Eberle holds early opportunities to represent Canada dear

Before he went on to have a distinguished career wearing the maple leaf, a young Jordan Eberle got his first taste of what national pride meant while playing hockey in the Yukon.

Before he went on to have a distinguished career wearing the maple leaf, a young Jordan Eberle got his first taste of what national pride meant while playing hockey in the Yukon.

Since it began in 1967, the Canada Games has helped develop some of the country’s top athletes.

From Olympic champions to Stanley Cup winners, names like Eberle, Sidney Crosby, Patrick Marleau, Steven Stamkos, Jennifer Botterill, Hayley Wickenheiser, Angela Bailey, Lennox Lewis and numerous other stars have participated at the multi-sport event held every two years, alternating between summer and winter.

For Eberle, nearly 650 games into his NHL career, the men’s hockey bronze medal he won in 2007 as part of Team Alberta still stands as a cherished memory.

“I can remember just how cold it was during the Games,” Eberle started. “But it was beautiful in Whitehorse. They did a great job of hosting it and to be able to walk around the athletes’ village, meeting people from all over Canada who played different sports, and soaking up the atmosphere… it was something you’ll never forget.

“We wound up losing to Manitoba in the semifinals, but it was great to say that we won the bronze. I still have lots of friends from that team. Tyler Myers (Winnipeg Jets) was on our team. There were plenty of guys who played hockey in that Canada Games who went on to the NHL. Ontario had guys like Steven Stamkos, Alex Pietrangelo, Nazem Kadri, and Adam Henrique.”

Winning a medal, however, wasn’t the biggest takeaway for Eberle, whose decorated World Junior career with Team Canada includes gold at the 2009 tournament and a silver medal in 2010.

Instead, it was what the Canada Games (this year being held in Red Deer, Alberta) represented for an aspiring NHLer.

“When you’re young and you have the chance to play in an event which is a mini-Olympics in many ways, you really appreciate what that’s all about,” said the Saskatchewan-born Eberle, who was named World Junior MVP and top forward in 2010 after netting eight goals and 13 points in six games. “It really helps you appreciate playing at that level, to feel pride in that way.”

Something that’s helped Eberle embrace the times he’s worn the Team Canada colours.

“For as long as you can remember, you dream about the thought of playing for your country, how it would feel to put on that sweater,” said Eberle, who notched 18 goals and 36 points in 23 career World Junior games. “And when you finally do, it’s even better than you could ever imagine.”

Which is exactly why Eberle remains grateful for his Canada Games experience from 12 years ago.

“In so many ways it was just such a great time,” said the 28-year-old. “To be part of a team that won bronze, to make new friends, to see that part of the country, and to be part of such a great event, I feel very fortunate that I was able to be part of it all.”