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World junior champion taking a break before resuming his highlight season
Akil Thomas scored one of the biggest goals for Canada in world junior hockey history, Barrett Hayton provided Mark Messier-like leadership and Joel Hofer put on a display of championship netminding.
And in his own little way, Dawson Mercer also helped contribute to Canada’s 18th gold-medal championship performance Sunday in the Czech Republic.
Bay Roberts’ favourite son didn’t see a lot of icetime in the final game last weekend against the Russians — in fact, he was Canada’s 13th forward through much of the tournament — but the gold hanging from Mercer’s neck more than makes up for any perceived disappointment that may have come with not playing a lot at the 2020 world juniors.
“To be honest,” Mercer said the other day from Conception Bay North, where he was home for a short break before reporting to his new junior team, the Chicoutimi Sagueneens, “going into that (Canadian team selection) camp, I made sure I’d do anything to make that team.
“I know that in these types of tournaments, a lot of players have different roles than what we normally play with our club teams.
“And being one of the younger players,” said Mercer, who just turned 18 in October, “I wanted to make sure the coaches knew that I’d accept any role that was given to me.
“You’ve got to have that attitude. When you’re not getting a lot of ice, you have to remember you’re playing for Canada, and these are the best hockey players in the entire country.
“Throughout the whole tournament, I wanted to make sure my attitude was really positive, that I was vocal and encouraging on the bench, giving the boys taps on the back or whatever … that I was doing whatever it took to help us to win that championship.”
Win they did, with a 4-3 come-from-behind decision over Russia for our third gold medal in the past six years.
Mercer might have been a bit of a surprise selection to the Canadian roster, but his stock had really started rising with solid play in the 2019 CIBC Canada-Russia series, a six-game series between all-star teams from the Quebec Major Junior, Ontario and Western hockey leagues and a visiting Russian junior squad.
He was also amongst the QMJHL’s top scorers at the time of his selection.
Mercer now steps into the Newfoundland and Labrador hockey history book as only the third player from this province to win a world junior gold medal, joining Dwayne Norris and John Slaney.
He’s still riding the high, the man of the hour every hour in Bay Roberts. That special moment back in the Czech Republic seems, in some ways, like it happened yesterday. And, in another strange sort of way, like a year ago.
“But,” Mercer said, “that feeling is never going to die off, I don’t say. I’ll always remember that moment of what we accomplished over there.
“To represent your country, to travel all the way over to Europe and then obviously winning the gold medal, that’s all a dream come true, really.
“The pride you felt wearing a Canadian hockey jersey, and standing on that blueline with a gold medal around your neck and singing ‘O Canada!’, and the flag going up … that’s a pretty special moment that I’m going to cherish for a long, long while.”
But there will be no rest for the weary.
Well maybe a little. After two-and-a-half years with the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Drummondville Voltigeurs, Mercer is now a member of the Sagueneens following a trade that was made official earlier this week after the world juniors. The Sags are in the Maritimes this weekend for games against Halifax, Charlottetown and Acadie-Bathurst, but Mercer won’t be reporting to Chicoutimi until next week.
The Sagueneens are loading up for a run at the President’s Cup league championship, as shown by the deal for Mercer, which saw them send five draft picks — two first-rounders, two second-rounders, and a fourth-round selection — along with young forward William Dufour to the Voltigeurs.
So after reaching the third round of the playoffs last spring with the Volts, and just missing out on a berth in the QMJHL final against eventual champion Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, Mercer figures to get a second crack at a league title this season.
“I’m really happy to be going to Chicoutimi because they really wanted me within their group,” he said, “so I know they have trust in me. I’m excited with the journey we’re about to start.”
For now, he’s enjoying his well-deserved break.
He took a run on the ski-doo the other day, and is cleaning up the Mercer family driveway when he’s not watching his sister, Jessica, play hockey. He’s made a school visit and was set to drop the puck for a ceremonial faceoff before Friday night’s St. John’s Junior Hockey League game in Bay Roberts.
On Sunday, he’ll get to see his brother, Riley, and father, Craig, when they arrive home from Halifax where they are part of the Tri Pen Osprey midget entry at the East Coast IceJam minor hockey tournament.
And then it will be back to the grind.
“And I can’t wait,” he said. “Hopefully the (world junior) gold is just the start of good things to come.”
Robin Short is The Telegram’s Sports Editor
He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow him on Twitter @TelyRobinShort