Leon Draisaitl hasn’t slept much the last few days but he was back where he wanted to be on Monday afternoon.
The talented 17-year-old Prince Albert Raider forward left the team for more than three weeks to play in the World Junior Championship in Russia with Germany.
“I’m just really, really glad to get back to P.A. and to play a good second half,” he said at the Art Hauser Centre prior to the team’s practice on Monday. “I’m really excited to see all the boys.”
While Draisaitl was half a world away, he still kept close tabs on the Raiders, watching most of the games online.
He arrived back in Prince Albert around 8:30 p.m. on Sunday after an itinerary that was exhausting just to hear.
He flew from Russia home to Cologne. arriving at 7 p.m. on Saturday. He spent eight hours at home before heading to Frankfurt, where he flew to London. From there he flew to Calgary and then back to Saskatoon.
“It’s really exhausting,” he admits.
Still, he was happy to get back to his Canadian home and Raider billet Carol Ring, along with his roommate/teammate Shane Danyluk.
“I really missed them both,” he says. “Carol and Dany, it was nice to see them.”
He wasn’t entirely without familiar faces in Ufa, Russia however.
Draisaitl says it was weird to play against his linemate and friend Mark McNeill, who suited up for Canada.
“When I first saw him at the warmup I just started to laugh,” he says with a wide grin. “It was so weird to play against my linemate. To see him in another colour of jersey playing for his country it was really funny.”
Draisaitl chuckles when he said he tried to hit McNeill once during the game but missed. The two had a brief chat after the game, which Canada won 9-3.
Draisaitl also has some buddies to play with during the tournament.
The German team had six CHL players on it, many of whom Draisaitl had played with before. One of his German linemates was a former teammate, Dominik Kahun, who now plays for the Sudbury Wolves in the Ontario Hockey League.
Still, a team doesn’t come together instantly.
“It always takes a little time to get together and get to know everybody,” he says. “After a while you just get together and get along with everybody.”
The team was winless in five games -- including an 8-0 loss to the U.S., 7-0 loss to Russia, 2-1 overtime loss to Slovakia, and 8-0 relegation round loss to Finland -- when they met Latvia in their final game.
While the winner would stay in the top division, the loser would be relegated to the lower division in favour of the Norwegian team that Raider forward Jonas Knutsen led to victory in the lower division.
Draisaitl saved his best for that game, contributing two goals and two assists in a 5-2 win.
“It was kind of do or die. It was the last game for us and we knew that we could beat them,” he said. “We didn’t have a very good first period and then we -- especially our line -- kept pushing the pace and rolling. It was good.”
His six points in the tournament was enough to lead his team in scoring.
With just four players expected back for Germany next year, the team will be young next year. But Draisaitl likes what he sees.
“We have a talented group of guys, they’re quite good. Still you can’t expect a lot because that’s just the country and that’s just how it is,” he admits. “Staying in the A Pool is our goal every time. I guess that’s what we are working for.”
While lopsided losses can be hard to accept, the young German prefers to look at the upside.
“It’s a phenomenal experience,” he says. “It’s just great to play against these players who might be playing in the NHL if there wasn’t a lockout. Definitely, it was the best experience I’ve ever had. It was so fun to play against these countries, even if you get beat up every game.”
Draisaitl said he would marvel at his opponents as he sat on the bench watching between shifts.
“You would see what they were doing and it’s ‘Wow, you guys can play hockey.’”