Curtis Lazar was hoping to spend three days visiting family in Vernon during the NHL’s Christmas break.
Instead, the Ottawa Senators chose to lend the ever-smiling rookie forward to Team Canada for the IIHF World Junior Championships in Toronto and Montreal. On Monday, Lazar was selected captain of the team.
His parents – Dave and Karen – and three siblings – Jenna, Ryan and Cory – will now spend Christmas back east cheering him on.
Alternate captains are Erie Otters’ forward Connor McDavid, who is Lazar’s roommate for the tournament, and forward Sam Reinhart of the Kootenay ice.
“Curtis, Connor and Sam have all represented Canada internationally on several occasions and bring great experience and leadership to these roles,” said Benoit Groulx, head coach of Canada’s National Junior Team. “While these three players will wear letters, this team is blessed with many leaders and success will take a collective effort at all levels, including on the leadership side.”
Canada opens the tourney today against Slovakia (live on TSN, 4:30 PDT).
Canada’s coaching staff gave the 6-foot, 210-pound Lazar the news Monday morning, shortly after the team arrived in Montreal from Ottawa where Canada beat Sweden 5-2 in an exhibition game on Sunday.
“I’m very honoured to have this opportunity, and I’m going to take full advantage of it and go out there and play hard for my country,” Lazar told reporters at a hockey charity event in Montreal. “I know there’s a lot of responsibility that comes along with this, but I’m just going to try to take it in stride and be myself.”
Lazar played for Canada at the 2014 World Juniors in Malmö, Sweden, where Canada finished fourth. He also played at the 2012 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge and with Canada’s National Men’s Under-18 Team, and attended Canada National Junior Team Sport Chek Summer Development Camp in August.
Lazar was over the moon on being selected captain.
“As usual, I was smiling,” said the 19-year-old, who was drafted 17th overall by the Senators in 2013. “It’s pretty cool. I didn’t know it was coming. Anyone could have it. I’m very honoured that my peers and my coaching staff think very highly of me.”
Lazar’s first choice was to stay in the NHL and see his family at Christmas, but he’s stoked about a second chance at a world junior medal. He is one of seven returnees.
“I’m glad I didn’t get lost after being away for a couple of days,” he joked in a media scrum at a Sunday practice. “It’s good to get back here, see the familiar faces, and I’m really looking forward to playing.”
Lazar, who has a goal and six assists in 27 games with Ottawa, won a Memorial Cup with the Edmonton Oil Kings last season.
In 2011, Lazar captained Team B.C. to the gold medal at the Canada Winter Games. He broke the tournament goal scoring record previously set by Steven Stamkos (12) and Sidney Crosby’s points mark (17) in six games.
He was the second overall choice in the 2010 WHL Bantam Draft. Lazar played at the Pursuit of Excellence Hockey Academy for two years before playing under former NHLer Robert Dirk at the Okanagan Hockey Academy during the 2010-11 season.
Lazar wears No. 27 for the Sens in honour of his grandfather’s favourite player, Frank Mahovlich. When he plays for Canada, he wears No. 26 in honour of Kristians Pelss, an Edmonton Oil Kings teammate who drowned two years ago after jumping off a bridge in his hometown of Riga, Latvia.
“Our team motto last year in Edmonton was ‘Play It For Pelssy.’ I know he’s with me, looking over me, and that’s why I wear the No. 26 in international competition.”
Lazar will play on a line centred by McDavid with Nick Ritchie of the Peterborough Petes on the left side.
“Wearing a Canadian sweater is so special and such a privilege and an honour,” said Lazar, before last year’s tourney. “Knowing every time you step on the ice, you have the support of an entire nation is pretty cool.”
McDavid and Reinhart also represented Canada last year and were teammates with Canada’s entry at the 2013 IIHF U18 world championships, winning a gold medal. Reinhart served as captain of that team, while McDavid led the tournament in scoring and was named Top Forward.