Thursday, May 13, 2010

Eberle Excited To Compete In Worlds

From Edmonton

Mid-May is a busy time in the hockey world, and if Oilers fans needed a reason to supplement their Stanley Cup playoffs-watching schedules with some World Championship games, they now have it.

After Canada's Ryan Smyth limped out of the tournament earlier this week and teammate Steve Stamkos left Wednesday's game with an upper body injury, alternate Jordan Eberle is being promoted to the game-day roster. Eberle will make his Worlds debut in Canada's first game of the qualification round Friday. The puck drops at 8:15am MT.

Eberle has been skating with Team Canada for 10 days, and while he is disappointed by the injuries to the team leaders, he is excited to finally take to the ice.

"It's pretty tough to lose a guy like Smytty and I don't know if Stamkos will be playing, so two guys of that caliber will be missed on the ice. But I knew I was going to be a guy that would fill in if someone got injured. It's a tough situation but I'm going to try to do my best," he said from Germany.

"I'm pretty excited, to be honest. Obviously it's something that wasn't really on my radar so I'm just going to try to make a difference."

Although the 19-year-old has yet to play in the men's tournament, he says that participating in an exhibition game and watching three preliminary games has helped prepare him for Friday's test.

"You get a chance to kind of see things that you don't see on the ice and practicing helped me to get a feel for the speed," Eberle explained. "I feel ready. It's just hockey and when you're out there you don't think much of it, you just kind of go out and play. I'm excited and want to make the most of this opportunity."

Oilers fans aren't the only ones excited to see Eberle in action: After superstar appearances in two World Junior Championships, highlighted by a legendary game-tying goal and shootout game-winner in the 2009 semi-finals vs. Russia, fans from across the country will be eagerly watching to see if the flashy forward produces at the game's highest level.

The pressure could be immense, but Eberle isn't feeling it.

"Coming in there wasn't any pressure, any expectations, so it's kind of nice," he admitted. "I don't think I'll be looked upon as one of the go-to guys, but if that's the way it goes then that's what I'm going to do."

With Team Canada's busy tournament schedule, Eberle has had little time to play tourist in Germany but likes what he has seen in Mannheim so far.

"We just kind of walk around and check out the city. It's pretty old here, so there's lots of history behind it. It's just interesting to be in a different culture with different food and a different lifestyle. You definitely learn something whenever you travel to a different country," he said.

After the tournament, Eberle plans on taking a couple of weeks off -- "It's been a long season and I feel it's important to take a bit of a break when it's over" -- before hitting the gym, returning to the ice, and refocusing on his NHL dream.

"It will be a big summer for me to grow as a hockey player and try to make that team next year," Eberle said about the Oilers. "But right now, my goal is to play here, make a contribution and bring home a gold medal."

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