Connolly says World Juniors experience something "I'll never forget"
Lightning rookie Brett Connolly said he learned a lot from his confidence-building experience with Team Canada at the World Junior Hockey championships, calling it a time "I'll never forget."
Most of Canada will likely always remember the semifinal against Russia, when the Canadians made a nearly-epic third period comeback from down 6-1 before losing 6-5.
"It got out of hand for a bit, but in the second intermission, we took a deep breath and said, 'We can either fold up the tent or come out and do something special. And we almost did that. It was a very character effort by all the guys."
What general manager Steve Yzerman and couch Guy Boucher were most proud of, more than Connolly's five tournament goals, was how the 19-year-old showed some character after a rocky start. Connolly drew some criticism for comments made in the selection camp, calling it "bittersweet" to go from the NHL to the world juniors. He then was challenged by coaches to give more effort and be more physical, and the Team Canada assistant captain was put on a checking line role.
Connolly ended up loving that role, saying playing against the opposing team's top lines will only help him defensively in the NHL. But it was initially a shock at first, going from a top-six forward with the Lightning.
"When you go to a tournament like that, coming back from the NHL, you want to be on the first power play unit, want to be on the first (penalty kill), want to be out there all the time,' Connolly said. "That didn't happen from the start. I think for me, once that happened, I checked my ego at the door right away. When I got there at the start,going back, I could have handled it a little better."
Yzerman said Connolly showed maturity and unselfishness in the tournament, feeling he responded well while everyone was watching his every move. Connolly let his play do the talking, racking up six points in five games, and asserted himself in a leadership role. He hopes he can just carry it over to Tampa Bay, where he jumped right on a line with Vinny Lecavalier and Dominic Moore Saturday.
"I thought he showed incredible character," Boucher said. "We heard that when it was 6-1 (Russia), he was the first guy to stand up in the third period, saying, 'It wasn't over.' We all know what happened afterward....What I liked is his drive, dedication to doing the details of a winner, that's what we're asking of him (here).'
--- JOE SMITH