MONTREAL — Brayden Schenn, Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko have something in common besides being the big three in the St. Louis Blues’ attack.
All three played in the 2011 world junior hockey championship in Buffalo, where Tarasenko’s Russian team stunned Schenn and Schwartz’s Canadian side by erasing a 3-0 lead with five unanswered third-period goals for a 5-3 victory.
The world junior tournament is headed back to Buffalo, starting Dec. 26, and that will stir memories of the 2011 event where Canada looked to be coasting to a gold medal only to have it snatched away.
“We got beat by Vladdy in the final,” Schenn recalled Tuesday. “We were up 3-0 going into the third and, in junior hockey, anything can happen.
“Obviously it was nice to get into the gold medal game.”
Schenn had won silver at the 2010 world juniors, where Blues defenceman Alex Pietrangelo was a teammate, only to fall short a second year in a row.
“Two silvers in the tournament and, looking back, it would have been nice to win one, but now you try to win other things along the way and try not to worry about that too much,” he said.
Canada opened the 2011 tournament with a 6-3 win over Russia but finished second in their round robin group after a shootout loss to Sweden.
They beat Switzerland 4-1 in the quarter-finals and the United States 4-1 in the semis, while Russia needed overtime to top the Finns 4-3 and a shootout to beat Sweden 4-3.
Then Canada took a three-goal lead in the final on tallies from Schenn, Ryan Ellis and Carter Ashton. All looked set for a big win in front of a full house of mainly Canadian fans who had crossed the border from Ontario.
Then it all caved in.
Momentum can be a big factor in junior hockey and when the Russian comeback started, the Canadian teenagers were swamped.
Artemi Panarin scored twice, while Tarasenko, Maxim Kitsyn and Nikita Dvurechenski also beat beleaguered goalie Mark Visintin in the final period, setting off a wild celebration on the ice that carried over to the dressing room and continued at the team’s hotel.
The Russians partied so hard they were not allowed to board their flight the next morning due to unruly behaviour and had to fly home the next day.
Scheen said Tarasenko doesn’t rub in his victory too hard.
“We talk about it actually, but nothing more than that,” he said. “It was a cool experience.
“Any time you get to represent your country, just over the border in Buffalo, is an awesome experience. Big crowds. A lot of people driving in from the Toronto area. Obviously they all come to support their junior kids. You always look forward to Boxing Day. That tournament is pretty special. You see the up and coming NHL stars and see what they can do on the international stage.”
Schwartz fractured an ankle in the second game and missed the rest of the tournament, but Schenn was named most valuable player. His 18 points in seven games tied a team record set in 1977 by Dale McCourt. Schwartz was back for the 2011 event and won bronze.
Now, Schenn, Schwartz and Tarasenko are usually the Blues’ top line, although of late Tarasenko has been skating with Paul Stastny and Vladimir Sobotka. The Blues’ top attackers, as well another Russian from the 2011 tournament, Evgeny Kuznetsov of the Washington Capitals, are in the top 20 in NHL scoring.
Ryan Johansen, Sean Couturier and Erik Gudbranson also played for Canada that year. Dmitri Orlov and Nikita Zaitsev played for Russia.
It is only a few years later that it becomes apparent which world junior players will become NHL stars. Visintin played one NHL game for Arizona and now tends goal in Austria. Ashton played 54 games for Toronto but now skates in the KHL.
Canada’s world junior team selection camp opens next week in St. Catharines, Ont.