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World Cup blog: Aaron Ekblad

Team North America defenseman goes over final preparations for opener Sunday

by Aaron Ekblad / Special to

Florida Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad is playing for Team North America at the World Cup of Hockey 2016. The 20-year-old has agreed to blog throughout the tournament, which begins in Toronto in Sept. 17 and runs through Oct. 1.

In his latest installment, Ekblad talks about the final days of preparation and the challenge Team North America will face in the group stage of the tournament. 

TORONTO -- Our anticipation is high right now. Coming off a day off, we wanted to be a little more attentive to detail in practice but it's a good sign that there's only one way to go and that's up in terms of our pace.

We've come together as a team really, really well over the last couple of days and the last couple of weeks in Quebec, Montreal and Pittsburgh and we've learned a lot about our team and our weaknesses, built on those weaknesses and tried to make them impenetrable. Obviously we don't feel we're overconfident but we feel we have the ability to go in and make a splash in this tournament and it all starts Sunday against Team Finland (8 p.m. ET; ESPN2, SN, TVA Sports).

We have to wait until Sunday to play our first game, but I don't think we care too much that we're not playing on the first day of the tournament. Almost every team's got a back-to-back in there. So in the end, it's three games in four days and we do that all year with our NHL teams. It's early but we're ready and I wouldn't say it's a disadvantage. It'll be nice to get a look at the pace in the first games on Saturday, probably watch some teams, rest and relax and get ready for it.

We had World Cup Media Day on Thursday at Air Canada Centre and it wasn't too bad. The worst part about any media day is when one person comes and asks you a question and they leave and then the next person comes and asks you the same question. I didn't get too many of those so I was happy in that sense. It was fairly quick, 15 minutes and out of there, that's how we like it to be on our days off. It's part of the job and we understand that and we're trying to help build the hype for the tournament.

I saw that tweet from Team North America on Thursday about media day, calling me "Uncle Ekblad." Why are they calling me that? Because I have a beard and it looks like I'm 38 years old instead of 20? Some people like to make jokes about that. So Uncle Ekblad is their best way to do that.

We're in Group B with Team Finland, Team Russia and Team Sweden but both Groups are going to be tough. Through my eyes, I see two very tough divisions. I respect every single player on Team Sweden, Team Finland and Team Russia as much as I respect every player on Team Europe, Team Czech Republic, Team Canada and Team USA. All great players on great teams, great lines, great defense and great goalies. A lot of strong players we're against and it's going to take the ultimate in focus and prepared body and mind to be able to play in this.

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