HELSINKI – American goalie John Gibson’s 4-1 win over Finland was an impressive debut for the 19-year-old. But it wasn’t the first time a teenager has appeared in net at the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship.
Sometimes it marks the start of a legendary career.
Vladislav Tretiak, who now serves as the President of the Russian Ice Hockey Federation, won his first IIHF World Championship with the Soviet Union in 1970 in Sweden at the age of 17.
Dominik Hasek was 18 when he suited up for Czechoslovakia in two games at the 1983 IIHF World Championship in West Germany. “The Dominator” posted a 2.50 GAA and 91.4 save percentage as the Czechoslovaks won the silver medal.
In a few cases, the player’s flame sadly burns out too soon.
At the 1979 IIHF World Championship in Moscow, the late Pelle Lindbergh was asked to carry the load for Sweden at age 19. Lindbergh mustered just one win and a tie in six appearances, and his GAA ballooned to 6.33. He would become a Vezina Trophy winner with the Philadelphia Flyers in 1985 before passing away in a car accident that year.
The late Yevgeni Belosheikin was 19 when he played his first World Championship game in 1986 in Moscow. He finished with a GAA of 1.10 in seven games as the Soviets became the last team to win the World Championship on home ice. However, Belosheikin suffered from off-ice problems, and committed suicide in 1999.
For other goalies, debuting at the Worlds as a teenager leads to ups and downs.
Ilya Bryzgalov was 19 when he first played for Russia at the IIHF World Championship in St. Petersburg, Russia. However, it was a rough initiation. Shockingly, Russia finished eleventh on home ice, and Bryzgalov struggled with a 2.75 GAA and 88.0 save percentage. But “Bryz” would rebound, becoming a starting NHL goalie, and leading Russia to Worlds gold in 2009 in Switzerland. He’s backstopping his nation again here in Helsinki.
As a 19-year-old, New York Islanders goalie Rick DiPietro played at both the World Juniors and Worlds in 2001, finishing fifth at the former and fourth at the latter. Despite securing a 15-year, $67.5-million contract from the Islanders in 2006, his career has been set back by injuries.
Another American, Mike Dunham, parlayed a so-so 19-year-old debut at the 1992 Worlds (3.92 GAA, 88.9 save percentage, and seventh-place finish) into a very respectable NHL and international career. Dunham became a two-time Olympian, capturing silver in Salt Lake City in 2002, and also won a World Championship bronze medal in 2004.
If you’re wondering who the youngest netminder in World Championship history was, that honour belongs to Austria’s Alfred Huber.
He made his debut at the age of 16 years, 10 months, and three days at the 1947 World Championship in Prague, Czechoslovakia. With Huber, the Austrians won bronze, the second and last medal they’ve won to date in the elite division. They also took bronze in 1931.