From: Star Tribune
by Michael Russo
Even before Dean Blais awarded Jason Zucker the prestigious honor Friday of being the United States' captain for the upcoming World Junior Championships, the University of Denver star proved his leadership to the US coach.
Zucker stood up and addressed the team at the start of training camp.
Two years ago, Zucker was on the American team that upset Canada and won gold in Regina, Saskatchewan. That experience of winning in enemy territory should come in handy this go-round when the tournament takes place in hockey-mad Edmonton and Calgary.
The tournament begins Monday when the Americans take on Denmark.
"Canadian fans are very hostile, and rightfully so -- they're very into the Canadian team," Zucker said. "With that being said, I know what to expect every night. Whether we're playing Canada or not, fans aren't rooting for us.
"They're going to be rooting for Denmark, they're going to be rooting for Finland and everybody else that we play because they don't like us. So we have to be ready for that every night."
This is Zucker's third consecutive world juniors, also medaling last year when the U.S. won bronze. But Zucker is a very different player than the youngster who played on the 2010 gold medal team.
Then, he was a role player -- the youngest player on the squad at age 17. Now he's 19, a college star. Last year at DU, he tied for first in scoring as a freshman with 45 points and was named WCHA Rookie of the Year. This year, he ranks ninth in the nation with 24 points.
In Alberta, Zucker is poised to play on a top scoring line with Minnesota Wild prospect Charlie Coyle and Chicago Blackhawks prospect Brandon Saad.
In a 7-3 exhibition pounding of Switzerland in Camrose, Alberta, on Wednesday, the line combined for three goals and six assists.
"Brandon's going to make plays and help put the puck in the net, and Charlie Coyle, he does everything right," Zucker said. "He blocks shots, he goes into corners, he can hit, he can win faceoffs, he can score.
"I'm ready to lead this team as far as we can go," Zucker said. "I think we have something special in that locker room, and I want to win a gold medal more than anybody knows. I'm going to do everything I can. If I'm doing my best and working my hardest, that will hopefully make guys follow my path."
If you've watched Zucker play, you know he's not lying. He is relentless. His legs always are churning. He's a ferocious forechecker and incredibly fast.
Even in that meaningless exhibition game against Switzerland, Zucker was banging bodies and crashing into the end boards. The evidence was on his face in cuts and bruises.
But Zucker knows only one way. He has a unique passion for the sport considering he was born in California and grew up in Las Vegas. A former stickboy for the now-defunct IHL Las Vegas Thunder, Zucker played for the Las Vegas Outlaws AAA team before moving to Detroit at age 15 to play for distinguished Compuware.
"I give all the credit to my dad and my mom," Zucker said of Scott, the director of construction for 13 Station Casinos in Las Vegas, and his mother, Natalie, a bank teller for Wells Fargo. "They're hard-working people. They taught me when I was really young, 'You may not be the most talented kid ever, but as long as you work hard, you're going to give yourself an opportunity.'
"I really took that to heart, and it's something I carry with me every day. My favorite saying is, 'In pursuit of perfection.' I don't believe perfect can be achieved, but if you work hard to try to achieve that, you'll be great at some point in time."
You can bet the Wild is salivating to sign Zucker after this season.
"They haven't talked to me yet, but I'd be lying if I said it hasn't crossed my mind," Zucker said. "I'm not worrying about it right now, though. I have this tournament ahead of me. This is a huge part of my life and my career, and then I have to get back to Denver and worry about that because my next goal is to win a national championship.
"After that, I'll worry about the Wild."