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Badgers, Team USA bring home WJC gold

first_imgUW\’s John Ramage, Derek Stepan and Jake Gardiner won gold with Team USA at the World Junior Championship.[/media-credit]When Derek Stepan, Jake Gardiner, John Ramage and assistant coach Mark Osiecki left UW to represent team USA in the 2010 IIHF World Juniors tournament in Canada, the Badgers knew the next few games without them would be challenging.Well, UW won the Badger Hockey Showdown, and as for the three Badgers and their coach who competed up north, they returned as world champions.A rivalry renewed The 2010 World Juniors tournament was held in Saskatoon and Regina, Canada, and to no one’s surprise, the host country — defending champion and winner of the last five Junior tournaments — was the heavy favorite.Aside from the obvious challenge the Canadian roster presents, Team USA had to battle another obstacle — the hostile crowd.“The whole country is watching, I mean there is one out of every three Canadians watching the tournament,” Gardiner said. “It’s like their Super Bowl.”Stepan and his teammates knew they were in for a battle from day one.“We walked into the locker room and saw all this Canadian stuff hanging and we were like ‘well that stinks,’ so a couple guys just starting ripping it down,” Stepan said. “Then we came back to the locker room and there was USA stuff everywhere. It was fun.”So with a redecorated locker room and a hockey-crazed nation glued to its television sets, the U.S. and Canada renewed their rivalry and met for the first time in the preliminary round.The Canadians emerged victorious after a thrilling game was decided in a shootout.It was a heartbreaking loss for the Americans who let a two goal lead slip away. But with the knockout round next there was no time to wallow in defeat.Team USA took down Finland and Sweden as it earned a spot in the gold medal game and once again, team Canada served as the opponent.Gardiner remembered the unforgettable scene as he took the ice.“There were 15,000 fans and it was tough playing there,” Gardiner said. “It was the loudest crowd I’ve ever heard or seen before — it was just crazy.”The crowd was spectacular and the game was no different as the Americans found themselves in a familiar situation. Team USA had a two-goal lead with less than 15 minutes remaining in the third period. But Canada stormed back and tied the game late in the third.The game was eerily similar to the first showdown between these two teams, but this time around a shootout wouldn’t be necessary.American defenseman John Carlson scored the game winner in overtime as a sold out arena in Saskatoon went silent and 22 young men let out roars of excitement.“It was really a blur,” Ramage, who assisted on the game-winner, said. “I was so happy I didn’t even know what to do. There was just so much joy and excitement. It was unreal.”As the team USA celebration winded down, the medals were distributed as the champions listened to their national anthem, with gold hanging from their necks.“One of the proudest moments of my life,” Gardiner said. “To win the gold medal and put on the USA jersey made me proud, it made my parents proud and all that hard work paid off.”A leader emergesNot only did the Americans receive gold medals, but they were also awarded the championship trophy, and as team USA’s captain, Stepan was the first to get his hands on it.But Stepan doesn’t wear the captain’s ‘C’ at UW. Three other Badgers share that responsibility as tri-captains. But according to UW and USA assistant coach Osiecki, Stepan was the obvious choice to lead the Americans.“His leadership really came through, and before we even named captains you could see he was inching that way,” Osiecki said. “The team just fed off him. And it’s not too different here, he is a great leader for [Wisconsin], but he knows the pecking order and he is very humble and respectful of it.”Some players struggle with added responsibility that comes with the captaincy, but that wasn’t the case with Stepan. The Hastings, Minn. native was the tournament’s leading scorer with 14 points as he anchored team USA’s top line.And while the points lead spoke volumes to Stepan’s ability, Osiecki claims it’s the traits that often go unnoticed that made Stepan the impact player he was.“It wasn’t so much that he blew everyone away with his skill, but it was all the little things he did — good stick position, good body position, his play on the penalty kill and his ability to distribute.”Upon his return to UW, Stepan will no longer have the ‘C’ embroidered on his sweater, but he brings back a wealth of leadership experience to his team.UW head coach Mike Eaves insists leadership can be taught, and now one of his young players has learned how to become a leader with experience gained on the international stage.“You learn how to be a leader, when to talk and when not to talk, leading by example on and off the ice — you learn all those tools,” Stepan said. “For me it was an honor to wear the USA jersey to begin with, but to have a ‘C’ on it and to have 21 guys look up to you is even more of a special feeling.”Memories that will last a lifetimeFor Stepan, Gardiner, Ramage and Osiecki, there isn’t much time to sit back and enjoy their gold medal triumph. The Badgers have a critical three-week stretch looming, but after practice time was taken to reflect on their tremendous success.“You really can’t put it into words. It’s a feeling that you worked so hard for,” Stepan said. “It was special and it was such an honor to wear that jersey — it’s something I’ll never forget.”And perhaps the proudest of the four was Osiecki, who watched the three young men he coaches at UW flourish as members of team USA.Because while so many things were different and new for the players in Canada, one thing remained the same — Coach Osiecki was there to watch from the bench.“It was great with us having three of them there, and that will always hold a special place in your heart,” Osiecki said. “They all did very well and they’ll come back with a ton of confidence. … That experience that they can share with the rest of our guys is invaluable.”last_img read more