Over the course of our lives, Canada has seen some great players wear the Red and White at the Under 20 IIHF World Junior Championships. With a prized history full of medals and triumphant victories, comes legends and icons for Canadian youths to look up to.
Riding the high of the recent Gold Medal win for Canada at the 2020 World Juniors, Brant and I have compiled a list of our most iconic and memorable players to represent Team Canada at the tournament.
While there may not be some of the all-time great Canadians from this tournament like Lindros or Gretzky or Legace, these names should still provoke positive memories for hockey fans all across our nation!
Maybe the most dynamic player when it comes to my memories of the World Juniors; with his New Year’s Eve hat-trick against Team USA, Tavares endeared himself in Canadian’s hearts at a very young age. Winning the Gold Medal in both 2008 and 2009, Tavares finished his U20 Tournament career with 21 points in 13 games with the Maple Leaf on his red sweater, good for 6th all-time as a Canadian. To make his resume even more impressive, Tavares went home with the Best Forward Award and the Tournament MVP in 2009, with 15 points in the 6 games, on one of the all-time great Canadian World Junior teams.
While Tavares may be thought of as a Toronto Maple Leaf after his career ends, to me he will always stand out more as a World Junior sensation.
Tied with Jordan Eberle as the 2nd highest point scorer for Team Canada is Tournament history, Brayden Schenn was a dominant player at the 2010 and 2011 World Junior Championships. With 26 points in just 13 games played, Schenn was one of the leading offensive forces on back-to-back Silver Medal teams. Additionally, he was awarded the Best Forward Award, as well as the Tournament MVP with his 18 points in this 2011 Tournament. Fun fact for you, this marked 3 years in a row that a Canadian forward had won both the MVP and Best Forward award, joining both the aforementioned John Tavares and Jordan Eberle.
To me, Schenn will always stand out for his 4 goal performance against Norway, and I’ll never forget that he outscored the 2nd highest scorers (Vladimir Tarasenko and Evgeny Kuznetsov) in the 2011 Tournament by SEVEN points, and thus, is one of my all-time favourites at the U20 level.
Last but not least for me, who can forget Nugent Hopkins’ 15 point performance at the 2013 World Junior Championships. Despite only playing 1 year, and just 6 games, Nuge is still tied for 22nd on the all-time Canadian points list, tied with Connor McDavid and Alex Pietrangelo, both of whom played more than double the amount of games that Nuge did.
A crazy journey for Nuge, who cracked the Oilers out of camp as an 18 year old and was thus not sent to the World Juniors, and it looked as though we’d never see him in a Team Canada sweater at the U20 level. However, the following year, the 2012-2013 NHL Lockout allowed for Nuge to go to the 2013 World Juniors amidst his AHL season with Edmonton’s farm team. With NHL experience already under his belt, Nuge was expected to dominate; and did not disappoint. He opened the tournament with 5 points in Canada’s 9-3 victory, while also donning the C on his chest.
Despite losing the Bronze Medal Game in overtime to Russia, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins electrified the tournament, leading it in points, and will forever hold a spot in my World Juniors memory-bank.
Probably the safest pick to make, but one I absolutely couldn't pass up. Jordan Eberle is a World Juniors legend among Canadians. Not only is he Canada's second leading scorer of all time, he's also involved in one of the most epic moments in Canadian hockey history.
It was 2009, Canada trailing 5-4 in their semi final matchup against the Russians. It looked like all hope was lost when a shot was fired toward the net, but subsequently blocked and seemingly swallowed up by Russian defender Dimitri Kulikov. Eberle managed to hunt down the loose puck though, and with a half toe drag and a perfect forehand to backhand move, Eberle etched his name into the history books with just 5.4 seconds left on the clock. It also gave us the infamous "I can" call from Pierre McGuire, demonstrating just how horrible he is at his job.
Ebs wasn't done there however, as he nearly single handedly took down team USA in the gold medal final of the 2010 tournament. With the Canadians down 5-3 with less than three minutes on the clock, he managed to score back to back goals and push the game to overtime. If it wasn't for an incredible shot from John Carlson of the United States, Jordan Eberle would've single handedly handed Canada two gold medals.
With a gold medal, a silver medal, and a tournament MVP award, Jordan Eberle will go down as one of the most incredible Canadian World Juniors players I've ever got to witness.
If it weren't for a ridiculous snub in 2014, Mad Max would probably be on a lot more of these lists for people. Instead, Domi came in and dominated the 2015 tournament in his only appearance on the team. The team had one of the most dominant offences assembled in recent history, with four Canadians taking over the tournament scoring lead (3 tied at 11, and Domi with 10). He was consistently the best player on one of the best teams I've ever watched, and was awarded with the tournament's best forward award for his efforts.
It's a real shame that we couldn't see more than one year of what that team was; but the performance of Max Domi will stick out in my mind every time I sit around and talk about these tournaments.
As a huge fan of this tournament my whole life I struggled to find my final pick for my forward unit. There have been plenty of tournament long performances that could've earned a spot among my top three without second guessing it. Jonathan Toews however, had the single most impressive solo performance in world Juniors history.
