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World Junior Experiences: Part Two

by Aaron Lopez / Colorado Avalanche
Today, rolls out the second half of its two-part look at current Avalanche players who have played in the World Junior Championship. If you missed part one, click here.

One of the most prestigious hockey tournaments on the planet, the World Junior Championship is a virtual breeding ground for future NHL superstars.

Avalanche prospect Kevin Shattenkirk will take part in this year’s tournament, which will be held Dec. 26 – Jan. 5 in Ottawa, Ontario.

Joe Sakic (1988) – Canada
Should it be any surprise that the Avalanche’s captain – one of the most decorated players to ever lace up a pair of skates – came out on top during his one appearance at the World Juniors?

Sakic (3g/1a) helped Team Canada skate to a 6-0-1 record en route to a gold medal, with the only blemish on their record coming courtesy of a 4-4 tie with Finland. The 1988 gold medal was the beginning of an amazing streak which saw the Canadians capture the top prize eight times within a 10-year span.

Ryan Smyth - seen here with Team Canada at the 2004 World Championships - led Canada to a gold medal at the 1995 World Juniors
Ryan Smyth and Darcy Tucker (1995)– Canada
The current Avalanche forwards made quite a duo for Team Canada at the 1995 World Junior Championship (staged in Red Deer, Alberta), leading the team to the gold medal with a perfect 7-0-0 record while outscoring their opponents by a 49-22 margin in the process. It was the third straight goal medal for the Canadians, and their eighth overall.

Tucker (0g/4a) and Smyth (2g/5a) even found themselves as linemates at times during the tournament, which was essentially staged in Smyth’s backyard. A native of nearby Banff, Alberta, Smyth felt especially at home during the tournament because his parents actually lived in Red Deer at the time.

“It’s obviously special to play for your country. It’s an honor to put on that maple leaf and just go out and play for pride,” said Smyth. “You’re playing against the best players at that age level. It’s a great stepping stone to getting to the NHL.

“Not only playing right at home, but the fact that it’s in your country is something I’ll cherish forever. The fans cheering Canada on and obviously delivering the gold medal is special.”

Daniel Tjarnqvist (1995, 1996) – Sweden
Daniel Tjarnqvist - playing here for Sweden at the 2004 World Cup of Hockey - skated for his country twice at the World Junior Championship
One of the newest members of the Avalanche, Tjarnqvist was also one of the team’s most successful players in the context of the World Juniors. Playing for his native Sweden, the defenseman first grabbed a bronze medal in 1995 and then moved up to silver status in 1996 after notching four points (2g/2a) in five games. The Sweden squad held a 4-2-1 record in each of those years.

“It’s an opportunity to compete on a higher level against the top guys from other countries,” said Tjarnqvist. “Of course, it’s a great honor to play for your home country. It’s a good way to develop your confidence and know you can compete with those guys.”

Brian Willsie (1998) – Canada
With so many talented teams vying for three medal slots each year at the World Juniors, not everyone can come out on top. Unfortunately, that’s the position in which Brian Willsie and Team Canada found themselves at the 1998 event. The Canadian team went 2-5-0 to finish in 8th place, the worst final ranking for Canada since the event began in 1977. (Note: Team Canada and the Soviet Union do not appear in the final standings from the 1987 World Juniors due to the now infamous “Punch-Up in Piestany,” where the countries were involved in a bench-clearing brawl and disqualified from the rankings).

The Future
A handful of Avalanche prospects have also participated in the World Juniors in the past, a list that Shattenkirk will soon join.

A year ago, Johan Alcen won a silver medal with Team Sweden, while Mike Carman and Kevin Montgomery suited up for Team USA. The United States didn’t medal last year, but earned a bronze in 2007 with current University of Minnesota teammates Carman and Ryan Stoa helping to lead the way.

The 2006 tournament saw Tom Fritsche wearing the Red, White and Blue, while fellow Avs’ draft pick Jonas Holos represented Norway.

A few years earlier (2002, to be exact) current Lake Erie netminder Jason Bacashihua posted a 4-1-2 record to lead Team USA to a fifth-place finish.

The NHL Network will televise all U.S. games at the event, as well as all medal-round games and all of Team Canada’s preliminary-round contests. In addition, TSN will broadcast each of Team Canada’s games.

The first NHL Network broadcast from the 2009 IIHF World Junior Championship will take place on Dec. 26 at 3:30 p.m. EST, when Team USA faces Germany.

Don’t miss a single game of this year’s event, as many of the tournament’s participants today will surely be the NHL’s stars of tomorrow.
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