With the 2013 World Juniors now at a close, it is important to remember that many of the young players will eventually play an important role on an NHL team, whether or not they won a medal, much like some of the Vancouver Canucks. 12 members of the Canucks have had the privilege of representing their country at the World Junior Championships and five of them have brought home medals. These players range from Jannik Hansen, playing for Denmark in Division I, to Cory Schneider, a two time USA world juniors player and one of the most recent Canucks to grace the world stage.
Ryan Kesler represented the United States of America twice, in 2003 and 2004. In 2003, the Americans lost the bronze medal game to Finland and returned home empty handed. But in 2004, they bounced back to claim the gold medal in a memorable game against Canada. Although they trailed 3-1 after two periods, Kesler and the Americans fought hard to beat Canadian stars such as Sidney Crosby and Marc-Andre Fleury. As for Kesler, he tied the game at 3-3, his third goal of the tournament, which he finished with seven points. The final score was 4-3 for the USA. David Booth was also on this championship team, the first American team to capture a gold medal in the IIHF junior tournament.
The score was the same as the 2004 gold medal game, but with a different outcome for Canada when Manny Malhotra served as team captain for Canada in 2000. In the same year that Henrik Sedin led the tournament with 13 points and his brother Daniel was tied for second with 10 (they also competed in the World Championships later that year for Sweden), the Canadians came back from a 2-0 deficit to force overtime in the bronze medal game. It eventually went to a shootout, which Canada won 4-3 to take home the bronze. Having captained a Canadian team that had a lot of pressure to take home the gold, but instead played for bronze – just as the 2013 Canadian team did – Malhotra offered his opinion earlier this week.
“We’ve looked at the world juniors as gold or bust for Canada for so many years,” Malhotra told The Canadian Press. “It puts a lot of undue stress on the guys going over there. It’s a global game. Everybody’s catching up [to Canada.]…to say gold or bust these days can be, in a way, insulting to the other countries out there that brought their [ability] level to that stage…Obviously, [it's] disappointing not to be playing for gold, but as a nation, we should be proud of those kids and what they’ve accomplished and how well they represented us.”
While he may not be with the Canucks for much longer, Roberto Luongo made his mark when he represented Canada for his second time in 1999. Early on in the tournament it looked like the going would be rough for the Canadians. But then they proved others wrong when they faced the Sedins and Sweden in the semifinals and left with a 6-1 win. That win sent them to the gold medal match against Russia, which Luongo took control of, despite being outshot 40-18. He forced overtime, and although they ended up losing to the Russians 3-2, Luongo made the Tournament All-Star Team and finished with a 4-2-1 record and 1.92 goals against average.
Another Canucks member to represent his team twice and the only one to bring home two world juniors medals is Dan Hamhuis. Before he brought home a silver in 2002, he brought home a bronze in 2001 after beating Sweden 2-1. Ex-Canuck Raffi Torres scored the winning goal 37 seconds into overtime. At this time Hamhuis was playing for the Prince George Cougars of the WHL, and later finished that season with 60 points in 59 games. As with Malhotra, Hamhuis believes that the competition is getting tougher as more teams rise to the same level as hockey powers such as Canada and the United States.
“Other countries have certainly picked up their junior programs,” Hamhuis told The Canadian Press. “You see so many competitive countries out there. Canada probably has the most depth of them all, but a lot of the players from the other countries are very good and very competitive.”
There is no doubt that players from the 2013 junior teams, such as Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, will become stars in the NHL in the years to come and help lead their teams, just as Kesler, Malhotra, Luongo, Hamhuis and many other Canucks who had experience playing on the world stage at a young age have.