From Canada’s captain to Cup champion
by Lucas Aykroyd|26 DEC 2020
Mike Ricci, who co-captained Canada to gold at the 1990 World Juniors, won the Stanley Cup with the Colorado Avalanche in 1996.
photo: Doug MacLellan / HHOF-IIHF Images

Even though Kirby Dach won’t be able to wear the “C” for Canada at the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship, the 19-year-old Chicago Blackhawks centre can take comfort in knowing that just being named captain is a good omen for his future Stanley Cup prospects.

Thirteen of Canada’s 48 previous captains have gone on to win the Cup as NHL players. That’s 27 percent, and that’s pretty good odds.

The motherland of hockey has dominated this tournament since its 1977 inception with 18 gold medals. Being named Canada’s captain, as a rule, means you embody leadership, hard work, and an all-around commitment to excellence.

Those are attributes that Dach, after recovering from his wrist injury, will keep honing under the tutelage of Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews, a two-time World Junior champion (2006, 2007) and a Triple Gold Club member (WM 2007, OG 2010, 2014, SC 2010, 2013, 2015).

Coach Andre Tourigny’s team won’t name a replacement captain. They’ll move forward with the leadership of alternate captains Bowen Byram and Dylan Cozens.

“We all want to get it done for [Dach],” said Byram. “We know how excited he was to get to participate in the tournament after not being able to last year, so it definitely adds some fuel to the fire.”

Looking back reveals multiple intriguing connections between the Canadian World Junior captaincy and future Stanley Cup success.

The first World Junior captain ever to win the Stanley Cup was Ryan Walter, who earned bronze with a squad starring Wayne Gretzky at the 1978  tournament in Montreal. The hard-working Montreal Canadiens centre, one of hockey’s best faceoff men, hoisted the Cup in 1986. That team was coached by Jean Perron and backstopped by Conn Smythe Trophy winner Patrick Roy.

No NHL team has benefited more from former Canadian World Junior captains than the 1996 Colorado Avalanche.
Marc Crawford is the only former Canadian World Junior captain who has coached an NHL team to the Stanley Cup (Colorado, 1996).

photo: Robert Hradil / HHOF-IIHF Images
Marc Crawford, who wore the “C” for the Cornwall Royals team chosen to represent Canada in West Germany in 1981, became the only ex-WJC captain ever to coach a Stanley Cup winner. Colorado, led by Joe Sakic, swept the Florida Panthers in the ‘96 finals.

Walter and co-author Mike Johnston interviewed Crawford for their 2004 book Simply The Best: Insights and Strategies from Great Hockey Coaches and asked him what qualities he looked for in a captain. Crawford said: “Honesty is a big part of what captivates that presence in the great leaders. People can sense realness, something true in that individual that doesn’t need to be spoken. While what you do and how you perform is ultimately important, the ability to express yourself is key.”

In a neat twist, “Crow” had Troy Murray – who captained Canada’s first golden team in 1982 – on his Avs roster. Murray, in his final NHL season, morphed from a 45-goal scorer with Chicago in 1985-86 into a diligent penalty-killer, playing eight games during Colorado’s run. And Mike Ricci, whose gritty leadership helped Canada claim gold in Finland in 1990, tied for eighth in ‘96 playoff points (17). Ricci shared the captaincy with Dave Chyzowski and Dan Ratushny. 

The first former World Junior captain to win two Stanley Cups was Martin Lapointe of the Detroit Red Wings (1997, 1998). He played on three World Junior teams, winning gold in 1991 and finishing sixth in 1992 before wearing the "C" in 1993.
Martin Lapointe (centre) won gold here with Canada in 1991 before captaining the golden 1993 team. 
photo: Paul Bereswil / HHOF-IIHF Images
The star of the QMJHL’s Laval Titan led a '93 squad that not only included future Hockey Hall of Famers Paul Kariya and Chris Pronger, but also kicked off Canada’s first record-setting run of five consecutive gold medals.

That year, Lapointe showed he could deliver big goals when he opened the scoring in a crucial 5-4 win over the Swedish host team featuring Peter Forsberg and Markus Naslund. In Game Four in 1998, he one-timed the Stanley Cup-winning goal past Washington’s Olaf Kolzig on a feed from Igor Larionov.

The other two Canadian World Junior captains who own a pair of Stanley Cup rings are Jarret Stoll, who settled for silver in 2002, and Mike Richards, who got gold in 2005 with the most invincible Canadian U20 team ever. That roster included fellow future NHL captains like Sidney Crosby, Ryan Getzlaf, and Shea Weber. Stoll and Richards teamed up with the 2012 and 2014 Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings.

And there is only one Canadian World Junior captain who’s hoisted the Cup three times: Kris Letang of the Pittsburgh Penguins (2009, 2016, 2017).
Kris Letang (right), pictured here with the late Luc Bourdon, captained Canada to 2007 World Junior gold before winning three Cups with Pittsburgh.
photo: Jani Rajamaki / HHOF-IIHF Images

Letang, who captained the second of his back-to-back WJC gold medal teams (2006, 2007), is one of just three Canadian defencemen to pull off “WJC captain plus Cup winner” status. The other two are Eric Desjardins, who captained 1989’s fourth-place team and won the Cup with Montreal in 1993, and Cory Sarich, who co-captained the eighth-place 1998 team with Jesse Wallin and won the Cup with Tampa Bay in 2004.

The highest-scoring Canadian WJC captain in NHL history is Theoren Fleury – by a long shot. The classic Calgary Flames forward and 2002 Olympic gold medalist had 1,088 career points, putting him 223 points ahead of the oft-injured Eric Lindros (865 points). That said, “The Big E” remains Canada’s all-time World Junior scoring leader with 31 points in three tournaments, striking gold in 1990 and 1991 before he wore the “C” for the sixth-place 1992 team.

The three remaining members of this club are recent additions. Daniel Paille (2004, silver) won the Cup as a role forward with Boston in 2011. Jaden Schwartz, who captained Canada in his second World Juniors (2011 silver, 2012 bronze), was St. Louis’s leading goal-scorer (12) when the Blues won their first Cup in 2019.  And finally, Brayden Point, who followed the same pattern as Schwartz (2015 gold, 2016 sixth place), led the NHL playoffs in goals (14) as Tampa Bay won the Cup in October.

So right now, Kirby Dach may understandably feel like he has a mountain to climb. But there is also a mountain of evidence that indicates his time as Canada’s captain – even if brief – will pay off in his NHL career.