World Junior Championship: For Josh Anderson and Team Canada, it's better late than never

MALMO, Sweden — At home in London, Bo Horvat, Chris Tierney and Josh Anderson have a weekly ritual. Every Thursday – if their schedule permits - they go to their local Tim Horton’s, grab some Timbits and bagels and then settle in to watch a nightly selection of Ontario Hockey League games.

It’s part relaxation and part pre-scouting for the London Knights trio.

“That’s our little tradition,” says Horvat. “We like to see who we’re up against and do a little scouting report if the team we’re playing (on Friday) is playing the night before. But we’re fans, too.”

As a group, the Knights like to be prepared and none more so than Anderson. He says he feels the need to do that little extra – work a little harder and pay attention to the details – because he was such a late bloomer. At age 16 he figures he was around 5-foot-6 and 140 pounds, so it was no surprise when he was passed over in the OHL draft – not once, but twice.

“I didn’t know when I was going to grow and I was a bit scared,” says Anderson. “My dad’s side of the family is all small. … I didn’t know if I was going to get the chance to be drafted.”

And when that chance never came, he made his own opportunity. He took his father Gary’s advice and put it into practice while playing midget AAA with the Burlington Eagles.

“He told me if you’re noticeable out there (on the ice) you should be the best player,” says Anderson. “That’s what I try to do – I try to get noticed and play my game.”

Mark and Dale Hunter, who own and operate the OHL’s London Knights, took notice and invited Anderson to camp. By then, he had finally hit his growth spurt and was on his way to becoming a 6-foot-3, 212-pound power forward.

The Knights, a perennial powerhouse in the OHL, had a tough lineup to crack – especially for a walk on – so the Hunter brothers gave Anderson some very specific advice.

“They said if you want to keep playing you’ve got to play a certain role and be that power forward,” says Anderson. “Hit everything out there and make things happen on the ice.”

He did.

Now, the small player passed over twice by junior teams, has had his named called out at the NHL draft. The fourth-round pick of the Columbus Blue Jackets has even managed to secure himself a coveted spot on Team Canada’s world junior squad – a place reserved for the best of the best.

For some, Anderson’s selection might have been a surprise, but for those who have seen the way the 19-year-old has developed with the Knights, there’s no question he has earned his place at the 2014 World Junior Championship.

“He never gave up and that just tells you about his work ethic,” says Horvat, who is Anderson’s linemate in London and his teammate with the Canadian national junior team. “He’s just improved so much over his years – it’s been a treat to watch him grow as a hockey player.

“His confidence keeps building and he keeps getting better.”

Head coach Brent Sutter says Anderson first caught his eye during one of OHL Super Series games against Russia. He had already been on Hockey Canada’s radar, but three weeks before the initial 25-player roster was named, Anderson had managed to get noticed again.

He made the team.

“You can’t be a small team in this tournament if you want success,” says Sutter. “You have to have some size and you have to be a team that can skate and (Anderson) can bring a little bit of all those intangible things to the mix.”

In Canada’s opening game against Germany, Anderson scored his team’s goal in a 7-2 rout. Sutter praised the Burlington, Ont., native not only for his offensive ability, but for his dedication to the defensive game as well. It’s something Anderson has been honing while playing for the defending OHL champions.

“He’s really responsible defensively,” says Horvat. “He’s a big, physical presence and he hits everything. He’s got a hell of a shot. He likes to work the cycle down low and he can play a dirty game as well. He’s just an all-around power forward.

And while Anderson is very happy to be representing Canada, this is the first time he’s missed being at home for Christmas. But in the Anderson household, hockey and the holidays still go hand in hand. His mom, Michelle, is related to the NHL’s famed Mahovlich brothers. So the whole family, including Anderson’s brothers, Jordan and Jake, and sister Jessica, enjoy a get-together every year at Christmas for dinner and a skate.

“Peter Mahovlich is my mom’s uncle,” says Anderson.

“Usually every Christmas we’d have a get together and rent some ice.”

Despite being far from home, having worked so hard to make his own opportunity with Team Canada come true, he says there’s no place he’d rather be right now than in Sweden’s third-largest city, population 300,000.

“This is where you want to be,” says Anderson. “I’d rather be here, but I’m glad my family is here, too.”