Canada’s junior hockey team reflects on bagging gold: ‘Unbelievable feeling’ |
Canada’s junior hockey team reflects on bagging gold: ‘Unbelievable feeling’ |

Canada’s junior hockey team reflects on bagging gold: ‘Unbelievable feeling’ |

Canada’s under-20 men’s hockey team has known adversity intimately over the past year and a half.

The trials and tribulations paid off Saturday night as the team won gold at the world junior hockey championships in Edmonton.

After going up 2-0 midway through the second period, the group saw Finland come back to tie 2-2 in the third and force overtime, where a save by captain Mason McTavish turned into a game-winning goal by championship by Kent. Johnson at the other end of the ice.

“It’s been almost a year and a half since our first training camp, so for all the hard work to pay off, it’s so special,” said McTavish, his gold medal around his neck.

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The team originally reunited in the summer of 2021, with the initial tour to be played in Edmonton and Red Deer, Alta., in December.

Increasing cases of COVID-19 among players and officials caused games to be lost, and the event was called off after just four days.

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

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Meanwhile, Canadian hockey has come under fire as allegations of sexual assault have surfaced against players on two former world junior teams. Hockey Canada has faced intense scrutiny for its handling of the allegations, with the federal government freezing the organization’s funding and big-name sponsors pulling their support.

Several players opted out of the summer tournament, creating a high turnover on the Canadian team, but the group persevered, head coach Dave Cameron said.

“This is a pretty tough tournament to win when it’s a normal Christmas tournament,” he said. “And for this group to come here under the cloud that they came in, with what was going on with Hockey Canada and the turnover, we had seven or eight guys that didn’t come.

“Just the commitment. ? This group stayed with him. That was kind of a theme.”

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Canada went undefeated throughout the tournament, winning all seven games they played. The team fell behind just once, trailing 1-0 in a preliminary game against the Czech Republic, the country known as the Czech Republic, before eventually recording a 5-1 victory.

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McTavish — the tournament’s Most Valuable Player — led the way with 17 points (eight goals, nine assists), tying Wayne Gretzky and Eric Lindros for the second-most points ever by a Canadian player at the world juniors.

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

An 18-year-old Anaheim Ducks prospect, McTavish has had a busy year. He suited up in nine games for the NHL team before returning to the Ontario Hockey League and eventually helped the Hamilton Bulldogs to an Ontario Hockey League championship and a berth in the Memorial Cup, where they finished second. Meanwhile, he took out the Maple Leaf for Canada at the Beijing Olympics.

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However, winning the world junior gold is a dream come true, he said.

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

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McTavish is one of 11 players on the Canadian team eligible to play again when the 2023 tournament is held in Moncton and Halifax.

Defender Olen Zellweger believes the group has a lot to build on going 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.

“So coming back, I understand how hard it is to win, how committed you have to be, how tight as a group you have to be to come out on top.”

While the 2022 World Juniors was an odd affair – held during the hot summer without the massive crowds generally seen at December events – the group learned the tournament comes with plenty of close matches and plenty of expectations, said Cameron.

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Having experienced this, it will benefit the young players, the coach added.

“They can certainly rely on the experience they’ve had here and their pressure,” he said. “So when they go to that tournament, there shouldn’t be any surprises what to expect.”

© 2022 The Canadian Press