International Ice Hockey Federation

Go west, young man

Go west, young man

2019 World Juniors will add to magical legacy

Published 19.01.2018 10:53 GMT-7 | Author Lucas Aykroyd
Go west, young man
As in 2006, Vancouver will be the primary venue for the 2019 World Juniors, with Victoria as the secondary venue this time. Photo: Matthew Manor / HHOF-IIHF Images
When Canada chose DJ Otzi’s “Hey Baby” as its 2018 World Junior goal song, not everyone embraced it at first. Yet when they won gold, it became a favourite.

With the tournament returning to Western Canada in 2019, another not-so-traditional-for-hockey song comes to mind for me: “I’m So Excited” by the Pointer Sisters.

As in, “I’m so excited – and I just can’t hide it.” And it’s not just because of my bias toward the two beautiful host cities: Victoria is my birthplace and Vancouver is my hometown.

You see, I’ve been fortunate enough to cover 10 out of the last 13 World Juniors, and the 2006 tournament in British Columbia – hosted by Vancouver, Kelowna, and Kamloops – was my maiden voyage. So I have a treasure trove of memories, both inside and outside the arenas.

By then the 2006 World Juniors was one of the best-organized U20 tournaments ever and set a then-attendance record of 325,138. I’ll never forget Canada’s raucous, combative 3-2 win over the Americans on New Year’s Eve or Tuukka Rask’s virtuoso 53-save performance in a 1-0 quarter-final shutout versus archrival Sweden.

MVP Yevgeni Malkin, who achieved the rare feat of also playing at the Olympics in Turin and IIHF World Championship in Riga that season, was stopped stone-cold in Canada’s 5-0 gold medal victory over Russia. Two Michael Blunden power play goals and a full-team defensive effort under no-nonsense head coach Brent Sutter sealed the deal in front of an ecstatic sell-out crowd at GM Place (now Rogers Arena).

The legendary Bobby Orr granted me a rare interview when I caught him striding through the media room at the old Pacific Coliseum. I also had the pleasure of supervising an enthusiastic team of six interns, including Dhiren Mahiban, who has since forged a successful sports writing career with not only the IIHF web site, but also the New York Times and the Canadian Press.

At the World Juniors, there is always the poignancy of wondering which youngsters will go on to Olympic, World Championship or Stanley Cup glory and whose careers will take a different turn. 2006 was no exception.

Let’s take a few host team examples. Jonathan Toews now owns three Stanley Cup rings, two Olympic gold medals, and a World Championship gold medal, even though the Chicago Blackhawks captain was the 13th forward on Team Canada in 2006 – like Tyler Steenbergen this year. Swift-skating defenceman Kris Letang has three Stanley Cup rings with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Anaheim Ducks forward Andrew Cogliano, who also joined Letang on the gold-medal 2007 World Junior team, long reigned as the NHL’s active ironman with 830 consecutive games.

Meanwhile, goalie Justin Pogge, whose single-tournament record of three shutouts still stands, played seven NHL games, and has also suited up in the AHL, ECHL, KHL, Italy and Sweden. Forward Dustin Boyd, whose four goals tied for the ‘06 team lead, has parlayed a 220-game NHL career into KHL stardom, joining Dynamo Moscow this season after six years with Barys Astana and a 2016 IIHF World Championship run with Kazakhstan.

You just never know at this level. That’s part of what makes the World Juniors so compelling.

Win or lose, you see amazing displays of emotion from players who are still learning to harness their world-class skills. Think of how the Canadian bench exploded when Steenbergen scored the winning goal against Sweden with 1:40 left in the gold medal game in Buffalo. And when Swedish captain Lias Andersson tossed his silver medal into the stands afterwards, you may not have agreed with his sportsmanship, but there was no hiding how heavily the disappointment of defeat weighed on his teenage shoulders.

Optimistic Vancouver fans will hope history repeats itself in several ways. Did you know that in the 1980’s, seven of the 10 players named Best Forward went on to play for the Canucks? That list includes Vladimir Krutov (1980), Patrik Sundstrom (1981), Petri Skriko (1982), Jim Sandlak (1986), Robert Kron (1987), Alexander Mogilny (1988), and Pavel Bure (1989).

More recently, Canada’s 2006 World Junior triumph kicked off the most glorious era in Vancouver hockey history. In 2007, Don Hay (a 1995 World Junior champion) coached the Vancouver Giants to the Memorial Cup at the Pacific Coliseum with a roster including Milan Lucic, Evander Kane, and Jonathon Blum. In 2010, Sidney Crosby scored the 3-2 overtime winner in Canada’s Olympic gold medal victory over the Americans. And in 2011, the Canucks made it to their third Stanley Cup final before succumbing to the Boston Bruins in seven games.

It’s hard to imagine how, but perhaps 2019 will be the start of something even bigger and better for British Columbia hockey fans, adding to this magical legacy.

Coming full circle feels good. I’ve always loved the World Juniors. I was the kid who’d happily get up at 4:00 am to watch Canada play Czechoslovakia in Germany. To the amusement (or dismay) of my friends, I can still recite every word of a pizza snack ad that TSN showed obsessively during the World Juniors in the 1990s.

But there’s nothing like actually watching the tournament in person and riding that wave of teenage enthusiasm. Especially if you get to do it where you live.

At the 2019 World Juniors, I expect the music of a famous Vancouver-based rock band will come to mind. I refer, of course, to Loverboy’s “Lovin’ Every Minute of It.”


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