2015 team canadaNobody will believe it now, but I was thinking this heading into last night’s game.  IF Canada wins, this will possibly be the 3rd best Canadian World Junior team of all time.  Then Bob MacKenzie had to come out and say it during the post game discussion.  Curse that handsome devil!


But I really do think this was the case.  Going into the Gold medal game nobody wanted to say it.  Nobody wanted to jinx them.  We haven’t won gold in 5 years and so nobody in this country was feeling too cocky about things like we may have been in early January of 2010 for example.


But I’m pretty good at looking back on teams and recalling how they were.  A few come to mind who would be in this category, at least in the TSN era (1991-present).  1996 and 2007.


The trickiest thing to do in all this is to not look at how the players panned out in the NHL.  If you go off that, then the 04 and 08 teams are the top of the list.  But the 04 team collapsed and took silver (not to mention had 11 guys from that team on the 05 team), and while the 08 team had Stamkos, Tavares, Giroux, Doughty, Subban, Alzner, Bernier, etc, they were so young at the time and just barely escaped with gold.


We don’t know how these kids are going to pan out.  We THINK guys like Domi, Reinhart, Nurse, Morrissey, Duclair, Fucale, etc. are going to be good-great NHL players.  And maybe this will turn out to be a team loaded with NHLers.  Or maybe history will show that this was a down year for a lot of countries other than Canada.


The 96 team doesn’t get much love.  I know that Boston didn’t do a good job of hosting that season which makes it a forgettable tournament, and there was no drama.  But there was no drama because Canada steam rolled everyone.  That was the tournament that Jarome Iginla really put his name on the map.


If someone would have told you at that time that Nolan Baumgartner would never stick in the NHL and basically be a career AHLer, you would be laughed out of the room.  Baumgartner was CAN’T MISS at that time.  Add to him Wade Redden, Rhett Warrener, Chad Allen (who was also on the 95 team and has since been forgotten), Denis Gauthier and a soon to be 1st overall pick Chris Phillips.  The D was really good.


Of course at that time we didn’t have any worries about our goaltending, and for good reason.  I can’t find it anywhere but I BELIEVE the starter in the gold medal game that year (the first gold medal game ever played) was Marc Denis.  Jose Theodore was his backup and named the top goaltender in the tournament.  Yeah, not bad between the pipes.


This team didn’t have a lot of guys pan out up front, but Iginla, Daymond Langkow and if memory serves me right Hnat Domenichelli really drove the bus.  Jason Botterill had injuries really derail his career, Alyn McCauley and Curtis Brown both had really solid NHL careers, but weren’t big names.  Christan Dube was another guy like Baumgartner where you just wouldn’t have believed at the time he would have a strictly minor league career.  Dube was a superstar in junior.


But the point of all this is that it was a great team as well and deserves to be in the conversation with the 2015 squad.  As does the 07 team.


While the 96 is barely remembered, the 07 team is fondly remembered.  Well, at least a certain shootout was.  I remember very well waking up that morning in early 2007 (and at that time I’ll be honest, it might have been early afternoon) and not being sure if what I was seeing was actually happening.  Not because a shootout was so far fetched, but that team had been CRUISING and I had zero doubt they were winning a 3rd straight gold.


11 returning kids from a team in 06 that destroyed 19 year old Evgeni Malkin and a high powered Russian team 6-1 in the gold medal game.  Also the 07 had a 19 year old Carey Price in net, so they were LOADED.  That’s as loaded as you can get for a non lockout year.  The stars really have to align, much like they did this year.


Marc Staal, Kris Letang, Kris Russell, the late Luc Bourdon, and Ryan Parent.  Five 19 year old D-men who already had gold medals.  Not too bad I would suggest….


6 more returning up front but of course 1 superstar and that was Toews.  Other than the close call in the semi’s that year they really had no threat (of course that’s like saying “other than the shooting, how was the play Mrs. Lincoln?”), but the U.S. had a good team too despite spinning their wheels in the round robin.  Erik and Jack Johnson were studs at the time, Peter Mueller, Kyle Okposo and Patrick Kane gave them a lot of punch up front.


Of course any time I have a chance to talk about the 07 team, I also take advantage of the fact I can include this memorable interview…

Just because Canada needed a shootout that year to get past a team doesn’t mean the team was just good enough, it means another team was really good.  Nobody will ever admit it, but in 05 as great as our team was….no other country had a good team.  Even the Russians with Ovechkin and Malkin had no depth.  The 07 team was damn good!


So is it dumb to give the 2015 team the moniker as the 3rd best Canadian junior team of all time?  Probably, at least so soon after it is.  And I’m just going off what I know.  I never saw the 82, 85, or 1990 teams.


But there is no doubt that this team is deserving of being in that conversation.  An awesome performance, an all time great gold medal game, and the fact that they won it in Toronto will definitely give them a leg up in the argument.  At the end of the day though, who cares?  They won.


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