Canada’s junior hockey team, which kept the country’s run of gold alive in the face of long odds, has been named The Canadian Press team of the year for 2009.
Canada won its fifth straight world junior championship on Jan. 5, 2009, in Ottawa with a decisive 5-1 win over Sweden.
But the fifth gold was very much in doubt in the semifinal. Canada trailed Russia 5-4 with five seconds to go when Regina’s Jordan Eberle scored. That was the defining moment of Canada’s tournament.
The gold in Ottawa tied Canada’s record of five straight titles set between 1993 and 1997. The 2010 edition of Canada’s junior team is attempting to add to that record at the tournament currently underway in Regina and Saskatoon.
In a survey of sports editors and broadcasters across the country, the junior squad team garnered 213 points, including 51 first-place votes. The Grey Cup champion Montreal Alouettes were runners-up with 158 points, followed by the Windsor Spitfires with 53.
“Extremely proud,” says Pat Quinn, who was head coach of the junior team and now stands behind the bench of the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers. “It’s a great tribute to those young men.
“It’s certainly well-deserved. They, like me, will cherish that moment. They, like all Canadians, will cherish what happened and that it happened in Canada in front of great hockey fans.”
Canada’s junior team has won team of the year three times during its run of five gold and made it back-to-back honours as the 2008 squad was also the choice for team of the year. The juniors also won in 2005.
But the 2009 team was unique in many ways. Benoit Groulx was initially named head coach but, after overseeing summer camp, he took a coaching job in the American Hockey League. Hockey Canada named Quinn as Groulx’s replacement.
Quinn, then 65 and a veteran of the NHL coaching ranks, found retirement wasn’t for him and had kept his hand in coaching with Canada’s under-18 team.
He didn’t know all his players names by the end of Canada’s selection camp, but that didn’t matter. Quinn identified Canada’s strengths and let the players do what they did best.
In contrast to the defence-first philosophy of the Canadian team the four previous years, the 2009 team had a riverboat gambler streak. Canada won the tournament averaging 7.5 goals per game to make it the second-highest scoring Canadian team in the tournament’s 35-year history.
Canada’s power-play ran at a 50 per cent clip through the event and scored two of five goals in the championship game a man up. After outscoring the opposition 28-2 in their opening three games, the Canadians recovered from an early three-goal deficit against the Americans to win 7-4 and finish first in their pool.