I remember standing in my family room watching my tv with the big ass box on the back of it watching as Canada and the United States pushed their 2007 semi final game to a shootout. Toews was the third shooter and put the Canadians up 2-1 in the shootout before Jack Johnson extended the thriller. Now, if this were NHL rules, that would've been the last we saw of Toews and the game would've been left in the hands of someone else. Thankfully, this was the wild wild west that is the IIHF.
In IIHF sanctioned tournaments, any shooter can shoot as many times as you want when you reach the sudden death rounds.
Now… Back to 2007. Fourth shooter comes out, it's Jonathan Toews… scores. The U.S kept it going to a fifth shooter, but have no fear, the Canadian depth is incredible, they have so many…. JONATHAN TOEWS AGAIN! As if there were any doubt, he scored again, Peter Mueller missed, and the Canadians went on to win the gold medal.
I couldn't make a memorable team without the most memorable performance of all time.
As I mentioned on last week’s episode of the Two-W’EH Hockey Podcast, Ryan Ellis is my all-time favourite World Juniors player. The dynamic offensive defenseman played not 1 not 2 but 3 years for Team Canada in this tournament, one of only 6 players to ever do so, joining the likes of Eric Lindros, Jason Spezza, and Jay Bouwmeester. Ellis finished over a point per game in each of his 3 tournaments, amassing 25 points in just 19 games. Maybe even more impressively, Ellis captained his team to Silver in 2011, wore an A on his sweater for their Silver Medal in 2010, and was a big piece of the 2009 Gold Medal winning squad. Playing the top of the umbrella on a dominant Canadian powerplay, Ellis powered his way to winning the Tournament’s best defenseman award in 2011. As a defenseman growing up, Ellis was one of my favourite players to watch on the world stage, and electrified the tournament for 3 years as one of the best d-men to ever suit up for Canada at the U20 level, and still ranks 4th in all-time points for a Canadian in this tournament.
Maybe a bold take to Leaf fans, but Dion was a dynamic player when he was younger and anyone who watched his 2004 and 2005 tournaments can attest. Dion was effective in 2004, recording 4 points and 29 PIMs in 6 games on route to a silver medal for Canada, but he really made his mark in 2005. Arguably the greatest World Junior Team ever, and the best draft class ever (1985 birth year) the 2005 version of Team Canada featured several soon to be NHL superstars due to the NHL lockout, including the likes of Sidney Crosby, Patrice Bergeron, Ryan Getzlaf, Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Corey Perry, etc. Dion recorded 6 points and a much smaller 14 PIMs in this tournament, as an assistant captain on the Gold Medal winning squad. Also known for the Double Dion, Phaneuf was laying the body like crazy, and was a monster at both ends of the ice, much like he was his first few years in Calgary with the Flames. Their may have been better d-men lace up for Canada over the years, but this is all about our most memorable stars, and Phaneuf always stands out to me when I look back.
It's not often you look back at any team, in any tournament or playoff style format and think "that offence would've been nothing without that defenseman" but honestly that's what the 2017 tournament was like.
The team was fairly good, lead by the likes of Pierre-Luc Dubois, Dylan Strome, Taylor Raddysh, and Mat Barzal. Without a doubt however, the straw that stirred the drink was Thomas Chabot. Not only was he the best player on the back end, but he was among the tournament leaders in points with 10 over seven games.
He became the first defenseman ever to win the MVP of the tournament. Chabot may not have lead the team to a gold medal, but as far as greatest defenseman in tournament history goes, you can't have a list without him.
I may be a little biased on this one due to the fact that Letang has won my heart playing for the Penguins. Before his decorated NHL career however, he was buzzing around in two different tournaments, snapping passes around the ice and letting that same gorgeous flow fly around while he does it. He captained the same 2007 team that featured shootout legend Jonathan Toews and helped the team win gold. At a position where it's sometimes better to never be heard of, Letang's name was everywhere for the right reasons.
How could you not remember the flashy yellow pads with the bright red Team Canada jerseys?! Fleury was not only one of the best World Juniors goalies ever for Canada, but an icon in my mind when thinking back on past tournaments. As a 6 year old when he was dominating for Canada, I can vividly picture Fleury flailing around in the net making saves that left you asking how he did that; then trying to be like him while playing mini sticks in the living with my dad at intermissions. Fleury started 10 games over his 2 years in the Tournament, finishing 6-2-2 and winning the Tournament’s Best Goaltender in his first year. While some may remember him for basically scoring on himself to lose the 2004 Gold Medal Game, as he shot the puck off his defender Brayden Coburn and Patrick O’Sullivan was credited with the winner for the USA; I’ll always remember the fashion in which Fleury made his saves in the net, and 2 Silver Medals in 2 years illustrates that he was great on the world stage at a young age.
This one may be the most controversial pick of the bunch. Fucale wasn't the best goalie Canada has ever had, in fact he even lost his starting gig at different points during his run in the tournament. For me, however, whenever I look back at World Juniors tournaments and remember how hard Fucale had to battle to help make a difference for this team. He had games where he blew it for us, and games where he saved it for us, but I remember every single one like it was yesterday. His NHL career may not have gone anywhere, and he did end up falling far enough to play in the Spengler Cup for team Canada, but he won there, and he still has a world Juniors gold medal. For that, I think he deserves a mention.