Like many Canadians, as a youngster I rushed to my TV set during the holidays to watch our team in the World Junior Hockey Championship. Luckily, my dream was realized in ’98 and ’99 when I was chosen to represent my country. This year, being part of the Hockey Canada Alumni group that traveled to Calgary to mark the 30th anniversary of the Program of Excellence made me think of where it all began, the truly significant history of Hockey Canada and how the tournament has evolved.
Some key moments over the past 30 years:
1982 Inception, Discipline & Success
The obstacles that Murray Costello, past president of Hockey Canada, and company had to climb were tremendous. They had a shoestring budget and had to convince the major junior teams to release their best players, forcing them to play through the busiest part of the schedule without their most talented skaters.
The tournament was just not as big in the early-80’s.
Lo and behold, a rag-tag group that included Mike Moller, Marc Habscheid, Gary Nyland and Garth Butcher came away with the gold in Rochester, Minnesota by playing a hard-nosed, team-orientated, disciplined game that would brand the Canadian game for decades to come.
The 1995 Dream Team
Due to the ’94 NHL lockout, Canada had the fortune of icing their most talented team in Red Deer. High picks Alexandre Daigle, Ed Jovanovski and Wade Redden were complemented with Jason Allison, Marty Murray and Darcy Tucker to give Canada the gold. This was instrumental, as the team was highly entertaining and became a big-ticket draw. This was evident when they played their final games before sold-out crowds at the Calgary Saddledome. The business juggernaut, backed by the team’s success, was now well under way. Upcoming events in Winnipeg, Halifax and Ottawa would now have legitimate resources to build upon.
The Change in Format
Between 1996 and 1997 the IIHF finally came to its senses and reformatted the tournament. The previous format consisted of only a balanced round-robin schedule where the team with the best overall record after the seven games would be declared the champion. This resulted in a lot of scoreboard watching and what-if scenarios. Some notable examples include the Turku, Finland event in 1990 when news of Canada’s golden opportunity came from a phone call during a match versus Czechoslovakia and the playing of some meaningless games in 1995 after the team had already clinched the gold.
It’s hard not to think of the TSN broadcast team alongside the tournament over the years. Paul Romanuk, Bob McKenzie and Gord Miller, Pierre McGuire and now Ray Ferraro have been tournament staples and are the Foster Hewitt-like audio support that run alongside the memories. Increased media presence and updates throughout the year builds up the anticipation for great moments on the ice.
Timeless Moments from the ice
The intense winner-take-all format has provided fans, players, coaches and media with great entertainment and memories. It’s the reason we always look forward to the tournament.
As a kid, player and, now, fan, I can’t help but remember these goals.
My Top 5
2009 – Jordan Eberle – Ottawa
Ryan Ellis kept the puck in at the blueline and put it towards the net where Eberle made a slick move to the back hand to put it in with seconds remaining, tying the game and allowing Canada to win it over the Russians in a shootout.
2008 – Matt Halischuk – Pardubice, Czech Republic
Halischuk slid the ‘Golden Goal’ under the Swedish netminder in overtime to give Canada the title.
2007 – Jonathan Toews – Leksand, Sweden
Like many tightly played international events, Canada’s semifinal game came down to the shootout. After the initial three shooters, teams can choose any skater as many times as they like, regardless if they had taken a previous shot. This set the stage for Toews to score three consecutive sudden death goals and move Canada on to the gold medal game.
1991 – John Slaney – Saskatoon
The Newfoundlander took advantage of a Russian miscue with about five minutes left in the third period in what would be the deciding game for the gold medal.
1997 – Boyd Devereaux – Geneva, Switzerland
Scored late in the semifinal game versus the Russians to move Canada into the gold medal game. Canada would go on to win their fifth consecutive gold.
A lot has changed. The program and tournament will continue to grow and evolve as the Americans, Swedes and Russians continue to adapt and pour money into their programs. As a fan, I always look forward to watching these talented kids that play the game with emotional spirit and try to bring a gold medal back to Canada.
Daniel Tkaczuk was Calgary’s first round pick in 1997 (sixth overall) and has been playing professionally in North America and Europe for the past 12 seasons. He is currently president of iHockeyTrainer.com, an online hockey school for skill development.