REGINA – The Regina Pats are the world's oldest junior hockey team, operating since 1917. This Western Hockey League franchise is also well-connected in international junior hockey.
According to the Edmonton Sun, the Pats have put more players on Team Canada's World Junior entries (20) than any other Canadian junior club.
Currently, fans in the snowy provincial capital (pop. 180,000) are avidly tracking the exploits of Pats stars Jordan Eberle and Colten Teubert in Saskatoon. After winning gold at the 2009 tournament in Ottawa, the two 19-year-olds are back to bolster Canada's bid for a sixth straight title. And in 2008, Pats blueliner Logan Pyett was also part of the country's gold medal run.
Yet the Pats' history with the IIHF World U20 Championship goes back considerably further. The first Pat ever to suit up at this tournament was Garth Butcher, who won gold in 1982 when Canada's Program of Excellence to ice a team of all-stars was inaugurated. The tough defenceman went on to a solid 897-game NHL career with Vancouver, Quebec, St. Louis and Toronto.
During the 1980's, Pats fans got to cheer for several Canadian aces. The diminutive Dale Derkatch tallied five goals at the 1984 World Juniors and went on to star in Italy, Finland, and Germany. He's the all-time leading scorer in Pats history with 222 goals and 269 assists, including a 179-point explosion in 1982-83. Two-year Pat Gary Leeman was a two-time World Junior participant, winning bronze in 1983 and finishing second in Canadian scoring in 1984 with 11 points.
In the 1990's, more highlights awaited. High-scoring Pats centre Mike Sillinger, a Regina native, won gold with Canada at the 1991 World Juniors in Saskatchewan. During Canada's record-setting run of five titles between 1993 and 1997, the Pats had players on the roster in each of the first three years: Jeff Shantz (1993), Jason Smith (1993), and Jeff Friesen (1994, 1995).
Sometimes success can be bittersweet. Josh Holden was Canada's leading scorer at the 1998 tournament. But the Regina centre only had four goals and his team finished eighth with five losses, including a 6-3 defeat versus Kazakhstan.
And as the world of hockey has opened up in recent decades, it shouldn't be surprising to learn that not of all the Pats involved with international hockey are Canadian-born.
Here are three examples. In the first case, it apparently paid off for a European to try his luck on Saskatchewan ice. In the other two instances, you have to wonder if the player's long-term development wouldn't have been better-served by continuing to play in his native country, despite the Pats' fine history.
Esa Tikkanen: Finnish hockey's most famous pest is renowned for shadowing Wayne Gretzky and winning five Stanley Cups with the Edmonton Oilers and New York Rangers between 1985 and 1994. The chatty Helsinki native also played two games for the Regina Pats in 1981-82, but spent most of that season with the Regina Blues of the SJHL (Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League), where he racked up 75 points and a whopping 216 PIM. Tikkanen also happens to be Finland's all-time World Junior scoring leader with 35 points between 1983 and 1985.
Dmitri Nabokov: Chosen 19th overall by the Chicago Blackhawks in the 1995 NHL Draft, Nabokov was blessed with a ton of skill. The strapping centre shone at the 1996 IIHF World Junior Championship, putting up eight points as Russia claimed bronze. The following year, he made the jump to Regina and finished third in team scoring with 95 points, earning a WHL East Second All-Star Team berth. But Nabokov's career didn't take off after that. He played 55 NHL games with Chicago and the New York Islanders, and then became a journeyman forward with a whole raft of Russian clubs.
Ronald Petrovicky: The scrappy Slovakian winger played four WHL seasons, and his finest came with Regina in 1998, as he placed third in league scoring with 113 points. Petrovicky became an NHL regular with Calgary, New York and Atlanta in the first decade of the new millennium, but could never build on his scoring touch with the Pats: his best season was a 31-point outing with the Thrashers in 2003-04. Now 32, he has represented Slovakia at three international competitions (2000 and 2004 Worlds, 2006 Olympics), earning two goals in 17 appearances. But he never played at the World Juniors.