(Montreal) Even though the stars seemed aligned against it, Team Canada showed character and won the World Junior Hockey Championship last January.
This is what earned him the award for Team of the Year in Canada, presented by The Canadian Press.
During their time in Ostrava, Czech Republic, the 2020 edition of Team Canada junior ignored the injury to star Alexis Lafrenière, the suspension of forward Joe Veleno and the controversy surrounding his captain. Barrett Hayton.
She then captured the imaginations of fans across the country, closing a 3-1 deficit late in the third period before defeating Russia 4-3 in the final to get their hands on gold for an 18e times at the World Juniors.
“What I’m going to take away from this team is the way they reacted in the face of adversity,” said André Tourigny, who was one of the assistants to head coach Dale Hunter.
“Nothing has shaken our team,” he insisted.
In the ballot organized among commentators and heads of sports sections of media across the country, she received 26 of 68 votes (38.2%).
The Canadian Olympic and Paralympic teams, which dropped participation in the Tokyo 2020 Games even before the IOC announced the postponement of the event to 2021, finished second in the ballot with 14 votes (20.6 %), while the Toronto Raptors followed in third with 13 votes (19.2%).
This is the sixth time that Junior Team Canada has received this honor, and the first time since 2009.
An unforgettable moment
Canada was 3-1 behind with 11 minutes to go in the final on Jan. 5 when a shot deflected at Connor McMichael before moving the ropes, narrowing the lead to just one goal. Hayton, who dislocated a shoulder in the semi-finals, tied the power play a little later with a cannonball.
The table was set for Akil Thomas – a striker little used during the tournament. He played the hero by escaping behind the Russian defense and recovering a loose puck from the end of the stick before scoring from the backhand with 3:57 left in regulation.
Frustrated, the Russians received two penalties late in the game and Canada managed to elapse the last seconds on the clock, allowing the many Canadian fans in the stands to celebrate.
“It was as if everything that had happened had been written in advance,” Thomas said almost 12 months later. How to write a better story? It was like in a movie and that’s what we experienced. It was crazy. I still feel the emotions. ”
Canada’s journey started well with a 6-4 victory over the United States early in the preliminary round. However, he followed with a 6-0 loss to Russia – Canada’s most bitter loss at the World Juniors – in which Lafrenière appeared to suffer a serious knee injury.
Question of turning the iron in the wound, Veleno was then suspended for a head butt and Hayton found himself in hot water since he had not removed his helmet during the performance of the Russian national anthem. after the game.
Some teams would never have recovered from such a loss in such a short tournament. But not this group.
“A lot of things happened, not easy things,” said Mark Hunter, Dale’s younger brother and the Canadian team general manager. It didn’t bother them. They just kept playing. ”
Lafrenière missed two games with the injury and was ultimately voted the tournament MVP after amassing 10 points in five games. He also acted as a leader and did not hesitate to sacrifice his body by getting physically involved.
Looking back, Canadian players believe the horrid performance against Russia early in the tournament served as a slap in the face needed for the future.
“It was our motivation,” said defenseman Bowen Byram. You want to avoid these situations, but when they do occur, you need to make sure you learn from them. ”
McMichael insists that while some fans in Canada were worried, confidence within the group has never been shaken.
“You know you’re going to face adversity,” said McMichael. But you don’t know what form it will take until you live it.
“We faced a lot of adversity. ”
And that’s what made the Junior Team Canada triumph even more memorable.