lazar, who scored once as Canada grounded Finland 4-1 Monday night before 15,718 fans at the Bell Centre in Montreal, says playing on home soil has its slight advantages.
“The world juniors is an exciting tournament regardless if it’s played in Canada or Europe, but being closer to home and eating familiar food and sleeping in similar style beds are definitely a positive. Our routines remain the same, we spend a lot of time at the rink practising and watching video preparing for our next games and then if not at the rink, we are usually hanging out at the hotel keeping a somewhat low profile.”
Loaned to Team Canada by the Ottawa Senators, Lazar says this group is tighter than last year.
“We seem to all bond a lot better this year and as people see it shows in the way we play. Everyone is embracing their role and we need that to be successful. I have been captain of a few teams in the past and captaining this team is unique because we are only together for two weeks. I really try and monitor everything that is going on and approach each player differently. In saying that, we all act like pros and it makes my job pretty easy.”
Lazar was hoping to spend Christmas with family in Vernon during a three-day break, but instead, visited with them in Montreal.
“Christmas was fun; we all received ugly Christmas sweaters from Hockey Canada and we went for a nice turkey dinner together. It was fun to have an evening away from the game and just hang out and talk about other stuff for once. Most of our parents got in on Boxing Day and we were able to meet up with them after the game. It’s great having my family here for the tournament. I love the support they give me even if it means they get on TSN more than me.”
Sam Reinhart scored twice while Anthony Duclair added a single as Canada improved to 3-0 in group stage play by stopping the Finns (0-2-1).
Finnish goalie Juuse Saros dropped a Josh Morrissey point shot and Lazar poked in the loose puck on a powerplay at 14:25 to make it 4-1.
Canada faces the U.S. today (1 p.m., PDT) in their final game of the round-robin with the winner taking first place in Group A.
The quarterfinals go Friday with the semis Sunday and the gold-medal final Monday night (5 p.m., PDT).