Every Canadian kid who grew up watching hockey always dreamt of wearing the maple leaf on their chest at the biggest stage. For me as well as many young Canadians, we always wanted to play in the World Juniors.
When it is time for the World Juniors, Canadians put it on a pedestal. No other hockey can compare to it, not even the NHL. The best 18 and 19-year-old hockey players in the world all come to play on the biggest international stage. Teammates become enemies, friends become rivals and the game becomes more than a game. When you have the chance to play for your country in front of thousands in a best of the best international tournament, nothing else can compare.
I was born in Pembroke Pines, FL. Not the biggest hockey hotbed. Also, even though I grew up in the United States, I never cheered for the Americans. No I am not against the US in anyway, I love it there and that is where I lived for 18 years. However, I am Canadian at heart, so when Canada took on the USA in any type of tournament, I was rooting for the great white north. I would go to Canada every year around the time the World Juniors would start. I’d watch the tournament on TSN with my family and I wouldn’t miss a game. The first tournament I remember watching was the 2008 World Juniors. Team Canada had Steven Stamkos, John Tavares, PK Subban, Drew Doughty, Claude Giroux and Brad Marchand. That year I clearly remember Marchand scoring a goal, jumping on the glass and then throwing his stick into the crowd. He then wanted the twig back because he scored with it. Unfortunately I missed the Gold Medal game because I was flying back to Florida, but we won the Gold. That is the first tournament I can remember but I’ll tell you some moments that made me fall in love with the World Juniors.
Jonathan Toews: Leksand - 2007
I don’t remember watching this World Juniors in 2007, yet it still holds a special place in my heart. Canada vs USA, semifinals. The game ends up going into a shootout. Jonathan Toews ended up scoring three times in the shootout, helping Canada win the game after Carey Price stopped Peter Mueller in the seventh round. Canada went on to win the Gold Medal. I have probably watched that shootout 20 times. Seeing Toews continue to score and Price’s reaction when he made the game winning save makes me smile every time.
Jordan Eberle: Ottawa - 2009
This is by far my favourite World Junior Championship. Canada has won four straight gold medals entering the tournament. They are favourites and have home ice advantage in Ottawa. John Tavares and PK Subban were back and new addition to the team Jordan Eberle put on an absolute show. The New Years Eve showdown had Canada’s classic comeback against the Americans. Down 3-0, Canada came back to win 7-4 due to a John Tavares hat trick. Let’s skip to the semifinal matchup between Canada and Russia. Third period, Russia 5 Canada 4. Under a minute left Canada pulled the goalie and Russia tried to score from their own end. They iced the puck and Canada had on offensive zone face off. Russia tried to clear the puck off the glass but Ryan Ellis jumped and kept it in. John Tavares shoveled the puck to the net and a Russian defender blocked the shot. Jordan Eberle toe dragged the puck, pulled a backhand move on the goalie and tucked it in the back of the net. 5.4 seconds left. The infamous time and the infamous call by Gord Miller, “Can you believe it!” The roar of the crowd and the 18,000 Canadian fans jumping up and down makes you feel so proud to be Canadian. I am getting goosebumps writing this right now. Canada went on to win in a shootout and face Sweden in the gold medal game, winning 5-1.
McDavid and the Boys: Toronto/Montreal - 2015
In his second go at the World Juniors, then 17-year-old Connor McDavid put on a show in Toronto and Montreal. McDavid put up 11 points in the tournament. Canada went undefeated in the tournament. There wasn’t a spectacular moment that occurred in this World Juniors like 2007 or 2009. 2015 was just pure dominance by this Canadian side. The closest game was the Gold Medal game where Canada defeated Russia 5-4. I brought up this tournament because of how dominant McDavid was and the rest of Team Canada. Out of the six scoring leaders in the tournament, five were Canadian (Technically all six were Canadian because William Nylander is Swedish-Canadian, but he played for Sweden). The 2014 tournament, 16-year-old McDavid didn’t have the greatest World Juniors, but he was also just 16. The following year he showed the world why he was going to be the next generational player in the NHL. I loved seeing him show his class on the international stage. I was definitely on the McJesus hype train after watching him and the boys win the gold.
Hey Baby: Buffalo - 2018
One year after a heartbreaking shootout loss in the Gold Medal game, Team Canada went south of the border for redemption. In 2017, Canada lost to the Americans in Montreal, leaving the tournament with a silver medal. 2018, Buffalo, once again it is Team USA vs Team Canada. Once again it is a shootout and once again the Americans came out on top. However this time it wasn’t for a medal. Canada took on their biggest rival in the first ever outdoor World Junior game. The United States won the game 4-3 in a shootout but it was only a round robin game. Canada won the group and breezed their way to the Gold Medal game where they faced an undefeated Swedish side. The game was tied late into the third until Tyler Steenbergen scored the go ahead goal with 1:40 left in the game. Canada’s goal song “Hey Baby” rang through the arena as the Canadian supporters went wild. Buffalo seemed like it was part of Canada that night. Hey Baby is my favourite Canada goal song.
The World Juniors is the best time of the year. The minute December rolls around I instantly think it is time for hockey. Being in Canada this year has been special. The snow falling, cold weather and tons of hockey. It reminded me of when I was little and would come up to Montreal or Toronto after Christmas for vacation. I spent most of that time watching the boys with the maple leaf on their chest go for gold. I will always find time to watch the World Juniors because it holds a special place in my heart.