Time flies, doesn’t it? The 2019 World Junior Championship is the 10th holiday classic I’ve covered in my career with The Hockey News and I have a ton of memories from the tournament. Along with the NHL draft in the summer, the world juniors are the most exciting event for me, given all my work on prospects – you do all the prep, now you see how it plays out in real life. But there’s also the off-ice aspect, where in many cases you’re in a new city or even a new country, trying to navigate your way around town and hit as many morning skates and games as possible. There are pitfalls, there are unforgettable memories and friends.
So with that in mind, I thought it would be fun to trot out some Top Fives from my near-decade of world junior experience, both on and off the ice.
Top Five Atmospheres
1. Helsinki, Finland (2016): Hartwall Arena is state-of-the-art and the Finns managed to get to the final against Russia – a team the locals hate. Keep in mind, we didn’t know just how good Patrik Laine, Sebastian Aho and Mikko Rantanen were going to be at the time, so Ivan Provorov tying the game with six seconds remaining seemed like a death-blow. But Kasperi Kapanen got the thrilling winner and the building erupted.
2. Toronto, Canada (2015): I live in Toronto, so I know how loud/not loud the ACC (now Scotiabank Arena) usually is. Not only was the gold-medal game between Canada and Russia a classic, but the packed arena went apocalyptic when the final buzzer sounded and Canada claimed gold for the first time in six years. I was also not expecting literal fireworks, which nearly gave me a heart attack in the press box.
3. Buffalo, USA (2011): Canada vs. USA in the semifinal, in a bordertown. The competing chants between Canadian and American fans made it impossible to know who the home team actually was, but it was electric.
4. Ufa, Russia (2013): What I enjoyed the most about Ufa was the flaunting of fire codes. I specifically remember a group of five adults who each had a kid on their laps – in a sold-out venue. The chants were great and the arena, home to the KHL’s Salavat Yulaev Ufa, was also pretty sweet.
5. Malmo, Sweden (2014): Europe is fantastic for chants and drumming in the stands and the Swedes have it going on in that department. Had to feel bad when they lost the final to rival Finland, but it was still a raucous building.
Five Coldest Cities
1. Saskatoon, Canada (2010): Definitely the coldest I’ve ever been in my life. Other than walking downtown to get my credential, I did not do a lot of exploring on this trip.
2. Helsinki, Finland (2016): Another bone-chiller, it really dipped down at night and as the tournament wore on. I went outside more than in Saskatoon, but I also didn’t know how to change the thermostat in my environmentally-conscious hotel, so I slept in my hoodie at night.
3. Buffalo, USA (2018): Fans of the outdoor game will remember the blizzards and there was definitely a lot of snow last year, but there were also some absolutely punishing temperatures, too.
4. Montreal, Canada (2017): Montreal is a cold, cold city, but you ignore it for the most part because it’s otherwise so much fun to be there.
5. Buffalo, USA (2011): Buffalo makes the list twice because Toronto and Ufa never got too cold, while Calgary had some sort of warm-air chinook at the time and Malmo was practically balmy.
Top Five Gold-Medal Games
1. Montreal, Canada (2017): The all-time classic between Team USA and Canada. Thomas Chabot vs. Charlie McAvoy. Troy Terry. I’ve never seen a press box get so into a game without picking a side – it was just incredible hockey, with Team USA winning 5-4 in a shootout.
2. Helsinki, Finland (2016): See ‘Top Atmospheres’ above
3. Saskatoon, Canada (2010): Canada seemed like a team of destiny after Jordan Eberle’s tying goal but Team USA had other plans. Specifically, John Carlson coming down on the rush and burying one in overtime on Martin Jones. This was one of those goals you knew was happening seconds before it happened.
4. Toronto, Canada (2015): Sam Reinhart’s late faceoff wins were crucial, as were Max Domi’s early offense with Anthony Duclair. But I’ll always remember a battle behind the net between Canada’s Darnell Nurse and Russia’s Alexander Dergachev as being one of the most intense I’ve ever seen.
5. Calgary, Canada (2012): Scoreless headed into overtime, this final between Sweden and Russia was pretty intense thanks to the chess match going on. Oscar Klefbom was tasked with shutting down Evgeny Kuznetsov and managed to slow him down enough for Mika Zibanejad to score the 1-0 overtime winner.
Top Five Pizza
1. Malmo, Sweden (2014): Maybe I was influenced here, because Swedes will not shut up about how good their pizza is, but the pie I had in Malmo was pretty good. Thin crust with Kebab meat on top. Nice.
2. Saskatoon, Canada (2010): It came with doughnuts! This was very exciting, plus it was delivery, so me and former THN videographer Ted Cooper didn’t have to go outside.
3. Helsinki, Finland (2016): Pizza Hut buffet, but it was done very well. Although I did see a guy eating a chicken wing with a knife and fork - is that a Finnish thing?
4. Tie – Toronto, Montreal, Buffalo, Calgary
5. Ufa, Russia (2013): Step up your pizza game, Russia – it’s weird (just stick to mozzarella as your base, for example). And we tried several different spots, so it wasn’t one bad spot.
Top Five Musical Inspirations
When I travel, I don’t bring my iPod because I don’t need yet another thing to drag through airport security or potentially lose, so I either put a couple albums on my phone or just play stuff off my laptop. Because of that, certain songs or albums tend to become my anthems on these trips.
1. Ufa, Russia (2013): Mastodon, Crack the Skye. This album, by one of metal’s modern flagbearers, is a concept record involving Rasputin, so naturally I felt it would be great for my Russian trip. Not only was the vibe right, but when I was suffering from extreme jet lag, the long song structures helped get me to sleep – except when I woke up Ted because I was drumming on my chest in my bed, and then at the end when my phone automatically went to the next Mastodon album on my list, Blood Mountain, which starts out with a huge ripper in “The Wolf is Loose,” which woke me up again.
2. Helsinki, Finland (2016): Deafheaven, New Bermuda. Helsinki is pretty grey in the winter, which is probably why the black metal hipsters of Deafheaven worked so well on this trip. I listened to this album on the bus ride to the rink pretty much every day.
3. Ufa, Russia (2013): Kendrick Lamar “Swimming Pools.” This was the track Ted and I would listen to before we went out at night in Ufa, once we discovered there was a nightclub across the street from our hotel. Kendrick Lamar would also show up in Helsinki, as I would listen to his To Pimp a Butterfly album on the way back from the rink at night, when I inevitably got on a bus that would take way too long to get back downtown.
4. Montreal, Canada (2017): Born Dead Icons Work. If I’m doing a bunch of intense writing in Montreal, you know I’m putting on as much classic Quebecois hardcore punk as possible. I mean, come on.
5. Buffalo, USA (2011): Girl Talk All Day. When Ken Campbell and I drive places, we either put on different satellite radio channels and try to guess the artist before the other guy, or I subject him to extreme metal as a joke. But en route to Buffalo, I popped on mashup king Girl Talk and it was fun hearing Ken recognize a bunch of the snippets in the songs.