Denis Gurianov Ready for Chance with Russia at World Juniors

Denis Gurianov (Credit: Andy Nietupski/Texas Stars)
Every December, there's something extra in Santa's bag for all the hockey fans of the world. Starting the day after Christmas, the annual World Junior Championship will kickoff in Toronto and Montreal. This season, the Texas Stars will again have a participant with Denis Gurianov leaving the team Sunday to hit training camp and ultimately play for the Russian national team.

"I am happy to play at the World Juniors," said Gurianov. "It's every players dream to play in the World Juniors for their country."

Gurianov is not the first player to take the mid-season sojourn to the tournament. In 2015 and 2016, Julius Honka went to the tourney to play for Finland, winning gold in Helsinki in 2016.

"The national team games are really high end games," noted Honka. "They are the best players in the world your age. It's a little different than the regular season games. It's really good experience for whomever plays there."

While losing a top-9 forward for several weeks will certainly hurt the Stars' lineup, head coach Derek Laxdal is confident that the experiences Gurianov will have in the tournament will outweigh any loss in the lineup.

"Anytime you can play for your country and be a part of that tournament, it's quite a privilege and there's a lot of honor in it. It's not going to be easy, but I think it's going to be a great character builder for him."

It is a tournament, so the games are packed in tight. The Russian team will open against Canada on Boxing Day and play four games in six days. If they advance, several more will be added to the slate all culminating in a potential championship game on January 5th. Russia has medalled in the tournament for six years straight.

"They're going to come back and be a bit tired. It's a heavy tournament in a short amount of time, a lot of hockey. He'll need a break to get back but he'll come back confident and more mature."

Laxdal has been extremely pleased with where Gurianov is in his development. The tournament is a stepping stone to his continued growth in the second half of the season. The team would like to see him shoot the puck more instead of passing and develop the small skills around the net to attack the defense and put pucks in good areas to get shots off the net. Overall, Laxdal praises Gurianov as "very responsible" in the defensive zone and compliments his play at 5-on-5 and overall speed in the game.

Obviously, Coach Laxdal is rooting for Gurianov to succeed at the tournament personally, but as a Canadian, he's rooting for the Canadian junior team. Gurianov and Laxdal, who played for Canada in the tourney in 1986, have a sidebet on the opening game for Russia versus Canada. Loser buys the winner lunch.

Gurianov will miss at least five games for Texas while at the tournament. Depending on how deep Russia goes, he may also miss games against Cleveland on January 6th and 7th.