Callahan to wear stars and stripes

Kelowna Rockets forward Mitchell Callahan will play for Team USA at the world junior hockey championship in Buffalo.

Kelowna Rockets forward Mitchell Callahan just won’t take no for an answer.

Callahan, 19, was named to the 22 man roster for Team USA on Wednesday morning coming from off the American radar to make a talented team that will look to defend its gold medal at the 2011 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship.

“I’m very excited,” Callahan said via text message Wednesday morning as Team USA departed from its pre tournament camp for an exhibition game Thursday.

Callahan had an assist on Wednesday night as Team USA lost 3-2 in a shootout to the Czech Republic in an exhibition game.

Callahan was invited to the USA camp after an outstanding first half of the WHL season with 33 points in 33 games.

But according to Rockets assistant coach Dan Lambert it is Callahan’s character and determination that sets him apart.

“There is no doubt that his character is the reason he made the team,” said Lambert. “He is a big-time team player and he adds a style of play that I don’t think the Americans have a whole lot of. Especially knowing Canada is going with a bigger more aggressive team.”

It’s not he first time Callahan has come from out of nowhere to make a hockey team. He was un-drafted by WHL teams and made the Rockets as a walk-on three years ago.

Playing in the WHL isn’t the easiest route to Team USA either, although four major junior players made the club for this year’s tournament.

“i think this is a huge accomplishment for Mitchell,” said Lambert. “Not only did he come from off the radar but he’s not a college guy and there’s no doubt they like the guys that are playing in their country and in their colleges. Because of the first half he had with us Mitchell has opened a lot of eyes not only at that level but I’m sure the Red Wings are very happy.”

Callahan was a sixth round pick of Detroit in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft and has been the Rockets most consistent player through the first half of the WHL season.

Lambert says although they will miss the gritty forward when the Rockets return to action after Christmas, Callahan’s confidence should be sky high when he returns.

“This is the biggest stage you can play at before getting to the NHL,” said Lambert. “I think what it helps more than anything is his confidence. He has probably realized that he made the team and didn’t get any favors to do it. It was all through hard work. He’s making people realize that he’s a very valuable player.”

Callahan joins Kelowna Rockets defender Tyson Barrie, forward Andreas Stene (Norway) and head coach Ryan Huska as well as Kelowna Minor Hockey product Curtis Hamilton at the World Junior Tournament, although he will be on the opposite side from his teammates.

But with his inclusion on Team USA, the always hated American squad may have gained a few fans north of the border, except of course, when the USA takes on Team Canada.

“We are thrilled to death that Mitchell made Team USA and wish him nothing but the best except when he plays Canada,” Lambert said with a chuckle.

Team USA opens the World Junior on Dec. 26 vs. Finland.

kparnell@kelownacapnews.com

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