We can all agree that the holiday season is the best time of the year, but it wouldn’t be remotely as fun without the World Junior Championship.
For two weeks, millions around the world judge the on-ice ability of teenagers, putting immense pressure on kids fresh out of high school. You know, a normal thing most adults do. But it’s also seen as a glimpse into the future for all 10 nations in the top tournament each year. It’s a nice distraction from the long NHL season, allowing fans of crummier teams to get a look at what’s coming down the pike.
Since 2010, five nations – Canada, Finland, Russia, Sweden and the United States – have won gold, with USA and Finland doing so three times each. The decade was Canada’s least successful era after a string of five consecutive titles in the 1990s and 2000s, instead with Canada winning just twice in 2015 and 2018. The Finns, in particular, established themselves as one of the greatest hockey nations with three of the team’s five titles coming in the past decade. The Americans also benefited the USA National Team Development Program, which began to show it’s true strength during the 2010s with the likes of Auston Matthews, Jack Eichel and Jack Hughes tearing up their respective age groups.
The 2010s also produced some of the most memorable performances in World Junior Championship history. We took a look back at 10 individual performances for the ages, ranging from goaltending heroics to scoring masterpieces:
10. Teuvo Teravainen, LW (Finland, 2014)
Call him the assist machine. Of Teravainen’s 15 points in seven games during Finland’s run to gold, only two of them were goals, with his 13 assists topping the tournament. Teravainen’s production also put him 11 points ahead of Finland’s third-highest scorer, Artturi Lehkonen. What’s more is the fact very few forwards on that Finnish team that won gold developed into much at the NHL level. Surprisingly, Sweden’s Filip Forsberg won the tournament’s top forward award with 12 points, but Teravainen got what really mattered: gold.
9. Jordan Eberle, RW (Canada, 2010)
He’ll forever be remembered for the goal that tied the semifinal game against Russia in 2009, but Eberle was just as good the following year despite Canada’s loss to the United States in the final. Eberle was named MVP and top forward in 2010 and is tied with Brayden Schenn for second on Canada’s all-time leading scoring list with 26 points. (Eric Lindros had 31 points in 21 games.) In the championship game, Eberle’s heroics kicked in again when he netted two goals in front of a sold-out crowd in Saskatoon to force overtime. It wasn’t enough, however: John Carlson handed the Americans gold in extra time. Still, Eberle is often referred to as Canada’s greatest world junior player of all-time. He scored in all 12 games he played at the tournament.
8. Troy Terry, RW (USA, 2017)
With seven points in as many games, Terry’s exploits go deeper than his stat line suggests. Much like Jonathan Toews 10 years earlier – against the Americans, no less – Terry scored three shootout goals in the semifinal game against Russia to lead USA to the final. There, Terry scored the shootout-winner for the Americans to clinch gold, beating the Canadians on their home ice. Talk about clutch.
6. Thomas Chabot, D (Canada, 2017)
Chabot played nearly 38 minutes in Ottawa’s overtime loss on Tuesday and the second-highest single-game ice time in the league’s recorded history. But just about three years earlier, Chabot, playing in his second world juniors, finished fourth in tournament scoring with 10 points in seven games en route to tournament MVP honors and led all defensemen with an average ice time of 26:14. He gave Canada everything he had with a goal and an assist in a loss to the United States in the final. Chabot has since become one of the best young defenders in the NHL, but his minute-munching ways were evident early.
6. Alexander Nylander, RW (Sweden, 2016/2017/2018)
This one is cheating because Nylander didn’t have one standout tournament, but you can’t leave off the decade’s top scorer on a list looking at best performances. NHL career aside, Nylander was incredible at the World Junior Championship, with totals of nine, 12 and seven points over the three years giving him 28 points. His run in 2017 was particularly impressive, with his 12 points leading the way for Sweden ahead of the likes of Joel Eriksson Ek, Carl Grundstrom and a young Elias Pettersson. Nylander only escaped with a silver medal in 2018, with the dreaded medal-round curse preventing Sweden from living up to their potential.
5. John Gibson, G (USA, 2013)
Today, Gibson is one of the best goaltenders in the game. But in 2013, he was the best junior goalie in the world and a deserving recipient of the MVP award, making him the fifth goaltender to win the award in the 2000s. With a 1.36 GAA, .955 SP and only nine goals allowed, Gibson out-duelled Andrei Vasilevskiy during the tournament in Russia. Gibson played in all seven games but really showcased his game-changing ability in the medal round. He allowed two goals, total, in three games against the Czech Republic, Canada and Sweden for the gold medal-winning Americans.
4. Jesse Puljujarvi, RW (Finland, 2016)
The 2016 World Junior Championship saw Patrik Laine emerge as a true star in the making, but Puljujarvi – drafted fourth overall by Edmonton months later – was the recipient of the tournament MVP award with 17 points in seven games. The damage done by the Puljujarvi, Aho and Laine line was second to none as Finland secured gold on home ice. Pulujarvi finished well ahead in the scoring race. At the time, Puljujarvi established himself as one of the best draft prospects in the world. Of course, things haven’t gone to plan.
3. Denis Godla, G (Slovakia, 2015)
Forget the World Junior Championships. Godla’s heroics at the 2015 edition will go down as one of the most memorable international performances of the decade, period. Slovakia had just seven goals in four round-robin contests, relying on Godla to do the heavy lifting en route to a bronze medal. He was incredible for Slovakia, playing in all seven games and finishing with a 2.76 GAA and .926 SP. He was crowned the best goaltender by both the media and the IIHF awards committee. Godla was the only goalie to face more than 200 shots (242). No goalie has matched his 224-save total ever since. If you predicted Godla would win the MVP award before the tournament, congratulations: you’re a liar.
2. Brayden Schenn, C (Canada, 2011)
Schenn’s performance in 2011 was truly special. No player in the 2000s has managed to match Schenn’s 18-point total in the 2000s. Heck, Wayne Gretzky, Jeremy Roenick and Pavel Bure, among others in the past, didn’t even reach that total. Named the tournament MVP with a seven-point lead over Evgeny Kuznetsov and Vladimir Tarasenko, Schenn paced Canada with a four-goal night against Norway and had at least one point in every game. Canada fell short to Russia in the gold-medal game, but Schenn’s second-period goal gave his nation a 3-0 lead midway through the final.
1. Benjamin Conz, G (Switzerland, 2010)
It took 10 games for Vegas Golden Knights goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury to face 300 shots this season. He was first NHL goalie to do so. By comparison, Conz needed just seven games to see 300 pucks during the 2010 tournament. Sure, Conz’s .893 save percentage and 4.76 goals-against average look ugly on the surface, but he faced an average of 45 shots against per game and he stood on his head each outing. Conz’s 50-save effort against Russia in a 3-2 overtime win in the quarterfinals in Saskatchewan will forever go down as one of the most memorable single-game performances in world junior history. It helped Switzerland finish fourth after just receiving promotion to the top tournament.
Over the next two weeks, The Hockey News will be wrapping up the 2010s with a look back at the best – and worst – of the decade. Find more here.
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