Fond World Junior memories in Canada
by Lucas Aykroyd|03 JAN 2021
A World Junior tournament in Canada always offers a special ambience, as these happy fans in Montreal in 2017 could attest.
photo: Matt Zambonin / HHOF-IIHF Images

From sightings of Wendel Clark and Bobby Orr to classic rock concerts and gourmet doughnuts, the vibe in and around the rinks at World Juniors in Canada is always special. It’s no wonder we’re all looking forward to the 2022 tournament in Edmonton and Red Deer with the hope that fans will pack the arenas again to cheer on the best U20 talent.

I’ve been fortunate enough to cover the World Juniors 13 times (2006, 2009, 2010, 2012-21), including eight tournaments in Canada. And whether you’re writing about it as a journalist, painting your face and brandishing flags in the arena as a fan, or watching every game religiously at home with millions of other fans, it is always an absolute highlight of the holiday season. I’ve accumulated a trove of fun memories beyond the on-ice heroics.

No country embraces this tournament more than Canada, and while the motherland of hockey unites behind its World Junior team every year, tribal attachments to NHL teams can still bubble over.

During an intermission at my first in-person World Juniors, the 2006 tournament in my native Vancouver, Wendel Clark got interviewed over the PA at the Pacific Coliseum. The hard-hitting, mustachioed winger scored Canada’s gold medal-clinching 2-2 equalizer against Czechoslovakia at the 1985 World Juniors in Helsinki.

Clark got a nice ovation from the Vancouver crowd when he was introduced. However, he started off his second answer with, “Well, when I played for Toronto,” and was instantly drowned out by thunderous booing. The five-time NHL 30-goal scorer, who ranks 92nd in all-time PIM (1,690), just had to chuckle. Toronto and Vancouver have a longstanding NHL rivalry that only got hotter when the Canucks eliminated the Leafs in the 1994 Western Conference final.

Also at the Coliseum in 2006, I was thrilled to land a spontaneous interview with Bobby Orr. Then 57, Orr, arguably the greatest NHL defenceman in history, was in Vancouver as a player agent, repping the likes of Canada’s Marc Staal and the USA’s Jack Skille. I spotted him passing through the media room one morning and the Boston Bruins legend kindly chatted for a few minutes.
Orr gave me a quote that, in retrospect, reveals how hockey has evolved between 2006 and 2021. As the current World Junior prowess of Sweden’s Victor Soderstrom, Finland’s Topi Niemela, and the U.S.’s Cam York attests, there is room again in our game for smaller players – including D-men – who rely on speed and skill.

“I played at 185 pounds, and I was a good-sized player back then,” Orr said. “Of course, every team had one big guy, like a Moose Vasko. But now, these players are all so big. Back then, the big guys weren’t that mobile, not necessarily great skaters, and they couldn’t catch you. Today, they’re all big and they can catch you! It’s amazing, the size of the kids.”

In 2009 in Ottawa, I got offered complimentary tickets to a semi-final whose opponents were yet to be determined. I didn’t need them, as I’d be at both semi-finals in any case, so I passed them on to a high school buddy of mine who resides in the National Capital Region.
That semi-final turned out to be one of the most amazing World Junior games in history. Canada edged Russia 6-5 in a shootout after Jordan Eberle scored the tying goal with just 5.4 seconds left. Talk about a stroke of luck for my buddy!

At the 2010 World Juniors, the temperatures in Regina, Saskatchewan were amazing in a different way. Having grown up amid the coastal temperate rainforest of British Columbia’s west coast, I’d never experienced -32 Celsius before. That’s where the thermometer dropped on December 31, 2009 while Vladimir Tarasenko led Russia to a 5-2 win over the Czech Republic with a two-goal performance.
After Vladimir Tarasenko put on a show in Russia’s win over the Czechs at the 2010 World Juniors, April Wine put on a New Year’s Eve show at Regina’s Brandt Centre.
photo: Matthew Manor / HHOF-IIHF Images
After finishing up my game recap, I had the surreal experience of trooping down a hallway at the Brandt Centre and finding myself at a packed April Wine concert. Never had I expected to hear the Canadian rock band’s hit cover of Hot Chocolate’s “You Could’ve Been A Lady” under these circumstances.

When Calgary co-hosted the 2012 World Juniors with Edmonton, I challenged my stomach under two very different circumstances in Cowtown.

I picked up a box of World Junior-themed doughnuts, adorned with hockey sticks and red maple leafs, from Jelly Modern Doughnuts for my post-game snack.
Jelly Modern Doughnuts created World Junior-themed doughnuts during the 2012 tournament in Calgary.
photo: Lucas Aykroyd
And on a tour of Canada Olympic Park, I checked out artifacts like Marc Habscheid’s 1982 World Junior gold medal and Cassie Campbell’s 2002 Olympic jersey at Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame – before feeling the G-force on a one-minute, 1,450-metre run in a four-man bobsleigh piloted by Olympic silver medalist Helen Upperton on the 1988 Olympic bobsleigh track.

From the jubilant fan zones in Montreal and Toronto in 2015 and 2017 to the magic of watching 2019 World Junior hockey in Victoria on the same soil where I caught my first WHL game with the Grant Fuhr-era Victoria Cougars in 1981, I could tell stories all day.