BUFFALO – The wise man will tell you that today becomes tomorrow pretty quickly, and the present becomes the past in the blink of an eye. Indeed, Canada’s players at this 2011 U20 all have vivid recollections of the hockey’s greatest junior event from their childhood, but they are also here forging a memory today for kids watching their games who will, in another several years, themselves be playing at the U20.
Recalled forward Louis LeBlanc: “I have read about the 1987 Canada-Russia fight when they shut down the lights. But the players I recall liking the most were Sidney Crosby, Patrice Bergeron, and Carey Price, especially when Crosby won the gold with the team which had so many up-and-coming superstars and Olympic winners on it. You’re at home for Christmas, over the holidays, off from school with your family and you watch the games on TSN, but you never really think one day you’re going to be on TV like that.”
For many players, the most vivid and historic moment came in the semi-finals in 2007. That year, the U20 was held in Sweden (Leksand and Mora), and Canada faced the United States in the semis, just as they did yesterday. That year, Canada won, 2-1, in a shootout made famous by Jonathan Toews.
“What I recall best is the shootout when Jonathan Toews scored three shootout goals in the semi-final against the United States,” Casey Cizikas said.
Goalie Mark Visentin said the same thing. “I followed all Boxing Day games religiously, and my best memory is Jonathan Toews and his three shootout goals against the United States and Carey Price in goal.”
So, too, did Sean Couturier: “I remember as a kid they won five in a row; Jonathan Toews’ goal in a shootout; a bunch of other memories. We’ve all got memories of the tournament. I’ve been watching ever since I was young, and it was one of my dreams to wear the Canadian jersey.”
Marcus Foligno was another Canadian most affected by the heroics of the player who, in only four years since that goal, has won Olympic gold, the Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe Trophy (as team captain), and the World Championship.
“Of course, there was Toews against the Americans, and Vancouver [in 2006] with Marc Staal when they played Russia in the finals and gave it to them pretty good [5-0]. They were pretty dominant that year, and to watch those guys play helped me make some goals and want to be here one day.”
Zack Kassian recalled Vancouver as well. The abrasive forward identified with a player of similar qualities that year. “The World Juniors in Vancouver 2006 was my best memory, when Steve Downie made the big hit against the Russians on his first shift and Canada won gold.”
Recalled Erik Gudbranson of his first U20 impressions: “When Marc-André Fleury scored into his own net [in 2004] in this mixup with Patrick O’Sullivan, this was not a good memory. I got a lot of inspiration from the Canadian five-in-a-row run [2005-09] and I especially remember the Alexander Ovechkin and Dion Phaneuf head to head rivalry .”
As a boy, Tyson Barrie was a loyal Canadian through and through. “They all kind of mesh together when you watch them year after year, and I did watch them every year from when I was ten years old until, well, now. There are a lot of good memories, watching with my friends and playing road hockey during intermission. It’s kind of cliché and every kid seems to do it, but it’s pretty cool to be a part of it now.”
Brayden Schenn, the tournament’s leading scorer by a country mile, has an older brother in the NHL and grew up living and breathing hockey. “When we were kids, my brother and I would get up early when the games were in Europe and watch on Boxing Day. It was always a great tradition, and we’d always be in the gold medal game and be able to miss school. It’s always been a big thing in our household, and we’ve enjoyed it every year.”
The tallest player in the U20 this year, 6’6” Jared Cowen has a specific reference point for the World Juniors. “I don’t think it was the first time, but it was when I was in pee wee, and it was just before practice. We were in the arena lounge upstairs watching the game. I can’t remember what year it was or who Canada was playing, but it was the first or second of the five-year run of gold medals. That was one time when it was actually more fun to watch than go out and play.”
Tomorrow, the 20 Canadians go out and play for gold against Russia. They are realizing a dream, and at the same time creating a dream and inspiring the next generation of Canadians to do the same.