World Juniors: Gold medal win a special one for Canada


Canada’s U-20 men’s ice hockey team has seen all the odds up close over the past year and a half.

The trial and error paid off Saturday night when the team won gold at the World Junior Hockey Championships in Edmonton.

After a 2-0 lead midway through the second period, the group saw Finland roar back to level the game 2-2 in the third period and force extra time, where a brilliant save from captain Mason McTavish resulted in a championship goal from Kent became Johnson on the other end of the ice.

“It’s been almost a year and a half since our first training camp, so it’s just really special that all that hard work has paid off,” said McTavish, the gold medal hung around his neck.

The team originally came together in the summer of 2021, with the original tournament scheduled to be played in December in Edmonton and Red Deer, Alta.

Rising COVID-19 cases among players and officials resulted in lost matches and the event was canceled after just four days.

The International Ice Hockey Federation promised to repeat the tournament, but the only time available was in August – a time when young hockey players often prepare for training camps.

Meanwhile, Canadian ice hockey has come under fire as allegations of sexual assault against players from two former world junior teams emerged. Hockey Canada came under intense scrutiny over how it had dealt with the allegations, with the federal government freezing the organization’s funding and big-name sponsors calling for their support.

Several players opted not to play in the summer tournament, leading to big turnovers in the Canada roster, but the group persevered, head coach Dave Cameron said.

“This is a tournament that’s hard enough to win if it’s a normal Christmas tournament,” he said. “And for this group to come in here under the cloud that they came in under with what’s been going on with Hockey Canada and the revenue, we had seven or eight people that didn’t come.

“Just the commitment. This group just stuck with it. That was kind of an issue.”

Canada went undefeated throughout the tournament, winning all seven games they played. The team fell behind only once, falling 1-0 in a preliminary round match against the Czech Republic, the country commonly known as the Czech Republic, before eventually claiming a 5-1 victory.

McTavish — the tournament’s most valuable player — led with 17 points (eight goals, nine assists) and tied with Wayne Gretzky and Eric Lindros for the second most points ever by a Canadian player at the World Juniors.

“They’re obviously in the Hall of Fame and to have a quarter of their career what they’ve had and the success that they’ve had would be a success for me,” McTavish said. “I feel so honored. I feel like I don’t belong there.”

McTavish, an 18-year-old Anaheim Ducks prospect, has had a busy year. He played in nine games for the NHL team before returning to the Ontario Hockey League and eventually helping the Hamilton Bulldogs to a championship in the Ontario Hockey League and finishing in the Memorial Cup where they finished second. In between, he donned the Maple Leaf for Canada at the Beijing Olympics.

However, winning gold at the World Juniors is a dream come true, he said.

“I think every championship you win is very special,” he said. “Here, it’s an incredible feeling. Every time you have a chance to win something, it’s one of the best feelings in the world and it’s so addicting. So hopefully I can do it again.”

McTavish is one of 11 players in the Canada squad who will be eligible to play again when the 2023 tournament takes place in Moncton and Halifax.

Defender Olen Zellweger believes the group needs to build a lot to move forward.

“I think coming to this tournament, the experience and what you learn is invaluable,” said Zellweger, who had 11 points (two goals, nine assists) in the tournament.

“Coming back will give me a better understanding of how hard it is to win, how committed you have to be, how tight you have to be as a group to get to the top.”

While World Juniors 2022 was an odd affair – taking place during the hot summer, without the crowds commonly seen at December events – the group has learned that the tournament comes with many close games and many expectations, said Cameron.

Living through that will do the young players good, added the coach.

“Certainly they can draw on the experience they’ve had here and the pressure,” he said. “So if they go to this tournament there shouldn’t be any surprises as to what to expect.”

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on August 20, 2022.