By Ryan Dittrick
Edmonton, AB – With one simple question, Mark Pysyk’s smile lit up the room beneath section 122 at Rexall Place. Following an intense, back-to-basics session at Hockey Canada’s National Junior Team Development Camp, the normally reserved 19-year-old came out of his shell. In simple detail, Pysyk explained what it would mean to represent his country at home in Edmonton.
“It would be spectacular,” he said.
“When you’re watching [the World Junior Championship] growing up, you’re hoping to play in it and you never know where it’s going to be. I’m lucky enough that the year I could make it is in my hometown and in Calgary.”
The 6-foot-1, 188-pound rearguard has been here before, mind you. He practiced hard in anticipation of lacing up his skates and donning the nation’s iconic red and white colours one year ago. That dream came up short on December 15, 2010, when he, along with eight others, were sent packing in the team’s closing round of cuts.
“Yeah, absolutely I did,” he remarked about watching last year’s tournament. “I was hoping they would win the gold medal. It was disappointing, but at Christmas time you’ve got to watch it no matter what.
“When you get cut from a team that wins the gold or silver medal, it means they were a pretty good team.”
Disappointment was expected, but Pysyk returned to the Edmonton Oil Kings, stamped an incredible pace and set a career-high campaign. In 63 regular season games, he registered six goals and 40 points, along with 88 penalty minutes and an astounding +29 rating.
With another year of experience, growth and maturity, Pysyk hopes his newly gained veteran mind- and skill-set will help him parlay into a role along Canada’s heavily counted-upon blue line.
“As a player I’m getting a little bigger, stronger and playing more physical and with some more confidence,” he explained. “I think I need to come into camp and, right from the get-go, prove myself as a solid defensive player and get up in the rush as much as possible as well.”
In order to do that, a strong showing at this week’s Summer Development Camp will help boost his stock and earn remembrance from Head Coach Don Hay, among others.
“They’re watching you,” Pysyk said of the coaches. “They’re not going to make any cuts but they’ll certainly remember what happens at this time.”
Even so, there’s room to be grounded amid the pressure-cooker. Pysyk understands that sometimes less is more when trying to establish a rock-solid, two-way style.
“I’m a little bit more comfortable this year,” he said. “There’s not as much looking around and trying to fit in. I need to play my game and relax out there.”
It’s a challenge, no doubt. Pysyk is among 46 skaters vying for a second look and roster spot later this year. Although hype continues to build, his humble, mild-mannered attitude shines when speaking about his teammates.
“It’s pretty cool,” Pysyk said. “I get to play against Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and (Jonathan) Huberdeau is on my team. There are a lot of big names. Just look around the room and you see a name that’s going to play in the NHL either this year or next year.”
He’s one of them, too. Selected 23rd overall in 2010, a role with the Buffalo Sabres and, perhaps Team Canada, is a possibility in the not too distant future.
Until then, Sherwood Park’s rising star is simply relishing the moment.
“I went out and had some fun today.”
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