TORONTO – Fresh off their championship victory, members of Canada’s junior hockey team arrived at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport on Tuesday with gold medals around their necks and fans cheering their appearance.
A small throng of supporters was on hand to greet several members of the team, which won its fifth straight world junior title with a 5-1 win Monday night over Sweden at Scotiabank Place in Ottawa.
Tournament MVP John Tavares, who plays for the Oshawa Generals of the Ontario Hockey League, said winning the championship on home ice before a crowd of 20,380 – a single-game record for the competition – made the victory that much sweeter.
“You couldn’t hear the whistles sometimes, it was so loud – it was rockin’,” said Tavares, who has been touted as the possible No. 1 pick in this June’s NHL entry draft.
“When you hear the final buzzer go off and we’d won gold, it felt like the roof was going to come off. It was an amazing experience – something I’ll never forget.”
Canada’s streak of five straight titles matches the tournament record set by the Canadians from 1993 to 1997.
Cody Hodgson, who scored twice against the Swedes and led the tournament with 16 points, said the team is confident it can make it six championships in a row.
“It doesn’t matter who’s here, I’m sure the guys will pull together,” said Hodgson, a member of the OHL’s Brampton Battalion. “Canada is such a great hockey nation that we should be able to get it done again.”
Eleven-year-old fan Blake Carey wore a Team Canada jersey that flowed down to his knees as he eagerly awaited the players’ arrival.
“I just thought it was amazing that they won five in a row,” he said.
With their championship caps worn backwards, the players shook hands with fans and signed autographs.
“The only way to top (this year) is to get to six in a row, and keep going from there,” said defenceman Alex Pietrangelo of the OHL’s Niagara IceDogs.
“I think every kid on our team this year has watched (the tournament) every single year, and I watched it last year knowing maybe this year I’ll get a chance.
“It was better than anything I’d imagined. And having a gold around your neck makes it that much better.”
Pietrangelo’s aunt Caroline was waiting with him with a sign in hand as he strolled through the arrivals gate with his medal on display.
“I think they just pulled together,” she said of the team. “You could see there was a real camaraderie between them, and I think that’s the difference between winning and losing, is how you interchange with each other.”
Head coach Pat Quinn said he hadn’t slept since the previous night except for a little shut-eye on his flight to Vancouver on Tuesday.
“But you don’t mind that after such a thrilling ride with those young men,” he said after arriving at the city’s airport. “They did a wonderful job under immense pressure.
“There’s nothing you can imagine that matches standing there watching your flag go up after winning a gold.”
Tavares said the team celebrated the victory with family members before gathering in their Ottawa hotel until the wee hours to hang out for the last time.
He reflected on hard-fought victories against the U.S. and Russia, but called the championship match the team’s best performance.
“We got better as the tournament went along – our confidence grew,” he said. “We believed in ourselves and that was key. Our confidence was high and we had the support of the country.”
Team Canada will be gunning for a record-breaking sixth consecutive gold medal at next year’s tournament in Saskatoon and Regina.