Nugent-Hopkins’ travels have netted him a gold medal and time at an NHL-run camp

Red Deer Rebels forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has likely never heard of Hank Snow, but the 17-year-old could relate to one of the late country crooner’s biggest hits.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins

Red Deer Rebels forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has likely never heard of Hank Snow, but the 17-year-old could relate to one of the late country crooner’s biggest hits.

While it’s highly doubtful that Nugent-Hopkins has ‘I’ve Been Everywhere’, on his iPod, he’s certainly collected his share of air miles over the past three weeks.

The Burnaby, B.C., native attended the Hockey Canada under-18 selection camp in Calgary in late July/early August and was the lone Western Hockey League forward to earn a berth on the Canadian team that competed in the Memorial of Ivan Hlinka U18 tournament in Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

Nugent-Hopkins, an assistant captain with the Canadian squad, scored the lone goal in a 1-0 win over the U.S. in last weekend’s gold-medal game, then headed home for a brief spell before flying to Toronto for a camp featuring 33 top prospects for next year’s NHL entry draft.

Whew!

“It hasn’t been that bad. I got to go home for one day before I flew here,” he said from Toronto. “But it does seem like I’ve been in the air a lot lately.”

His European adventure is one that the multi-talented centre will never forget.

“The tournament was great. It was the first time for a bunch of us to wear the Canadian jersey as a part of Team Canada,” said Nugent-Hopkins, whose previous international experience consisted of playing for Team Pacific in last year’s World Under 17 Challenge.

“It was an awesome time and winning the gold was a great feeling, a real bonus.”

The championship game was just one minute and 42 seconds old when Nugent-Hopkins pulled the trigger on the winning goal, beating American netminder Stephen Michalek with a high shot during an odd-man break.

“It was a three-on-one and the goalie gave me the short side, so I just took the shot,” said Canada’s top scorer during the tournament with five goals and seven points. “I definitely never thought that the goal would hold up for the rest of the game.”

Nugent-Hopkins, the WHL’s rookie of the year for 2009-10, admitted he took special pride in sniping the golden goal, but only to a point.

“I think I did, but not too much. Getting the gold medal was enough reward,” he said.

Defeating the Americans in the final was particularly gratifying for Nugent-Hopkins and his teammates.

“Definitely. That’s what kids dream about — Canada versus the USA in the big game,” he said. “The USA is our biggest rival, especially after the world juniors this year.”

While at the Toronto camp — pegged as a research, development, and orientation gathering and leading into the World Hockey Summit starting Monday — Nugent-Hopkins and his 32 fellow prospects experimented with potential rule changes under the watchful eyes of former Columbus Blue Jackets head coach Ken Hitchcock and current Phoenix Coyotes assistant Dave King.

“It’s been pretty cool. We’ve tried out stuff we’ve never seen before,” said Nugent-Hopkins of the camp which ended Thursday. “We saw faceoffs where the referee puts the puck on the ice and then blows his whistle. There was a no-change offside rule, bigger bluelines, and instead of having five faceoff dots, we played with three down the centre, one in each zone.

“I like the bigger blueline (concept) and a few of the faceoff rules are pretty good. For the most part, we (players) were guinea pigs.”

While he’s looking forward to another brief break prior to the Aug. 29 start of the Rebels’ training camp, Nugent-Hopkins is convinced his recent expeditions will give him a head start on the 2010-11 WHL season.

“I’ll be in game shape when camp opens. I won’t have to wait until we play a few preseason games,” he said. “I won’t be tired. I have eight days off before I come back (to Red Deer) and I’ll take it easy for at least a few days.”

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