Tampa Bay Lightning rookie Brett Connolly has something to prove to Canadian fans at world junior tournament

Lightning rookie Brett Connolly, right, is on loan to Canada for the world junior championship.

Associated Press

Lightning rookie Brett Connolly, right, is on loan to Canada for the world junior championship.

Let's be honest. Brett Connolly has a lot of work to do to rebuild his reputation among the hockey fans in his native Canada.

That's because the Lightning's rookie right wing made such a poor impression in his first few days at Canada's evaluation camp for its world junior championship team.

But with the tournament beginning Monday in Calgary and Edmonton, Connolly, an alternate captain, has a chance to turn the page and help Canada regain the title it lost in January to Russia.

"I'm fortunate to get a second chance to win a gold medal for my country," said Connolly, who played in the 2010-11 event. "I'm looking forward to playing a bigger role this year and being a leader."

That plan got tougher when Connolly got off the plane in Calgary and told reporters playing in the tournament was "bittersweet" compared with being in the NHL.

After Connolly, 19, was told by coaches to play with more intensity, his hit on wing Quinton Howden during an intrasquad game knocked his teammate out of the lineup with what was reported to be concussion symptoms.

Tampa Bay general manager Steve Yzerman defended the hit and his player, but the damage was done.

How can it be undone? With Connolly playing the way he did during the NHL preseason and early in the regular season, with vigor and in the areas from where it is difficult to score.

The Prince George, British Columbia, native also must commit to playing in his zone, something that needed work while he was with Tampa Bay.

Connolly's defensive struggles and slipping minutes, and that he was without a point in 10 games, made easier the decision to loan him for the tournament.

"I have a lot of confidence in myself, but Mr. Yzerman thinks it's good for me to go and develop a little bit more and get some confidence and come back," Connolly said. "But you've got to be in the moment. I have to focus on Team Canada and help the team win. Just live in the moment, go day to day and try to get the gold medal. Hopefully we can make our country proud."

And Connolly looks good in the process.

OTHER LIGHTNING PROSPECTS AT WORLD JUNIOR tournament through Jan. 6: Russia Vladislav Namestnikov, C; Nikita Kucherov, RW; Nikita Nesterov, D. Slovakia Adam Janosik, D.

Tampa Bay Lightning rookie Brett Connolly has something to prove to Canadian fans at world junior tournament 12/24/11 [Last modified: Saturday, December 24, 2011 9:38pm]

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