Lawson Crouse returns to the Kingston Frontenacs lineup basking in a golden glow.
The 17-year-old Crouse, the youngest player on Team Canada’s roster, said it was “incredible” when the team captured the gold medal at the world junior championship with a 5-4 win over Russia Monday night in Toronto.
“When the final buzzer went we all went out and threw our gloves up,” Crouse said.
“It was such a relief that over a month all that hard work finally paid off. It was nice to get the gold medal in front of our home crowd. The energy that Toronto and Montreal provided us was incredible.
“It shows what happens when a country comes behind you for support. It’s amazing the support we got.”
Crouse’s final shift came with under two minutes left and the Canadian juniors doing everything they could to protect their one-goal lead.
“It was a nerve-wracking shift. (The Russians) were coming hard. We were just trying to shut them down and not let them get any offence,” Crouse said.
“It seemed like everyone was bearing down with everything they had, whether it was getting pucks out of bluelines or getting them in. It seemed like we were doing all the right things.”
Head coach Benoit Groulx rewarded Crouse with regular playing minutes in the gold-medal game. He said getting one of the final shifts, when everything was on the line, meant a lot to him.
“It is something when you are out there with under two minutes to go. It shows a lot of respect from the coaches that they have for me,” Crouse said.
“Obviously they gained a lot of trust with me as a player over the tournament. So it was nice to be out there so late in the game.”
Crouse comes back to the Frontenacs with his gold medal and his stock rising for the National Hockey League Entry Draft in June in Florida.
Crouse is now projected as the No. 3 prospect, behind Connor McDavid of the Erie Otters and Jack Eichel of the Boston University Terriers.
“Obviously it is an exciting year for myself. Now it is time to regroup and focus on what is next for the Frontenacs,” Crouse said.
“I’m just so excited to be back here in such a great community as Kingston.”
Crouse practised Thursday with the Frontenacs while also getting more acquainted with the team’s newest players — forwards Jared Steege and Cody Caron and defenceman Nathan Billitier.
“We are all excited about getting some new bodies. They seem to fit in well with this group,” said Crouse, who enters the second half of the season with 12 goals in 24 games.
Ryan Verbeek and Juho Lammikko, returning after missing a couple of games, will be Crouse’s linemates.
Head coach Paul McFarland will also have Steege and Caron playing on a line with Corey Pawley.
“They will start off that way. We are going to try to find chemistry between (new guys) and having Lawson back,” McFarland said.
The Frontenacs will look to go 3-0 for the season against McFarland’s old team, the Oshawa Generals, who come in as the No. 1-ranked team in the Canadian Hockey League.
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