And so, we’re set to complete the most competitive decade in World Junior Championship history. No team won gold in consecutive years. Five different nations took home gold. We saw the rise of a new powerhouse in Finland, with the Nordic country winning three of its five total golds during this time frame.
This is truly a fantastic time for junior hockey. The Canadian powerhouse is no more, opening the door for more teams to shine in a time where it’s tough to pick a real No. 1 favorite heading into any given year. Various U-20 tournaments fill the gap throughout the year to help prepare countries for the annual bonanza, with the main 2020 event heading to Ostrava and Trinec, Czech Republic, from Dec. 26-Jan. 5.
So now’s a perfect time to look back at the best teams of the decade. It would be too easy to just pick the 10 tournament champions and call it a day. To make this list, the team either had to exceed all expectations – and two clear examples appear below – or have a near-perfect run start to finish. Finland in 2014, for example, likely wouldn’t have gone all the way without the heroics of Teuvo Teravainen. So here are the 10 teams that stood above the rest over, with dominant efforts from start to finish and surprise efforts from tournament minnows:
10. Switzerland – 2010
The Swiss are the only team on this list that failed to win a medal. But who cares? Switzerland went from playing Division IA in 2009 to within one win of bronze in 2010, largely due to goaltender Benjamin Conz’s 300-plus saves over the seven-game run. Nino Niederreiter became an instant legend with two goals against Russia in the quarterfinals, including the game-winner in overtime, and a team-leading 10 points to finish seventh in tournament scoring. An 11-4 loss at the hands of Sweden in the bronze medal game put a damper on the final result, but it will go down as one of the top accomplishments in Swiss hockey history. Not a bad way to kick off the decade.
9. Slovakia – 2015
Like Switzerland, Slovakia’s effort didn’t result in gold, but it truly felt like that for the Slovakian fanbase. Slovakia finished third in Group A with two wins and, after years of failing to make the quarterfinal in previous tournaments, the Slovaks made it through. The Slovakian success was due in large part to the goaltending heroics of Dennis Godla, who stopped a tournament-high 224 shots and gave it everything he had against the top teams in the tournament. That helped the Slovaks snatch bronze away from a Swedish team that failed to lose a game in the round-robin. It was Slovakia’s second medal in World Junior Championship history. They haven’t won another since.
8. Russia – 2011
Russia struggled in the round-robin, only managing wins against the Czech Republic and Norway, teams that fell to the relegation round. But like with the Stanley Cup playoffs, all you need to do is simply progress. The Russians started the quarterfinals by erasing a 3-1 deficit with two goals in the final four minutes to force overtime, where Evgeni Kuznetsov sealed the deal. Russia then scored a late one against Sweden to again force overtime in a comeback effort, winning in the shootout. But the most impressive performance came in the final when Russia scored five unanswered goals in the third period, erasing Canada’s 5-3 victory to take gold. It was Russia’s only gold of the decade.
7. Finland – 2019
The Finns weren’t dominant by any means, finishing third in Group A action, but this group featured superstar potential. Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen was a contender for Top Goaltender last year – he was edged out by Russia’s Pyotr Kochetkov – but Buffalo Sabres fans won’t mind in the long run. On defense, Ville Heinola, Henrik Jokiharju, Toni Utunen, Anttoni Honka, Urho Vaakanainen and Oskari Laaksonen formed one of the best defense corps in recent tournament history and allowed the Finns to hang around in games in which they were out-powered. Up front, Kaapo Kakko, Aleksi Heponiemi, Rasmus Kupari and Anton Lundell led the offensive charge and proved that you don’t need an elite prospect to win a tournament like the world juniors. A true team effort helped the Finns win gold over the United States, adding to the growing list of achievements for one of the best hockey nations in the world.
6. Finland – 2016
Jesse Puljujarvi, Sebastian Aho and Patrik Laine? Yeah, sign us up. With 17 goals and 44 points between them, the Finns were beyond dominant. Roope Hintz, Mikko Rantanen, Olli Juolevi and Kasperi Kapanen were all on the top of their game and goaltender Kaapo Kahkonen was quite good on home ice, too. It was a major moment in Finnish hockey history, as the junior side took gold in Helsinki, finishing ahead of strong clubs from USA, Sweden and Russia. This was Finland’s second of three gold medals during the 2010s.
5. Canada – 2018
Any team that used Cale Makar as a seventh defenseman had to be good. Canada had a nearly perfect record in 2018, with the team’s lone loss coming in the outdoor game at New Era Field in Buffalo. With Carter Hart in goal, Makar, Victor Mete and Dante Fabbro on defense and Jordan Kyrou, Sam Steel and Drake Batherson up front, Canada iced a fast, skilled team that nobody could mess with back in 2018. Surprisingly, it was Canada’s second gold of the 2010s. That’s the fewest top-of-podium finishes in any decade for Canada.
4. USA – 2017
The Americans won gold three times during the 2010s, beating Canada twice on Canadian ice. It doesn’t get much better than that, really. The Americans rolled through round-robin action with a perfect record before winning all three medal-round games by a single goal, but a 5-4 shootout victory over Canada in Montreal in the final was all that mattered. Clayton Keller and Charlie McAvoy were named to the tournament all-star team, but Jordan Greenway, Adam Fox, Jeremy Bracco, Kieffer Bellows and Jack Roslovic were all impact players, too. The most memorable part? A certain shootout hero named Troy Terry.
3. USA – 2013
The 2013 tournament will forever be remembered for John Gibson’s dominant display of goaltending, but USA’s gold-medal effort was absolutely stacked. Johnny Gaudreau, Jacob Trouba and J.T. Miller had nine points each, and Alex Galchenyuk (eight) and Seth Jones (seven) weren’t far behind. Gibson was the easy choice for tournament MVP with a 1.36 GAA and .955 SP in seven games, out-duelling Andrei Vasilevsky as the tournament’s best goaltender. USA blew out Canada 5-1 to advance to the final before topping Sweden 3-1. Gibson allowed just two goals in the three medal-round games.
2. Canada – 2015
Zach Fucale was at his best, Max Domi, Anthony Duclair and Sam Reinhart couldn’t be stopped and Curtis Lazar, Nic Petan and Brayden Point provided high-caliber secondary scoring. Oh, and Connor McDavid was pretty good, too. Canada scored a whopping 21 goals and allowed just four in four round-robin games, ultimately finishing with a perfect 7-0 record, even though a late comeback scare in the final against Russia almost ended what was supposed to be a surefire gold medal. In the end, it worked out, and Canada capped off one of the best tournaments in world junior history.
1. Sweden – The 2010s
Sweden had the most dominant – and maybe also the most disappointing – run during the decade, failing to lose a single round-robin game from 2010-2019. (The jury is still out about this year’s tournament, obviously.) Sweden hasn’t lost a preliminary round game since Dec. 31, 2006 against the United States. The Swedes would likely trade all that in for a couple more pieces of golden hardware, though. Sweden won gold in 2012, but it has a 1-5 record heading into the 2020 edition.
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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